The NFL is back!
Well, not quite. The NFL is back in the news at least, as the league is expected to release its 2014 schedule on Wednesday, Apr. 23, during a primetime show on NFL Network. The schedule's release gives fans actual dates to look forward to, and give fans plenty of talking points -- who will end up with the most prime time games, and what late-season games have the most intrigue?
Though the schedule isn't out yet, we do know who will play who. The season is still four months away, and a lot can change, particularly with the NFL Draft -- but here's a look at what appears to be 10 of the top games of the 2014 season.
Seahawks vs. Broncos
Super Bowl XLVIII didn't go quite as planned for the Denver Broncos -- or for the casual football fan. Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks dismantled the Broncos, 43-8, en route to capturing Seattle's first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
It's rare when we see a Super Bowl rematch during the regular season immediately following the NFL's biggest game, but we'll see that this season. Even though the Broncos lost Eric Decker, you can bet that Peyton Manning and the Broncos will have one of the league's top offenses once again this season -- and you can also bet that the score won't be so lopsided when these two teams meet during the 2014 season.
Patriots vs. Broncos
Last year, the Patriots and Broncos played one of the most thrilling regular season games of the season, with the Patriots coming back from a 24-point deficit to defeat the Broncos. The two teams met again in the AFC Championship game, where the Broncos knocked off the Patriots with relative ease, 26-16 -- in a game that wasn't even as close as the score indicates.
Once again, we'll be treated to another Brady v. Manning showdown in Foxboro. Aqib Talib left the Patriots to sign with the Broncos -- the second time in as many seasons that a Patriot star left New England for Denver (see Welker, Wes). Not to worry if you're a Patriots fan, however, as Bill Belichick signed all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis to take Talib's place.
Seahawks vs. Packers
Remember the replacement referees, and the outcry that ensued after Russell Wilson's Hail Mary pass was called a touchdown, rather than an interception -- giving the game to the Seahawks? Yeah, that was a bit crazy, and it's hard to believe it's been two years since the 'Fail Mary' occurred.
Green Bay will get a chance to exact revenge on the defending Super Bowl champions this season, when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers visit the Seahawks. This time, there (hopefully) won't be any referee drama, and instead we'll see one of the league's top offenses take on one of the league's best defenses.
Steelers vs. Saints
No, the Steelers haven't made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons -- but they're still one of the iconic franchises in the entire league, and should be in contention this season.
The Saints and Steelers only meet every four years -- and this should be the last time in Drew Brees' career that he visits Heinz Field. The Saints aren't nearly as dominant on the road as they are at home, so it will be interesting to see if Mike Tomlin's defense will be able to contain New Orleans' high-powered attack.
Though the two teams are very different, this game should be a good barometer as to where each team is -- can the Saints win on the road on a grass field, and can the Steelers stop a high-powered offense? We'll find out.
Packers vs. Patriots
Once again, the quarterbacks are enough to make this game noteworthy -- but that both the Packers and the Patriots are Super Bowl contenders makes this game even more noteworthy.
This should be Tom Brady's last trip to historic Lambeau Field, as the two teams won't meet again in Wisconsin until 2022. Unless Brady is superhuman or a robot (either is possible), then this is the last time Brady and Rodgers will square off in Lambeau Field -- and quite possibly, the final time the two quarterbacks go head-to-head ever.
Brady will have to deal with Clay Matthews and Green Bay's pass rush, while Rodgers will have to deal with Darrelle Revis and New England's revamped secondary. No matter how you look at this game, it's one of the best games on the schedule.
49ers vs. Seahawks
The 49ers and Seahawks will once again renew their rivalry this season -- and both games figure to be among the best of the season.
Make no mistake, these two teams do not like each other. The Seahawks knocked off the 49ers in last season's NFC Championship game, preventing the 49ers from going to back-to-back Super Bowls. Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll could not be more dissimilar in terms of coaching style if they tried, and the animosity between the two intensifies the rivalry.
Will San Francisco's new Levi's Stadium be the same house of horrors for the Seahawks that CenturyLink Field is to the 49ers? CenturyLink Field is one of the toughest places for a road team to play -- so it's doubtful that Levi's Stadium will have the same effect.
Broncos vs. Colts
Peyton Manning takes on his former team? No shortage of intrigue here. The Colts decided to cut Manning after the all-pro quarterback missed the 2011 season with a neck injury. Rather than pay Manning nearly $30 million, Colts owner Jim Irsay opted to cut Manning and use the No. 1 overall pick on Andrew Luck.
The move has worked out for both Manning and the Colts -- Manning has had two successful seasons in Denver, including a record-breaking 2013 MVP season, while the Colts have the new face of the franchise in Luck.
Denver enters the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites, while Indianapolis is trying to take the next step forward, and become a legitimate Super Bowl threat.
Eagles vs. Redskins
Mike Shanahan is out in Washington D.C. -- which means Robert Griffin III should be able to put any coaching distractions behind him, and simply focus on being a better quarterback. RG3 has a new receiver to throw to as well, in DeSean Jackson -- the same DeSean Jackson that Eagles head coach Chip Kelly cut, despite the fact that Jackson is coming off of a career year.
Kelly's first season in Philadelphia was successful, as he guided the Eagles to the NFC East crown. Kelly's high-flying offense suits Nick Foles well, as the former Arizona Wildcats quarterback threw 27 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
Jackson spent the first six seasons of his career in Philadelphia before being released because of character issues. Jackson signed with the Redskins, and will undoubtedly look to put on a show when he takes on his former team twice a year.
Patriots vs. Lions
Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the league -- and he has a more-than-capable quarterback in Matthew Stafford to get him the ball. Even aside from the Brady-Belichick intrigue that the Patriots bring, watching Megatron go up against Darrelle Revis will be perhaps the best wide receiver vs. cornerback matchups all season long.
The Patriots and Lions only square off every four seasons, so who knows -- this could be the final time that we see Belichick gameplan for Calvin Johnson, as well.
Cowboys vs. 49ers
San Francisco and Dallas will renew their rivalry this season, when the 49ers head to Jerry World to take on the Cowboys. The matchup doesn't have the same luster as it did in the 90s, when both teams were Super Bowl contenders. Jerry Jones' inability to turn over general manager duties to somebody with a clue has hurt the Cowboys -- and will continue to hurt Dallas in the future, as the team is in poor salary cap shape going forward.
Still, Tony Romo and the Cowboys should, at least, contend for a playoff spot this season. A date against the 49ers will be a good marker as to how good Dallas really is.
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