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Week 1: Steelers at Broncos
Peyton is back. The biggest wild card in the NFL this season is Denver. If Peyton Manning returns to form, the Broncos could very well be in the thick of the AFC race. Denver’s “D” finished 24th in total defense in 2011 but Vonn Miller and Co. have the potential to be a top 10 unit.
Week 2: Ravens at Eagles
Look out, Mike! Mike Vick had a pair of scary injury situations in the preseason. Though Baltimore’s defense is now bordering on ancient, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed should bring the heat at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 2. Philly has cupcakes in Week 1 (Cleveland) and Week 3 (Arizona) and you know Andy Reid would love to be 3-0 heading into a Week 4 showdown against the Giants.
Week 3: Patriots at Ravens
Billy Cundiff drinks alone. Kicker Billy Cundiff won’t be able to redeem himself in this game after blowing that 32-yard field goal (he recently signed in Washington), but the AFC Championship Game rematch will still have plenty of drama. If the Patriots can get past Baltimore here, another 16-0 regular season could be a talking point on Monday, Sept. 24.
Week 4: Giants at Eagles
NFC B-east. This division should be the best in football and the winner of this Week 4 showdown will give us an early idea of who will be in the driver’s seat come late December. The Giants won in Philly at the same time of year last season but the Eagles got revenge in the Meadowlands just prior to Thanksgiving.
Who do we have here?
Week 5: Broncos at Patriots
Brady vs. Manning. The league’s signature individual rivalry of the past decade returns. Brady and Patriots beat Manning and the Colts, 31-28 in Foxboro, on Nov. 21, 2010 in the last meeting between the two future Hall of Famers. The Broncos will also be peeved because the Pats pounded them in the divisional round last January.
Week 6: Packers at Texas
Super Bowl preview? Houston was a decent quarterback away from being the run-away favorite in the AFC playoffs last year. With Matt Schaub back, the Texans figure to be in the same class of the Packers as two of the best teams in the NFL.
Week 7: Jets at Patriots
Turning point for NYJ. Who knows where the Jets will be at this point? Tim Tebow could be starting at quarterback. Or Mark Sanchez could be thriving there. The NYJ could either be in first place in the AFC East or (gulp) without a win. This will either be a classic Patriots-Jets war or New England could put the final nail in the coffin of the Rex Ryan era. Regardless, we’ll be watching.
Week 8: Giants at Cowboys
Halloween havoc. The Cowboys had little luck with the G-Men last season, going 0-2 against their division foes. This rematch of tonight’s NFL season opener is one of the few marquee games on a relatively weak Week 8 slate.
Week 9: Eagles at Saints
Bounty battle. The original bounty hunters vs. the new bounty hunters; Mike Vick vs. Drew Brees; Strap on your cleats and grab an Abita because this might be the biggest track meet of the year, with two of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses.
Week 10: Broncos at Panthers
The past vs. the future. Peyton Manning looks to show he’s not over the hill against the most electrifying player in the league, Cam Newton. Last year, defenses had no answers for Cam and his 35 total touchdowns.
Week 11: Packers at Lions
Detroit Rock City. The Pack have had their way with the NFC North for the past couple of seasons, but the times may be a’changin’. If Matt Stafford and Megatron are clicking, Detroit could leave Week 11 in first place.
Week 12: 49ers at Saints
Oh, this should be fun. The last time we saw these two, Alex Smith had just thrown a 14-yard TD pass with nine seconds remaining, as the 49ers punched their NFC Championship ticket. That didn’t sit well down in the Big Easy but it remains to be seen if New Orleans will be able to overcome all the offseason turmoil and still be in the mix come Thanksgiving.
Week 13: Steelers at Ravens
Changing of the guard? Don't adjust your TV sets. For the first time in this storied rivalry, the combatants rely more on high-octane offenses over hard-hitting defenses. Last year, the Ravens swept the series for the first time since 2006.
Week 14: Texans at Patriots
Battle for AFC supremacy. With Arian Foster leading an unstoppable rushing attack, the Texans are out to prove they more than just one-hit wonders. This could easily be an AFC Championship preview.
Week 15: Giants at Falcons
Showdown at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons were absolutely inept in their playoff loss to Big Blue, forcing Atlanta to change their philosophy. They're now a pass-first offense who has had this one marked since last winter.
Week 16: Chargers at Jets
Playoff slot on the line? The Chargers and Jets usually enter with Super Bowl aspirations, but their windows seem to be closing. Can Tim Tebow provide some sparks? Can Philip Rivers pull one last rabbit out of his hat?
Week 17: Eagles at Giants
Division crown on the line? Anything and everything can and usually does happen when these two meet at the Meadowlands. Set the DVR and expect the unexpected. Who knows, the NFC East title may be on the line.