The NFL announced its slate of 256 games for the 2007 regular season on Wednesday. For fans, this is Christmas in April as they start to salivate over such dreamy matchups as the Cowboys at Bears, Colts at Chargers and Lions at Raiders.
Detroit at Oakland? Just making sure you're paying attention.
With this in mind, here's a look at the top games every week and, well, some games you might want to send your sister-in-law to …
On a blind date.
Best game: Chicago Bears at San Diego Chargers. This is a tough week to pick. On Thursday night, the Saints open the season against the defending champion Colts. On Sunday, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets face off to determine who gets to smile first between Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini (doesn't it always look like these two guys are doing hemorrhoid ads when they're coaching?). Anyway, Bears-Chargers is going to be fun. The pressure on returning Bears quarterback Rex Grossman and new Chargers head coach Norv Turner (who is also coaching against his brother Ron again) will make for great theatre.
Worst game: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders. OK, this one is obvious and this rip qualifies as piling on, but sue me. This will be the first of many games the Raiders will fail to sell out this season in a matchup of team currently holding the No. 2 (Lions) and No. 1 (Raiders) overall picks in this year's NLF draft. The alternating shots of Detroit president Matt Millen, Oakland owner Al Davis and Oakland coach Lane Kiffin looking completely lost will be genuinely hilarious.
Best game: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals. Yeah, yeah, I can hear some of you saying it already: San Diego at New England is a much better game. I'm not arguing that, but the point is that I can put the Chargers in this spot just about every week and they'd fit. Considering that, the Seahawks and Cardinals figure to be really fun because this is a matchup of teams that will throw and score all game long. Neither team is going to be great on defense, so a really fun, 38-35 thriller could be in the offing.
Worst game: New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens. Two very good teams that play really boring football, particularly early in the season. One thing about this game is that it might set the record for the shortest amount of real-time play. The Jets and Ravens are both extraordinary at working the clock by running the ball and using high-percentage (see: short) passing games. Then again, when Chad Pennington is one of the quarterbacks, don't expect any awe-inspiring throws.
Best game: Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints. There's the usual collection of curious games (Dallas-Chicago and Jacksonville-Denver, for instance), but the Titans and Saints play in a great Monday night matchup of rising stars. Tennessee quarterback Vince Young goes against New Orleans running back Reggie Bush in a game that both the casual and serious fan should love. Young and Bush aren't just great players, but they are the types of players who change the X's and O's of a game. Fun stuff.
Worst game: San Diego Chargers at Green Bay Packers. There are lots of people out there who love Brett Favre and like to believe he's still a great quarterback. This is the kind of game that exposes his flaws in a serious way. Be sure that Favre will hang in tough all game against the ferocious Chargers pass rush, but also be sure that he will throw about five or six passes that will look pathetically bad and could result in one of his patented four-interception games.
Best game: Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals. Revenge is a dish best served hot, meaning this would be a great game to play outdoors in Phoenix this time of year. The Steelers and new coach Mike Tomlin are lucky the Cardinals have a roof now because Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm are going to have plenty ready for their former team. Both Whisenhunt and Grimm thought they should have been hired over Tomlin. In fact, Grimm was reportedly offered the job at first before the Steelers reneged and went with Tomlin.
Worst game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers. The caveat to this game is that it could be really close at the end and provide for some dramatic finish. But look beyond the fact that both teams have really inept offenses and realize that they're both really mediocre teams. Beyond that, both coaches are under fire. This could be a 13-10 game that comes down a big play by Carolina's Steve Smith or Joey Galloway of Tampa Bay.
Best game: New York Jets at New York Giants. For one weekend every four years, New York gets to pretend that it's the center of the football universe (rather than simply the center of the entire universe). This game is still early enough in the schedule that some people might call it a Super Bowl preview. It's actually a pretty interesting game because it's the Jets who have become the classy team while the Giants have become the goofballs under supposed ü-disciplinarian Tom Coughlin. Let the N.Y. tabloids go wild.
