FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Major League Baseball plays 162 games but everyone still gets excited for opening day.

The New England Patriots only play 16 games, so you can imagine the anticipation players feel for the first one.

“There’s certainly a different urgency in the air right now,” said Tom Brady, the quarterback/model/face of the franchise.

The 2011 NFL season, once considered in danger of being shut down, opens this weekend. The Pats travel to Miami for a Monday night game.

And yes, they’re ready for some football.

“We’ve moved on from the preseason and getting ready for a regular-season week has been a lot of fun for the guys,” said Brady, entering his 12th year with the Patriots. “Guys are excited to watch a lot of film on these guys, to get a pretty good understanding of things they do well.”

Pro football may lack the pomp and circumstance of baseball’s opening ceremonies — this year, in particular, with each home team having a somber ceremony for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — but its opening gets the heart pumping.

“Every year you get the same butterflies and that’s a good thing,” said kicker Stephen Gostkowski, coming back from an injury for his sixth season with the Pats. “It means you’re still into it like you were (as a rookie). If I play this game for 20 years, I’ll still have the same nerves before the first game. Even before the first preseason game you get a little nervous. And that’s a good thing.

“That’s why football is so exciting. You build up all week to play one game.”

That the Patriots are playing the Dolphins makes this game even more meaningful to them. While the New York Jets have emerged as New England’s chief threat in its quest for a ninth AFC East title since 2001, the Dolphins remain one of the Patriots’ top rivals.

“We’ve had our troubles with them before,” said left guard Logan Mankins, considered by many to be the best at his position. “Good players They’ve had a good defense for a long time It will be tough.”

Brady knows it’s not going to be easy opening at Miami.

His record against the Dolphins is 12-6. But the Pats are only 4-5 in Miami during that stretch, including last year’s 41-14 win when the Patriots scored two touchdowns on special teams.

“Miami’s always a tough place to play,” he said in his weekly Wednesday press conference. “We’ve had our struggles down there. We’ve had some great wins but we play them at the beginning of the year, the end of the year it always seems like a tough place to play.

“They’re a division rival. They put a lot into the game. We put a lot into the game. It’s going to be fun. It’s a fun way to start the year.”

The players certainly seem to understand the importance of the game.

“It’s a big time of year,” said Mankins, a man-mountain at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds. “This is a very important game. You always want to start it off on the right foot.

“You always want to start out with a win, so it’s very important for us to play good and start the year off right.”

Brady acknowledges that the offense was inconsistent during the preseason. Whether it was because it was shortened because of the lockout or practices were limited because of new conditions in the collective bargaining agreement, the players didn’t have sufficient time to work together.

But none of that matters now. The good teams, as Brady said, will be ready for the regular season.

“By the time the ball is snapped on Monday night, we’ll all hopefully be on the same page, doing the things that we need to do consistently to get the ball in the end zone,” he said. “Offensive football, you need to make very consistent plays in order to sustain drives and get the ball in the end zone.

“If you don’t do that, you’re not going to score points. If you don’t score points, you lose the game.”

Brady has been around long enough to know the regular season is a whole new level from the preseason. Even practices are more intense.

“We’re working hard to get better,” said Brady. “You wish you had every single problem solved in Week One. That’s the goal. How realistic it is, we’ll see when we take the field. I’m excited to see where we’re at.”

So is everyone else in New England.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH