As the most popular and profitable American sport, the NFL would love for you to believe that every game on its 2014 schedule is “must see.” But as any knowledgeable fan knows, that’s just not true. To help you cut through the clutter, we dug through the 2014 season’s slate of action to find the marquee matchups. Here are 10 games this football fan is definitely looking forward to.
1. Seattle at San Francisco (Week 13, Thursday)
Yes, the defending champs open up their title defense against Green Bay at home, but how can you not pick this game? The first meeting of the season between division rivals who absolutely hate each other and figure to battle once again for a spot in the Super Bowl? And it’s on Thanksgiving Day? The fourth Thursday in November can’t come soon enough.
2. Denver at Seattle (Week 3)
Not only is this a Super Bowl rematch, but it’s possible it could be a precursor to the 49th edition as well. More importantly, this early-season offering should show if the Broncos have been able to narrow the gap between them and the current owners of the Lombardi Trophy, or if the reigning champions are still vastly superior to one of the best the AFC has to offer.
3. Denver at New England (Week 9)
Call it what you want, Manning vs. Brady XVI, an AFC Championship Game rematch, etc., but there’s no denying this game won’t lack for storylines. Besides the history between the quarterbacks, there’s also the added element of this representing new Bronco Aqib Talib’s first game back in New England, just as was the case last season with Wes Welker. You don’t think Tom Brady won’t be keeping an eye out for his former teammate when he drops back to pass?
4. Indianapolis at Denver (Week 1)
Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning go head-to-head for the second time, but this one’s on No. 18’s home turf. Even though it’s the season opener for both teams, this meeting won’t feature the same emotions as Manning’s homecoming to Indianapolis last season, while Luck and the young Colts have a chance to show they are ready to take the next step in their maturation process by knocking off the defending AFC champions on the road.
5. Washington at Philadelphia (Week 3)
These NFC East rivals will get together twice, but the game that everyone will be watching is when DeSean Jackson returns to the City of Brotherly Love. And it just so happens, we won’t have to wait long with said meeting dialed up for Week 3. I have little doubt that Eagle fans will greet Jackson accordingly, but the real question is how will head coach Chip Kelly and his former teammates treat the mercurial wide receiver – before, during and after the game?
6. San Francisco at Denver (Week 7)
The two West divisions face each other in crossover play this season, which means Denver gets to pit its prolific offense against four of the NFL’s top 15 defenses last season, including fifth-ranked San Francisco. Jim Harbaugh’s unit should be a tough test for Peyton Manning and company, but will the home elements (altitude) come into play at all for this Sunday night clash?
7. Washington at Indianapolis (Week 13)
The first and second overall picks of the 2012 NFL Draft will meet on the field for the first time when Andrew Luck and the Colts host Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. Both have already led their teams to the playoffs, but Luck has gone two-for-two and put up bigger numbers, as RGIII has struggled to stay healthy.
8. New England at Green Bay (Week 13)
Outside of Brady vs. Manning, this is arguably the second-best quarterback matchup possible in the NFL when it comes to resumes (with apologies to Aaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees in Week 7). This will be just the second time Brady has paid a visit to Lambeau Field in his career. The previous one was back in 2006, when he outplayed Aaron Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre. Will the tundra be frozen for this late November, primetime contest? We can only hope.
9. New England at Indianapolis (Week 11)
Andrew Luck’s first two encounters with the Patriots have not gone well. Bill Belichick’s team has handed Luck and the Colts two losses, including January’s Divisional Round beatdown, to the tune of a combined score of 102-46. This time Luck gets Tom Brady and company on his home turf, where he’s gone 14-3 (including playoffs) in his first two seasons.
10. New England at New York Jets (Week 7, Thursday)
As if this AFC East rivalry needed any more spice. Yet you know Darrelle Revis already has this game circled on his calendar. Are Jets fans (and new wide receiver Eric Decker for that matter) ready for a Thursday night visit to Revis Island?