Worst game: Atlanta Falcons at Tennessee Titans. Memo to Titans quarterback Vince Young: Make sure you look at Michael Vick every once in awhile. This is what can happen to you if you don't seriously work on throwing the ball. Young and Vick are still amazing talents at quarterback and any team would be lucky to have them. But the fact is that neither is a great passer yet and this game could be a study in offensive regression. Beyond that, this game is going to be painfully overhyped.
Best game: New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys. Oh, we love the 3-4 defense and all its permutations. Given that, there aren't many coaches in the NFL as good as Belichick and Wade Phillips at calling the 3-4 and this game will be proof. Belichick has some new toys, including linebacker Adalius Thomas. Phillips inherits a defense from Bill Parcells that should be much better than it played last season. The Patriots have the obvious advantage with Tom Brady, but Dallas quarterback Tony Romo can make things fun.
Worst game: Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns. A quarterback, a quarterback, someone please give me a quarterback. Both the Dolphins and the Browns have some interesting skill position players with the likes of Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Chris Chambers and Ronnie Brown. But, as of this date, neither team has a dependable quarterback. The Dolphins are hoping for a big recovery from Daunte Culpepper or to acquire Trent Green. The Browns could have Charlie Frye or Derek Anderson or JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn. None of them will be ready for prime time.
Best game: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks. Each of their two matchups last season came down to a field goal at the end by the Seahawks. It might be asking a lot to expect another great game, but you have to like the run these teams are on. In the extremely close NFC West, this game could have huge playoff implications down the road. Or it could just be a matchup of teams that are a little bit better than average.
Worst game: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles. You'll have to allow for a little poetic license here because this is actually a pretty good matchup. The problem is that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb isn't going to be ready for the Bears defense just yet. Philadelphia gets a bit of a break in the early part of the season as McNabb returns from a torn knee ligament. None of the defenses the Eagles face in the first six weeks have a great pass rush. That changes in this game, particularly if the Bears offense can score early. The Bears have the type of quick defense that the Eagles really hate to face. McNabb struggles in this game and hears if from the fans. Ugly!
Best game: Green Bay Packers at Denver Broncos. The Packers face Favre disciple, second-year Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. Like Favre, Cutler has a gun for an arm and a slightly improvisational style. Denver coach Mike Shanahan likes Cutler so much that he traded up to get him and even changed the Broncos famous blocking scheme to accommodate his new quarterback. That's reminiscent of what the Packers did long ago with Favre, who might be playing on Monday Night Football for the final time.
Worst game: New York Giants vs. Miami Dolphins (in London). As a gesture of goodwill and in hopes of promoting the NFL overseas, the league decided to send a game to Britain featuring … Tom Coughlin? Throw in Jeremy Shockey and you're talking about the prototypical "Ugly American" in Europe.
Best game: New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts. In a redo of the best playoff game from last season (and really what amounted to the league's title game), the Patriots will try to reverse what has become a recent trend of domination by the Colts. Indy swept the Patriots last season on the way to winning the Super Bowl. As a result, Belichick and the Patriots went on a serious spending spree in free agency. For the Colts, this is the beginning of a very tough stretch. They face San Diego the following game and play Baltimore on Dec. 9
Worst game: Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders. This is a pair of ugly teams in the middle of what figures to be a pair of ugly seasons. About the only thing that could make this worse is if they played it in December. One thing is for certain: Texans second-year defensive end Mario Williams better get a ton of sacks against the Oakland offensive line.
Best game: Detroit at Arizona. Before I am mocked merciless for overlooking the Colts-Chargers game, listen to my logic. The Colts really don't match up with the Chargers. In other words, that game is overrated. The other part is that while the Lions and Cardinals aren't really that great, they can be fun. With Mike Martz running the Lions offense, they're going to throw it about 45 or 50 times in this game. Expect the Cardinals to wing it, too, in a game that should be pretty competitive.
Worst game: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers. Welcome to a cure for insomnia. Neither of these teams really know much about playing offense and the Steelers are going through a serious coaching change that figures to have some rough spots. In this game, 10 points might be enough to win.
Best game: Tennessee at Denver. By this time, you're probably tired of reading about Young, but this is going to be one more chance to see the young slinger in prime time and this will be against one of the other passers from the fine class of 2006. Cutler gets a chance to show the country that he was a better pick than Young. That's a lot to prove, but don't expect Cutler to back away from the challenge.
