LOS ANGELES, September 3, 2014 — The 2014 NFL season is set to begin on Thursday night. Leatherheads everywhere are foaming at the mouth in advance of Week One, but what are the big games to look forward to over the course of the season?
An honest list would have all 256 games as worth watching this season, but for the sake of brevity, this list has been confined to the ten best games in one leatherhead’s opinion.
The Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Indianapolis Colts did not make the list. The St. Louis Rams would have ranked high on the list due to their fierce defensive slugfests with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. The injury to quarterback Sam Bradford may have reduced the Rams to rubble.
The Colts do play the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, but the Colts are also-rans until proven otherwise. The Denver Broncos also play the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks, but the Chargers are also-rans and the Super Bowl was such a mismatch that the rematch elicits a yawn. One game on this list will surely provoke outrage, but the reason for inclusion goes beyond the action on the field.
With that, here are the ten most anticipated games of 2014.
10. Miami Dolphins at Oakland Raiders in London — Sunday, September 28, Week 4
Neither of these teams will be anything special in 2014, although Raiders quarterback Derek Carr could be the next big NFL star. The sole reason this game makes the list is the Raider Nation traveling to London. Will they burn down Wembley Stadium, ransack all of England, or show they are civilized compared to soccer hooligans? The president may have to intervene to prevent World War III with the British Prime Minister.
9. Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs — Sunday, November 30, Week 13
The Chiefs will most likely regress this year, but if they want an ounce of respect as a top tier team, they have to defeat their division rival. Denver swept the series last year and should do so again.
8. Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks — Thursday, September 4, Week 1
Packer fans are still smarting over the “Fail Mary” loss to Seattle in 2012. The officials got the call right, but the key to this game is Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense against the Legion of Boom. The Seattle defense won this battle two years ago.
7. Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears — Sunday, September 28, Week 4
Aaron Rodgers matters. One Hail Mary sent the Packers to the playoffs and knocked the Bears out last year. The Bears should regress this year, and Julius Peppers leaving Chicago to play for Green Bay will have him motivated. If Chicago wants respect, they have to win games like this.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens — Thursday, September 11, Week 2
This was always a top game until both teams had an off year last year. They will both bounce back this year. Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh will make sure that this game returns to being the barefooted slobber knocker on defense that is usually decided in the final moments.
5. Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday, September 21, Week 3
DeSean Jackson fled Philadelphia for Washington. This is the year we find out of Robert Griffin III in 2012 and Chip Kelly in 2013 were flukes or the start of something long-lasting. RGIII will bounce back this year. Will Jay Gruden be the next Chip Kelly? Big plays make for a pinball machine scoring spree.
4. New England Patriots at New York Jets — Sunday, December 21, Week 16
The utter contempt these teams share has seen New England win most of the battles, but Rex Ryan still has the ability to vex Bill Belichick. Tom Brady would love to finally get Ryan canned permanently.
3. New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons — Sunday, September 7, Week 1
The Saints may be the best team in football. The Falcons had an off-year last year and are expected to bounce back. If the Saints win easily in the opener, they could steamroll their way to the best record in the NFL. An Atlanta victory could scramble the battle for the NFC South and even possibly home field advantage from the opening day.
2. Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers — Thanksgiving Thursday, November 27, Week 13
This was the NFC title Game last year. Either of these teams could win it all, but they play in the brutal NFC West where all four teams play tough. Seattle will probably win at home, making the game in San Francisco the key to the division and perhaps the conference title. Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll bring their mirror image nasty defenses and mobile quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson back for another slugfest. The Seahawks have the rings, giving the 49ers extra motivation in their new stadium. This would have been the top game except all of the problems surrounding the 49ers could drag them down before this game is played.
1. Denver Broncos at New England Patriots — Sunday, November 2, Week 9
This was the AFC Title Game last year, and it will most likely be the AFC Title Game this year. The rest of the AFC are tomato cans. This game could determine home field advantage, although both of these cold weather teams could get a road win. Peyton Manning beat Tom Brady, and Denver still has the better defense. New England will have the revenge factor, and Brady is burning for this one.