The NFL’s release of the regular-season schedule has become a big deal in the dry offseason. We miss football and having games to fill in the calendar makes the season seem a little closer.
With the official release of the schedule on Thursday fans can get out their pencils to mark down their favorite team’s 16 games on the calendar, and then they can get out the permanent marker to circle one of those games. There’s always one game on each schedule that stands out more than the others.
Here is the most compelling game on the 2017 schedule for each of the 32 NFL teams (we’ll list the teams in draft order):
Week 5 vs. Jets
Don’t forget, the Browns came frighteningly close to 0-16 last season. They’ll be better this season, with some free-agent additions and presumptive No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett. It’s still not too soon to search for the most winnable game on the schedule … and the Jets might be it (Cleveland has a surprisingly hard schedule for a 1-15 team).
San Francisco 49ers
Week 3 vs. Rams (Thursday night)
The 49ers didn’t get the second game of the opening-week Monday night doubleheader. That’s a bummer for them, considering that’s been the only slot in which they’ve played well the past two seasons. This year the 49ers can look forward to a Thursday night home matchup against the Rams. The 49ers won two games last season and both were against the Rams.
Week 5 vs. Vikings (Monday night)
Somehow, the lowly Bears got back-to-back prime-time games. They’ll follow a Week 4 Thursday night trip to Lambeau Field with a Monday night affair at home against the Vikings.
Week 1 at Texans
The Jaguars keep drafting high and spending big. It has to pay off at some point, right? The best time to make a statement that they’re ready to take a step forward is an opening-week battle against defending AFC South champ Houston.
Los Angeles Rams
Week 2 vs. Redskins
The Rams went young this offseason, hiring 31-year-old Sean McVay as their new head coach. He’ll be the youngest head coach of the modern NFL era. His biggest game of his first season will come against Washington, where he was the offensive coordinator before the Rams hired him.
New York Jets
Week 6 vs. Patriots
Last year the Jets didn’t have many highlights, but their best performance might have been a close home loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots. There might not be many highlights this season either, but everyone gets up for the Patriots coming to town.
Los Angeles Chargers
Week 2 vs. Dolphins
The Chargers are trying something totally different, playing two temporary seasons in a soccer stadium in Carson before they move to Inglewood with the Rams. The Carson stadium will hold about 30,000 fans, the smallest regular stadium the NFL has used in the Super Bowl era. It will be an interesting experiment to track. The first regular-season home game in Carson will be Week 2 against a Miami team coming off a playoff season.
Week 9 vs. Falcons
From 2013-15 the Panthers became the first team to win consecutive NFC South championships. The Falcons broke Carolina’s streak, and if the Panthers want to get back on top of the division the road goes through Atlanta. We should get two fun matchups between the last two NFC champions.
Week 3 at Packers
The Bengals have been to Lambeau Field only five times, the last trip coming in 2009. The Bengals won at Lambeau in 2009, 31-24. That’s their only win in Green Bay in franchise history. A trip to Lambeau should be on every NFL fan’s bucket list, and it’ll be eight more years before Bengals fans can see their team play there again.
Week 2 at Panthers
The Bills moved on fairly quickly from their Rex Ryan experiment, and brought in Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to be their new coach. There should be some extra motivation for McDermott when he faces his old friends in Carolina.
New Orleans Saints
Week 2 vs. Patriots
There will be a lot of extra drama when the Patriots come to town. Brandin Cooks, traded to New England in the offseason, will return to New Orleans. Maybe he’ll be covered by cornerback Malcolm Butler, who has drawn a lot of reported trade interest from the Saints this offseason. Then add in a matchup between Drew Brees and Tom Brady, who rank third and fourth in all-time passing yards, and it will be a fun game.
Week 14 at Rams
If you could redo the 2016 draft, most folks would take second pick Carson Wentz over first pick Jared Goff. There’s still plenty of time for the careers of both players to develop, but the two will always be linked. This season they have their first on-field meeting at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Week 10 vs. Seahawks (Thursday night)
The Cardinals and Seahawks have had a few epic battles the past few years, and Arizona pulled off an upset at Seattle on the final play of a Week 16 game last season. Hopefully this rematch is better than the infamous 6-6 tie in Week 7 last season.
Week 6 vs. Packers
No offense to the Lions or Bears, but if the Vikings want to be division champs again, they probably need to beat out the Packers. The two teams split the season series last season, and the rivalry always produces entertaining games.
Week 15 vs. Broncos (Thursday night)
Andrew Luck has played fairly well against the Broncos in his career, including one playoff win in Denver. There won’t be any tougher test for the sixth-year quarterback than the Broncos’ star secondary and pass rusher Von Miller. Hopefully this late-season Thursday night game will have significant playoff implications.
Week 4 vs. Steelers
Last season, the Ravens lost a heartbreaker on Christmas to the Steelers, costing them a shot at the AFC North championship. You know what you’re getting when the Steelers and Ravens play, and it should have a little extra intensity after last season.