Worst game: New Orleans at Houston. The Texans get another reminder of who they didn't take in the 2006 draft with the No. 1 overall pick when running back Reggie Bush visits. Again, defensive end Williams is going to be under some pressure to show he's not a bust. If Bush is a factor in this game, the boo birds might be flying in Houston for one of the first times under new management.
Best game: Denver at Chicago. The Bears struggled against the AFC last season, going 2-2 in the regular season and then getting beat in the Super Bowl by Indianapolis. With the division of little challenge, it's games like this that should provide a measuring stick for the Bears about how far they have come in pursuit of a title.
Worst game: Indianapolis at Atlanta. Late last season, Vick had the audacity to compare himself to Peyton Manning, whining about how all the circumstances had done him in and prevented him from being as good as Manning. Perhaps Vick would be wise to study Manning and how much work Manning puts into learning his craft. Heck, if things don't go well early in the season for Vick, he might have a real good seat for watching Manning.
Best game: New England at Baltimore. Pats linebacker Adalius Thomas returns to his old home in a game that should be a defensive gem. New England quarterback Tom Brady against the Ravens defense should really be something to see as well.
Worst game: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis. Again, this is a game more about aesthetics than about really bad teams. The Jaguars took a massive step backward last season and there are severe questions about whether coach Jack Del Rio has the right idea about how to administer an offense with his stout defense. The problem is that this game is telling for Del Rio. He can simply run over the Colts and win. Or, he can open things up and trust his passing game, showing the kind of confidence that wins in the playoffs. Given that this game is on Dec. 2, Del Rio has something to prove.
Best game: Oakland at Green Bay. This game is going to swing on which team employs wide receiver Randy Moss. If he's with the Raiders, it will be his first return to the scene of his faux mooning incident when he was with Minnesota. If he's with the Packers, it will be his first game against his second former team and don't be surprised if Moss has some shots for Raiders owner Al Davis and new coach Lane Kiffin. It might not be great football, but it will be great theatre.
Worst game: Minnesota at San Francisco. Last season these teams played to a 9-3 decision with the 49ers winning at home. In the interim, the 49ers have made significant strides to get better and the Vikings haven't done much at all. The 49ers offense still doesn't figure to be great, so this has the making of another single-digit-fest.
Best game: Philadelphia at Dallas. By this time, we can only hope that the Terrell Owens-Donovan McNabb silliness is truly a thing of the past and that football will once again take center stage. If that's the case, this should be a good game. The Eagles and Cowboys match up in some very interesting ways that usually lead to some big plays on both sides. Don't expect that to change in this game.
Worst game: Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns. Amazingly, this game will probably sell out. If nothing else, the Bills fans will make the trek to Cleveland and buy up any available seats for a game that figures to feature two teams with losing records slogging their way through the end of the season.
Best game: Philadelphia at New Orleans. Like Seattle vs. St. Louis, this is a game where the teams faced each other twice last season and each game came down to a field goal. The Saints won both, including in the playoffs as they made their run to the NFC championship game. For a football purist, this is a wonderful game of X's and O's between two very bright coaching staffs.
Worst game: Dallas at Carolina. Neil Young wrote long ago that it was better to burn out than to fade away. We shall see if that's the case with the likes of wide receivers Terrell Owens and Steve Smith, a pair of mercurial athletes who might have seen their better days come and go. Owens could be a real pain in the rear by this time of the season under new, laid-back coach Wade Phillips. Likewise, Smith might be raising a big ruckus if he hasn't received the contract extension he expects.
Best game: Seattle at Atlanta. This might be a stretch, particularly as it applies to the Falcons, but this figures to be an intriguing matchup of teams still in the thick of some tight division races. Not that either of these teams will be a strong contender for the Super Bowl, but both have the ability to be in the race if things go right. Given that, this could be one of the few games with a lot on the line.
Worst game: San Diego at Oakland. The big question for the Chargers figures to be how many players they are going to rest for this game as they prepare for the playoffs. The big question for the Raiders will be who they are planning to take with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft for the second year in a row. In other words, there will be nothing on the line in this one.