People get jacked for the release of the NFL schedule. So do we. And though lots will change — even before we get to training camp — there are some definite must-see games on the schedule.
Our challenge? Narrowing it down to one key one per week.
Here goes nothing:
C'mon. It's the season opener. Even with quality games elsewhere on the schedule — including Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos playing host to his former team, the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night — you can't go away from this one. Props to the NFL for pitting the Seahawks and Packers, combatants in one of the league's most controversial games in recent seasons, and not backing down from that talk. That's uncharacteristic of the league.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
The NFL wasn't going to give CBS, which paid a fortune for the Thursday night package, a dud game. Sure, maybe this hasn't been the epic rivalry it was, say, four to five years ago, but there is no love lost between these two hard-nosed clubs. There's no added or especial juice to the rivalry this time around, just your garden-variety hatred — and a solid contempt between two talented teams that should compete for the AFC North crown.
Broncos at Seahawks
Look, we easily could have picked DeSean Jackson and his new Washington Redskins team heading up to face his former club, the Philadelphia Eagles. But who moves the needle more than Manning and a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle? The question on everyone's minds: If it was 43-8 Seahawks on a neutral field, what will it be with the 12th Man in the house? What could make it more interesting are Denver's defensive additions, led by DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. The Broncos will be seeking whatever revenge can be gained from a regular-season game, and the Seahawks will seek to pummel them once again. Fun stuff.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
A rematch of the NFC North-deciding game in Week 17 at Soldier Field, but Bears-Packers always carries special weight. Both teams will be in the running for a division crown once more, and there's an interesting plot twist to the rivalry: Julius Peppers, once a plum free-agent signing of the Bears, now comes in as a visiting member of the Packers. But it's a loaded week, with a slate that includes Steve Smith's Ravens facing his former Carolina Panthers team in Baltimore, an excellent matchup fo the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles and several other quality matchups.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers
In something of a blah week on paper, we think Alex Smith's return to San Francisco is an interesting story. With talk of the Chiefs wanting to extend Smith long-term, and Colin Kaepernick perhaps a year from hitting the market, it stirs talk of Jim Harbaugh's decision to trade Smith for a pair of draft picks, including a second-rounder in a few weeks. Smith flourished his first season in K.C., and Kaepernick almost led the 49ers to a second straight Super Bowl. Beyond that, this should be a solid game of teams that won 11 and 12 games, respectively, a year ago.
Dallas Cowboys at Seahawks
Hmm, another week of games where nothing obvious pops up. Frankly, we're a little tired of the Tony Romo in Seattle storyline. Prior to his botched extra-point snap, few recall, Romo was playing his tail off. Besides that game was nearly eight years ago. It might feel like it happened yesterday, but that's probably because you were making fun of Romo yesterday. Ok, whatever, it's the Cowboys at the Super Bowl champs. And, hey, maybe Romo will get hurt and backup Cowboys quarterback Johnny Manziel will come to the rescue, beating the best defense in the league with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Now that's more like it!
New York Jets at New England Patriots
There very well might be a better-quality game three days later on Sunday Night Football between the Broncos and 49ers in Denver. But right now, the storylines are king. So we'll take Jets at Patriots — always a fun battle — with an added twist of the knife: Darrelle Revis facing his old team. Look, Revis played the Jets in Week 1 last season, with the Bucs. It's not the first time he's going against Rex Ryan. But this is the Patriots. This will reopen the wounds of the offseason when Ryan watched every cornerback he ever wanted land on different teams. And with Revis, it hurts extra badly.
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
Some decent games dot the week, including some good rivalry games (Redskins-Cowboys, Ravens-Bengals), a playoff rematch (Chargers at Broncos), a Super Bowl rematch of yore (Bears-Patriots) and a Show-Me State bragging-rights game (Rams at Chiefs). But we'll always side with quarterback greatness. It's Aaron Rodgers at Drew Brees in the Superdome on a Sunday night. The roof could blow off the place. We won't miss it. Nor should you.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Talib's return to Foxborough! We jest. If this indeed is the swan song for Manning, it's only fitting that for the 16th time in his career, he gets another crack at Tom Brady (and Bill Belichick). Last year's regular-season tilt in New England, the return of Wes Welker and Brad-Manning XIV, was ridiculous: a 34-31 overtime thriller won by the Patriots after they trailed 24-zlich in the third quarter. Of course, Manning, last season's MVP got the best of Brady and Co. in the AFC title game in Denver. Brady leads the all-time head-to-head matchup 10-5. Will Manning be able to get him perhaps one last time? You just know Belichick will find a way to give Manning something he hasn't seen before. Perhaps a 1-0-10 defensive alignment, with nobody heavier than 240 pounds on the field.
