- Associated Press - Saturday, August 30, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - While 31 teams try to derail the Seahawks’ attempt to repeat, there are plenty of other challenges facing players, coaches and owners heading into opening week of the NFL. Many are along the sidelines and in the stands.

The NFL and its partners have been ahead of the curve in technology on television, but coaches were stuck using antiquated photo prints and cardboard play sheets. This season, coaches have the option of using NFL-approved tablets during games.

Even the curmudgeonly Bill Belichick has enthusiastically endorsed the technology.

“The sideline of the future is where we’re going,” says Troy Vincent, the league’s overseer of football operations.

At the Hall of Fame game to open the preseason, Vincent noted that Buffalo’s coaching staff was fully engaged with the tablets.

“We were not real sure if the Giants’ Tom Coughlin was buying it, but it was encouraging,” he said.

“Still photos will remain in place; you’ve got to have a backup plan. But you can see the players and the coaches quickly moving from one (image) on the tablet to the next to the next. We think with one season and an offseason, the coaches will get more familiar with it. The younger generation already is all over it, as you’d expect.”

Game officials will be wired up, too, much as soccer referees have been for years. That should improve communication on calls, perhaps leading to fewer huddles that slow the action.

NFL officiating director Dean Blandino admits the change is challenging.

“It’s an adjustment,” Blandino says. “You have people communicating with you on the wireless that you haven’t experienced before. We’ll work through the process. It’s an enhancement and we don’t want it to be a deterrent in any way to our primary objectives.”

Another of the league’s primary objectives is keeping people in the stadiums. It’s not quite so challenging early in the season, when the weather is good and everyone is in contention - well, maybe not in Buffalo and Oakland. Deeper into the season, it gets tougher.

“TV viewing experience of our games is so good with the NFL channels and the Red Zone and HD televisions and other options. We have to give people reasons to want to come to our games,” Giants owner John Mara says. “So making the in-stadium experience special and different is a priority.”

Fans in stadiums will have access to video replays that viewers at home don’t get. They will get Wi-Fi allowing them to track other games, their fantasy teams and to send selfies.

And, of course, they get to witness firsthand a long Adrian Peterson burst to the end zone, a Robert Quinn sack or a J.J. Watt swat of an attempted pass.

“I still believe nothing beats the experience of being at the stadium and seeing these great players live,” Mara says.

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