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Out of 256 games, these are sure to make you circle dates on your calendar
Last week, the NFL released the 2016 regular season schedule. Even though the regular season doesn’t kick off until early September – and the draft and preseason have yet to play out – it’s never too early to take a look at the most intriguing match-ups in what should be another drama-filled and action-packed NFL season.
There are a number of exciting match-ups, but here are the 10 that stand out.
Week 1: New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals (Sept 11, 8:30 pm ET)
Week 3: Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals (Sept 25, 1 pm ET)
Week 10: Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers (Nov 13, 4:25 pm ET)
Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (Nov 24, 8:30 pm ET)
Week 14: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (Dec 11, 4:25 pm ET)
10) Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos (Week 1, Sept 8, 8:30 pm ET)
This is the obvious one. For the first time in NFL history, a Super Bowl rematch opens the season. Peyton Manning won’t yell “Omaha!” as Denver’s signal caller, but reigning MVP Cam Newton is out for revenge, especially against Von Miller – whose public and social media jabs at the quarterback create an extra storyline to an already interesting game. This game – much like Super Bowl 50 – won’t come down to a quarterback duel. Rather, it’ll be determined by the Broncos’ defensive game plan against Newton, whose as dynamic a quarterback as they come.
9) Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 16, Dec 25, 8:30 pm ET)
The second of the two Christmas games is truly a gift. At this point in the season, division titles are on the line and this match-up is certain to have division title implications. In addition, if you’re a fan of furious pass rushers – i.e. Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali – then this game is sure to be blitz galore.
8) Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers (Week 6, Oct 16, 4:25 pm ET)
Assuming the Cowboys have a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, then this will be the true rematch of the controversial divisional round match-up from a couple of years ago. Aaron Rodgers and company are nearly unstoppable at home, but under the guidance of Romo – who had an MVP-caliber 2014 season when Rodgers won the award – the Cowboys went 8-0 on the road that season. How ‘bout them Cowboys?
7) Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (Week 7, Oct 23, 8:30 pm ET)
Divisional match-ups are normally significant. When they’re between two clear-cut Super Bowl contenders, the stakes are even higher. Ironically, Arizona has had more success against the Seahawks in Seattle over the past three seasons (2-1) than at home, as they’ve been outscored 105-34 at University of Phoenix Stadium. However, in a midseason game with division rivals attempting to gain an edge in the standings, don’t expect a blowout here.
6) New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (Week 15, Dec 18, 4:25 pm ET)
The classic Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry will be sorely missed, but for arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Brady’s personal rivalry with Denver continues after two devastating losses at Mile High Stadium last season. For whatever reason, Brady struggles the most in Denver. That was apparent in last year’s AFC Championship Game. The Broncos’ pass rush abused Brady, hitting him a season-high 20 times, but the game’s greatest competitor certainly circled this date on his calendar when the schedule was released and will be ready to bounce back.
5) Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (Week 15, Dec 18, 8:30 pm ET)
There’s no need to relive last year’s bizarre ending in the AFC Wild Card game. This game is important because of what it could potentially mean for the AFC North title. The entertainment value is also high. If healthy, no offense will be more effective, dynamic and explosive than the Steelers’. But don’t sleep on Andy Dalton, who was playing MVP football before he injured his thumb in a late season contest against… drum roll please… Pittsburgh.
4) Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (Week 8, Oct 30, 4:25 pm ET)
What is the NFL doing not putting this game on a primetime stage? The Monday Night Football game this week is Chicago vs. Minnesota. Really? Anyway, this rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game will hopefully be closer. While Newton won – and deserved – the MVP, Carson Palmer was arguably the better quarterback last season, finishing first in QBR. However, his six-turnover performance against the Panthers reaffirmed prior fears of Palmer’s play in the postseason. It’ll be interesting to see if Palmer returns to his house of horrors and delivers an MVP performance.
3) New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 7, Oct 23, 4:25 pm ET)
Don’t expect a lot of defense in this game. Brady has spent the majority of his career treating the modern steel curtains like aluminum foil, while Big Ben and his arsenal of weapons will overwhelm Chander Jones-less Patriot defense. Both New England and Pittsburgh are heavy favorites in the AFC. If the predictions play out, then this game will play a crucial role on who obtains home field advantage.
2) Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (Week 13, Dec 4, 8:30 pm ET)
What’s the best rivalry in football? No, it’s not Pittsburgh vs Baltimore. It’s not Green Bay vs Chicago. It’s Carolina vs Seattle. Whenever these two teams meet, the game almost always comes down to the last possession. Credit that to a pair of excellent defenses and quarterbacks who represent football’s future. Newton carried the Panther offense on his back last season, while Russell Wilson’s efficiency down the stretch was historically great. The playoffs technically begin in January, but there will be a playoff atmosphere with playoff theatrics in Charlotte on this Sunday night.
1) Seattle Seahawks at New England Patriots (Week 10, Nov 13, 8:30 pm ET)
What doesn’t this game have. Both teams have history. After the Seahawks put themselves on the NFL map with victory over the Pats in 2012 – leading to the infamous Richard Sherman vs Brady “You Mad Bro” rivalry – the Patriots achieved revenge in Super Bowl 49… and we all know what happened in that game. This star-studded event is sure to be an instant classic, with Brady lobbing throws to Rob Gronkowski into the teeth of the Legion of Boom – and Wilson looking to avenge his goal line interception by burning Malcolm Butler a couple of times.