LOS ANGELES, April 21, 2017 — The earth stopped, and everything not related to the National Football League was quickly reduced to its proper irrelevance. Holy week concluding with the 2017 NFL Draft got kicked off with the release of the schedule.
The moment the schedule comes out, leatherheads circle the most important games and plan their lives through the Super Bowl in February of 2018.
Here are the top 20 anticipated matchups of the 2017 NFL season in chronological order.
1) Week 1: Sunday September 10, Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
These perennial playoff teams have had some epic matchups over the years. Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are both playing at an elite level. The Legion of Boom is still solid, although this game will lose some luster if the always loquacious Richard Sherman is traded out of Seattle.
2) Week 2: Sunday night, September 17, Packers at Atlanta Falcons
The rematch of the 2016 NFC Title Game will again have Rodgers travel to duel Matt Ryan. After collapsing in the Super Bowl, this game will be a measuring stick of whether the Falcons have Super Bowl hangover.
A win would put the Packers in a strong position in the never-too-early race for home field.
3) Week 3: Monday night, September 25, Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals
Tony Romo is gone, and Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will be out to avoid the sophomore slump jinx. The Cardinals fell from elite status last year. This is a win-or-bust year for the aging Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald.
4) Week 4: Sunday, October 1, Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
These teams hate each other, and they hit each other. Last year, one stretch over the goal line in the final seconds sent the Steelers to the playoffs and the Ravens home.
5) Week 7, Thursday night, October 19, Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
These bitter AFC West rivals finished 12-4 last year, but the Chiefs swept both games. The Raiders have the explosive offense and the Chiefs have the opportunistic defense.
For the Raiders to get to the next level, they have to figure out the Chiefs.
6) Week 7, Sunday, October 22, New Orleans Saints at Packers
Drew Brees is still putting up gaudy numbers, but he is far closer to retirement than his Green Bay counterpart. Brees and Rodgers both have one Super Bowl ring and a ton of mutual respect.
These are the pinball machine games fans love.
7) Week 9, Sunday, November 5, Falcons at Carolina Panthers
The last two NFC champions went in different directions last year as the Panthers fell from 15-1 to out of the playoffs.
This is the year where Cam Newton either takes his game to the next level or gets beaten until he is injured.
8) Week 10, Sunday, November 12, Cowboys at Falcons
The Cowboys had the best record in the NFL last year but it was the Falcons who solved a Green Bay team that Dallas could not. Prescott, Elliott, and a great offensive line lift up Dallas, but the defense will need to be vastly improved for the Cowboys to keep pace on the indoor Georgia Dome carpet.
9) Week 10, Sunday night, November 12, New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Questions abound as the last two Super Bowl winners clash again. Can Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch be even a fraction of what Peyton Manning was? Will Wade Phillips leaving hurt Von Miller and the defense?
Can anyone figure out Bill Belichick?
10) Week 11, Sunday, November 19, Patriots at Oakland Raiders in Mexico
The Raiders will have two weeks to prepare for this game. The game is technically a home game for the Raiders, who already have a significant fan base in Mexico anyway. The Patriots will be coming off a brutal road game at Denver, but does that ever matter to Tom Brady?
This could be an AFC Title Game preview, and expect the Tuck Rule to be mentioned often.
11) Week 11, Monday night, November 20, Falcons at Seahawks
Atlanta has the offense and Seattle has the defense. Julio Jones will tangle with Kam Chancellor and friends. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn knows Seattle’s defense better than anyone. This has a great chance of being an NFC Title Game preview.
12) Week 12, Sunday, November 26, Broncos at Raiders
Denver knocked the Raiders out of a first round bye in the 2016 regular season finale, but that was in Denver with Derek Carr injured. At home, the Raiders will seek to use its high-octane offense to take down a defense that is less invincible than it was in recent years.
13) Week 13, Sunday, December 3, Panthers at Saints
Cam Newton and Drew Brees both sling the ball at will, and the loser of this game could see their playoff hopes extinguished. Since neither team made the playoffs last year, this game could lead to coaching changes very quickly.
14) Week 14, Sunday, December 10, Cowboys at New York Giants
Despite going 13-3 last year, Dallas lost twice last year to the Giants. The Cowboys were beaten up in a brutal 10-7 loss. Cold weather in the new Meadowlands requires power football. Whoever can run downhill wins these NFC East winter games.
15) Week 15, Sunday, December 17, Patriots at Steelers
Last year’s AFC Title Game was a mismatch. No matter how good the Steelers are, they always seem to lose to the Patriots wherever the game is played. Ben Roetholisberger has a good team. Tom Brady has a great team. Mike Tomlin is a good coach. Bill Belichick is a great one.
The Steelers will not be seen as super Bowl contenders unless they can win games like this at home in December.
16) Week 16, Christmas Monday, December 25, Steelers at Houston Texans
Pittsburgh has big Ben Roethlisberger and bell-cow LeVeon Bell. The Texans had the number one defense last year, and that was without injured J.J. Watt. If Tom Savage or whoever leads them can manage the game better than the departed Brock Osweiler, the Texans could win a slugfest.
17) Week 17, New Year’s Eve Sunday, December 31:
This is where the the biggest of the big dogs come out. Every game is a divisional matchup.
A) Packers at Detroit Lions — Green Bay always seems to have the better team, but Jim Caldwell quietly gets the best out of his players. This may be the last chance for Caldwell and Matthew Stafford to prove they deserve to lead this team. Detroit fans are still stung from the Hail Mary Rodgers unloaded on them a couple years ago.
B) Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles — The battle of second year players shapes up as Prescott and the Cowboys travel to take on Carson Wentz in the unfriendly confines of Philadelphia. Despite the team falling apart after a 3-0 start last year, Wentz showed calmness in the pocket. This game will most likely knock the loser out of the playoff race.
C) Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers — Will anyone show up to watch this game? Oakland fans have traveled to Los Angeles and San Diego, but may be upset at the team preparing for a 2020 move to Las Vegas. As for the Chargers, will anyone outside of San Diego ever care for this perennially under-achieving team. Derek Carr has help. Philip Rivers does not.
The stadium will only seat 30,000 people, and the Raiders may have more fans even though this is a road game.
D) Chiefs at Broncos — The last two AFC West champions both won games with just enough offense and stifling defense. This is a game where Alex Smith and the Denver quarterbacks will either silence their critics or develop more of them. Denver has a new coach in Vance Joseph.
This is the Game Manager Bowl, where avoiding mistakes is the key to having a shot at another division crown.