Five biggest Sunday Night Football games of the 2011 NFL Season: Fan’s take

The NFL released its schedule for the 2011 season on April 19th, 2011. One of the biggest concerns from NFL enthusiasts once schedules are distributed is how many primetime games their team has. What can neutral fans look forward to on Sunday, Monday, and the occasional Thursday night?

Usually. Right now, you're probably just praying for a season.

Barring any modifications from the NFL lockout, here are five of the biggest Sunday night games for the 2011 regular season. This list features rivalries, interconference matchups, and late-season contests that should have major playoff implications.

Week 1: Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets
The Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets lost their regular-season primetime openers in 2010. Many individuals dislike the Cowboys because of their national overexposure. Many people dislike the Jets because their team is typically arrogant, stemming from head coach Rex Ryan.

This should be a competitive game. Both teams will be sluggish as it's the season opener. Both teams could be sloppier than usual if the lockout impacts training camp, etc. The Jets defense should make this a low scoring contest. The Cowboys will be playing their first game under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Even if you loathe both of these organizations, consider this: one of these teams must start below .500 to begin 2011 (barring ties).

Week 7: Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints
Peyton Manning(notes) versus Drew Brees(notes) in the Louisiana Superdome. The New Orleans Saints may have suffered one of the NFL's most embarrassing wildcard playoff defeats, but don't underestimate them at home. The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a midseason loss in New Orleans when the Saints were desperate last season.

This game appears to be a fireworks display, but don't forget that both teams had significant injuries throughout the regular-season and wildcard playoff games that doomed their defenses. Both teams need to add secondary depth before 2011 gets underway.

Week 9: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry has become one of the NFL's most intense. These divisional rivals have met in the AFC playoffs in two of the past three seasons. The teams continue to play aggressive despite the NFL policy modifications toward vicious hits.

Eliminating personal bias (Green Bay Packers fan), this is my favorite rivalry because of the defensive presence of both teams. I am tiring of the regular-season matchups because they just seem to be a warm-up for an eventual playoff meeting. Good rivalries make one greedy, I reckon.

Week 13: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Just another chapter of what's becoming an annual tradition with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady(notes). Their regular-season meetings have significance because both teams play in different arenas. The New England Patriots perform in frigid outdoor condition during January while the Colts play in a domed facility. The winner of the regular-season bout gets a head start on home field in a potential playoff setting.

The Patriots won last season's meeting 31-28. They'll be hosting again with a young team that's expected to improve with experience and a stockpiled draft. The Colts are hoping they're healthier than when they met last season.

Week 16: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
The NFL's longest lasting rivalry was nationally displayed during the 2011 NFC Championship contest at Soldier Field. The Chicago Bears had won the regular-season meeting and earned home-field advantage, but the Green Bay Packers brought the George S. Halas Trophy back to Wisconsin before eventually winning Super Bowl XLV.

Despite it being Sunday, the Packers and Bears rivalry will be the only Christmas Day game. Most of the other games will take place on Saturday, December 24th. I don't expect any "Holly Jolly Christmas" jokes this season, if you get my drift.

Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. His favorite Packer moments include Super Bowl XXXI, XLV, and Al Harris's(notes) interception return following Matt Hasselbeck's(notes) "We're gonna score" comments. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and "4th & 26" in a span of three months.

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Joshua Huffman is a member of the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
Updated Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011