sunday night football

*Yes, NBC says it is aware that its “Sunday Night Football” is premiering on a Thursday.

The NFL games that really count start tonight with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens against Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos – and choosing this matchup to kick off the regular season was a no-brainer following their dramatic playoff game in January.

“I think it was one of the most classic post-season games ever played,” announcer Al Michaels told us during the recent TCA Press Tour. “It went into double overtime, Baltimore won it, and of course went on to win the Super Bowl a couple of weeks later.

“I called [executive producer Fred Gaudelli] at home right after that game and I said, ‘We have to get Baltimore/Denver next year,’ because we knew that Baltimore and Denver would play. And so sure enough, what do we get? We get it for the opening game, which is going to be fantastic. So it’s going to be the reprise of one of the great playoff games ever, on a Thursday night. And then we go right down to Dallas, the Giants and the Cowboys, which has become a staple on ‘Sunday Night Football.’”

Cris Collinsworth – who will rejoin Michaels in the booth this season, with Michele Tafoya working the sidelines – says a goal this season is for the telecast to expand its viewership beyond just the gridiron junkies and fantasy football fanatics.

Listen below.

Country star Carrie Underwood will debut her new version of the “Sunday Night Football theme song, “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night,” taking over from Faith Hill, whose version was used for six seasons. Listen to a teaser below.