Are you ready for some football? Well, NFL fans still have to wait four and a half months until kickoff, but at least we know the games we have to look forward to. The 256-game regular season schedule has been laid out, and there is certainly no lack of intriguing matchups. While the “must see” label often comes down to a matter of personal preference, here are 10 games that caught this football fan’s eye along with five other matchups that shouldn’t disappoint.
1. Seattle at Green Bay (Week 2)
No disrespect to the reigning Super Bowl champions (who are well represented on this list), but it’s the NFC Championship Game rematch that has my full attention. The Seahawks and Packers actually played each other twice last season, both times in Seattle, but it’s the final five minutes of January’s memorable playoff game that no one, especially Green Bay, will ever forget. While some faces (Hello Jimmy Graham!) have changed, the principals remain in place for this early-season treat.
2. New England at Denver (Week 12)
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are certainly no strangers to each other, as this will be their 17th head-to-head meeting. Brady holds an 11-5 edge in their rivalry, so you know Manning and company would like nothing more than to knock off the reigning champions in front of their home fans. Besides being a matchup of two of the AFC’s best teams, it’s also possible this could be the last pairing of two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
3. Dallas at Green Bay (Week 14)
Dez Bryant and the Cowboys return to the scene of the catch, I mean, no catch. Rules interpretations aside, Dallas won’t have DeMarco Murray to run the ball against the Packers and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense on the sidelines. While not as important as a playoff game, the outcome of this contest could have a huge hand in determining the eventual NFC playoff picture.
4. Denver at Indianapolis (Week 9)
Peyton Manning took care of his Indianapolis homecoming last season, but could this be his final game in the place where his Hall of Fame career started? And there’s also the small matter of the Colts having beaten the Broncos at home in the playoffs last season.
5. Seattle at Dallas (Week 8)
The Cowboys went into CenturyLink Field last season and used their running game to control the clock and beat the Seahawks on their own turf. Seattle will get the chance to return the favor at AT&T Stadium and won’t have to worry about DeMarco Murray putting up 115 yards rushing again. However, Dallas’ stellar offensive line is still around, as are Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The Seahawks will have their own new wrinkle, All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. Should make for an entertaining Sunday afternoon in Jerry Jones’ house, no?
6. Philadelphia at Dallas (Week 9)
The Eagles and Cowboys will first get together in Week 2, but it’s the second act of this NFC East rivalry that will feature the aforementioned Murray’s much-anticipated AT&T Stadium debut as a visitor. OK, while Cowboys fans probably aren’t looking forward to seeing No. 29 in an Eagles uniform (especially if Darren McFadden struggles), you know Murray has this game circled on his calendar.
7. New England at Indianapolis (Week 6)
The Patriots beat the Colts twice last season by a combined score of 87-27. In fact, in four career matchups, Andrew Luck has lost by at least three touchdowns to Bill Belichick’s team. So why should this game be any different? Well, Luck and the Colts will get the reigning champions on their turf, and this is not the same New England team that thumped them 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game. And it probably goes without saying that the officials at Lucas Oil Stadium will do whatever it takes to ensure that all the footballs are not only properly inflated, but also remain that way.
8. New England at Dallas (Week 5)
Potential Super Bowl 50 preview? Perhaps, but regardless of whether either or both teams end up playing in San Francisco in February; this is one of the more intriguing AFC vs. NFC matchups on the ’15 slate. And are there any more hated teams in the NFL than the Patriots and Cowboys?
9. Pittsburgh at New England (Week 1, Thursday)
The reigning champions kick off defense of their title (as well as the 2015 season) at home against a team with Super Bowl aspirations of their own. Unfortunately, while the Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tom Brady dynamic will be intact, there will be no backfield battle between Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, as both are presently suspended for the opener. Don’t get me wrong, this should still be a quality, entertaining game, but DeAngelo Williams vs. James White/Travaris Cadet/pick a Patriot just doesn’t have the same juice as Bell vs. Blount.
10. Philadelphia at New England (Week 13)
Offensive mastermind (same would say mad scientist) Chip Kelly vs. defensive genius (and future Hall of Famer) Bill Belichick. What’s not to like about this coaching chess match in early December? And who knows, there may even be another Tim Tebow sighting at Gillette Stadium. Maybe.
Five Other Intriguing Matchups
New York Jets at New England (Week 7)
Darrelle Revis got his Super Bowl ring with the Patriots last season, and promptly went back to the Jets for $70 million over five years. Will Tom Brady challenge the solitude of Revis Island?
Green Bay at Denver (Week 8)
It may seem hard to believe, but Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have never faced each other, even though the two have combined for 359 career starts. As long as both stay healthy, that will change come the night of Nov. 1.
Buffalo at New York Jets (Week 10, Thursday)
Rex Ryan comes back to the Big Apple. Enough said, unless you’re looking forward to a potential Matt Cassel vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick QB duel.
Denver at Chicago (Week 11)
New Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase host their former employer, which also happens to be the same team that drafted Jay Cutler 11th overall in the 2006 draft. Oh and Peyton Manning also beat Chicago in Super Bowl XLI for his only ring. How’s that for payback-driven storylines?
Buffalo at Philadelphia (Week 14)
LeSean McCoy back in the City of Brotherly Love. Forget the reception from Eagles fans, how will McCoy and Chip Kelly greet one another?