49ers at Saints
We've got another Bears-Packers game on Monday night and a London game — the Cowboys, America's Team, at the Jacksonville Jaguars (Britain's team?) — but we can't help but lean toward the intriguing battle of talented teams in New Orleans. Kaepernick came up just short in the power-outage game the last time he was in the Superdome, but he won't be facing the Ravens and it won't be the Super Bowl. Nope: Just a quality contest of two talented NFC teams.
New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
These teams met in Foxoborough in the playoffs, and the Patriots ran away with it (or LeGarrette Blount did, more aptly). Brady and the Patriots also spanked Andrew Luck and the Colts in the 2012 season, too. But the Colts can beat anyone at Lucas Oil Stadium, where they took down the champion Seahawks and came back from 28 down in the third quarter against the Chiefs in the playoffs. In the Patriots' favor: They will be coming off their bye week heading into this Sunday night classic. And who knows? Maybe Belichick, returning to the site of the "4th and 2" will do something bizarre.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears
It's the "Lovie Bowl" at Soldier Field. Lovie Smith, now captaining the Bucs, will lead his new good ship up north to face the team he coached for nine seasons. Smith was good for Chicago: He won 56 percent of his games, had only three losing seasons and brought his team to a Super Bowl. But was he ever beloved there? It's hard to say yes. Smith will be backed by Josh McCown, who also is making his return to face the team that gave him a second chance at NFL life. You can bet he'll want to go blow for blow against friendly rival and foil, Jay Cutler.
Patriots at Packers
No Thanksgiving mention? We'll let Frank Schwab's post on the three NFC-only Thursday games that week stand on its own. Besides, we'll prefer the leftovers: an outstanding quarterback matchup of Rodgers vs. Brady and a — hey, stranger things have happened — possible Super Bowl preview at Lambeau Field. The last time Brady played here was a 35-0 Patriots whipping in 2006 in which Brett Favre was knocked out of the game by Tedy Bruschi and Rodgers, then a second-year player, completed 4-of-12 passes for 32 yards in relief. He would not start another game for two years. He's better now.
Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
It's not "what's your deal?" but it's pretty darned good. You've got the most dominant defense traveling to face the league's most cutting-edge offense, Pete Carroll vs. Chip Kelly. We're excited. By this point of the season the teams' identities should be pretty well cemented, and we have a hard time thinking this matchup of NFC powers and former Pac-12 coaches won't be pretty darned exciting. Wonder if the Philly fans and Richard Sherman might, you know, chat a little before and during this one. (Undercard: Colts at Cleveland Browns, the Trent Richardson Bowl!)
49ers at Seahawks
It's only fitting in this week chock full of very good rivalry games, we are treated to the best of them all at the moment. A rematch of the NFC title game and a bad-blood special, 49ers at Seattle is about as good as it gets these days. You know the storylines. You know they met three times last season. It's a Sunday night mid-December, and the wind and noise will be howling at Century Link Field. Perhaps playing into the 49ers' favor is they play the Raiders in a "road" game up the road a few miles and the Seahawks have the aforementioned tough battle in Week 14.
Eagles at Redskins
We'll go a little off the map here. Yes, it will be DeSean vs. Eagles, Part 2, but it also will be the return of Saturday regular-season football! We love it. Even bad football is good football on a Saturday close to the holidays. Why? No clue. But it is. Why the NFL scheduled both games at 4:30 p.m. ET we will never know, but there are two interesting contests going on with Chargers at 49ers on the other coast. Plus, who knows? Maybe the Redskins can find a way back to respectibility.
Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Not sure how the NFL managed to do this, but we've got a full slate of games — all of them division rivalries — and none are gotta-watch affairs. Of course, it's May and we are saying this. Look: It's gonna chance. Of course it is. There could be four or five huge games with playoff implications. We're not that shallow-minded. But, seriously, look at it. Nothing shocking. We picked Bears-Vikings and the rather lame Jared Allen-return-to-Minnesota angle. For all we know, the Jaguars could be going to Houston with a chance to wrap up the AFC South title, or the Buccaneers could be going for their 10th straight win, at home against the Saints. But as things stand right now, it's Allen and the Bears in Minnesota. We know, it's lame. It's not even in the Metrodome!
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