Week 6 vs. 49ers
No, it’s not the best game on Washington’s schedule. But after an offseason of the 49ers’ oft-reported desire to get Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, that will be an interesting subplot before this game.
Week 1 vs. Oakland
The Titans come into this season with more expectations than usual, after a solid 9-7 season and some additions in the offseason. They get a chance right away to show they’re ready to be playoff contenders. They’ll open up at home against the Raiders, last year’s surprise team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 5 vs. Patriots (Thursday night)
The Buccaneers look like a team on the rise, with third-year quarterback Jameis Winston. What better way to measure their progress than against the best team in the NFL, on a Thursday night no less?
Week 8 vs. Kansas City (Monday night)
The Broncos ended up with five primetime games. The most important might be a Monday night showdown at Kansas City, which last season broke the Broncos’ streak of AFC West championships.
Week 12 vs. Vikings (Thanksgiving)
All of a sudden, the Lions have won four straight games on Thanksgiving. So much for bad Lions teams ruining the first game of the holiday with a blowout loss. This year will be a rematch of last season’s win over the Vikings, which came after a final-minute interception by cornerback Darius Slay.
Week 14 vs. Patriots (Monday night)
Jarvis Landry believes the Dolphins can sweep New England. That probably won’t happen – Miami hasn’t swept the Patriots since 2000 – but the best chance for the Dolphins to knock off the Patriots will come at Miami’s home stadium. That will happen on a Monday night, two weeks after the Dolphins play at New England.
New York Giants
Week 1 at Cowboys (Sunday night)
The Giants had a good season in 2016, but watched the Cowboys win the NFC East. Instead of hosting a playoff game as division champions, the Giants went on the road on wild-card weekend and were run over by the Packers. Dallas still looms as the team to beat in the NFC East and the Giants get a crack at them on the first “Sunday Night Football” game of the season.
Week 2 vs. Jets
We’re entering a strange couple years for the Raiders. They’re planning to move to Las Vegas, but will play at least two lame-duck seasons in Oakland. Raiders fans are loyal and the team will still probably get plenty of support in Oakland, especially now that they look like legitimate contenders. Their home opener against the Jets will provide a good idea of what to expect from the home (for now) fans in Oakland.
Week 4 vs. Titans
Last season the Titans and Texans tied for first place in the AFC South at 9-7, but the Texans won the tiebreaker and the division title. The Titans, with third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, could be the biggest threat to the Texans winning a third straight division title. The first meeting against the Titans will come after two tough road games for Houston at Cincinnati and New England.
Week 11 vs. Falcons (Monday night)
The Seahawks were wiped out by the Falcons in an NFC divisional playoff game last season. Seattle will again view itself as a contender in the NFC, but Atlanta will be very good again this season. The Falcons and Seahawks had a fantastic regular-season battle last year at Seattle, as well. This should be a good Monday night matchup.
Kansas City Chiefs
Week 6 vs. Steelers
The AFC West games loom large in a stacked division, but the Chiefs will have a score to settle with Pittsburgh, which knocked them out of the playoffs last season. Kansas City has shown it can get to the playoffs, beating teams like Pittsburgh would show it is capable of actually making a postseason run.
Week 5 vs. Packers
Any of the Cowboys’ games against their NFC East rivals should be great, but Dallas should have a little extra juice for the Packers, who knocked Dak Prescott and company out of the playoffs last season in a postseason classic.
Green Bay Packers
Week 2 at Falcons (Sunday night)
The Packers were overmatched in the NFC championship game loss at Atlanta last season. Green Bay has retooled with some rare dips into the free-agency pool, and can get a good idea if they’ve closed the gap with Atlanta when they play the first regular-season game at the Falcons’ new stadium (assuming it’s ready).
Week 15 vs. Patriots
Starting with New England’s win over Pittsburgh in the 2004 AFC championship game, the Patriots are 8-2 against the Steelers including a win in last season’s AFC championship game. The Steelers know their road back to the Super Bowl goes through the Patriots, and beating them in the regular season might help get home-field advantage for a playoff rematch. This late-season game could have huge seeding implications.
Week 7 at Patriots (Sunday night)
It’s not hard to figure out the most anticipated game on the Falcons’ schedule, even though the team will open a new stadium this season. The Super Bowl LI collapse will follow around the franchise forever, and while a regular-season win over New England on “Sunday Night Football” wouldn’t change that, it might help ease the pain just a tiny bit.
New England Patriots
Week 1 vs. Chiefs (Thursday night)
The only thing the Patriots care about more than winning last season’s Super Bowl is winning the next one. New England has added to its roster this offseason and seems poised for another championship run. The ceremony on opening night to celebrate Super Bowl LI will be a fun one, but the Patriots will be focused on getting the 2017 season off to a 1-0 start against a tough Chiefs team.
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