The NFL schedule is not merely thrown together. While its unveiling is simple, few realize the amount of work that one man puts into the process.
NFL scheduling specialist Howard Katz wants you to watch only the most interesting games. To ensure that happens, he must consider a number of potential pitfalls that could upset fans, teams, and networks. His main goal is to at least minimize the problems into manageable situations.
This article reveals what may be some of the best NFL games this season. Does that sound like a lack of confidence on my part? After all, I could rephrase that sentence to read, "This article reveals what will be the best NFL games this season." However, Katz would agree with the former thought. You never know exactly how certain games will play out. For example, in 2011, Katz scheduled Peyton Manning and Drew Brees to play on Sunday night. It would mark the first time the NFL faced off against the World Series in prime time on a Sunday night. He was certain the game would be an instant classic, but it turned out just the opposite. Manning was sidelined and the Colts were winless. New Orleans went on to crush Indianapolis 62-7.
So, does that mean you should just skip this article because of the uncertainty surrounding the games? Hell no! If anything, uncertainty drives curiosity and that is why we are all here.
As a quick note: All games below that include just the time are on Sundays. All Thursday games are played at night.
20 Chargers at Broncos, Week 8, Thursday
The Broncos have been a thorn in the Chargers’ side for the past few seasons. In 2012 both teams squared off in two epic duels, first on Monday Night Football in October and later in the season. While the Broncos won both, the Chargers didn’t go down easy. Then, last season, their matchups had just as much drama and intensity. Will this year be any different?
19 Browns at Steelers, Week 1, 1:00 ET
Whether quarterback Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer starts, NFL worshipers will be captivated with this game, and when was the last time you heard the words “captivated” and “Browns” in the same sentence? If Hoyer starts and struggles, the cameras will pan to Manziel. Add in the fact that this is a divisional game and things could get explosive. The only thing that can make this more exciting would be the inclusion of Josh Gordon.
18 Chiefs at 49ers, Week 5, 4:25 ET
It will be Alex Smith’s first game against his former team since they traded the quarterback to the Chiefs in April 2013. In 2012, the 49ers benched Smith in favor of a budding Colin Kaepernick who offered a much more dynamic game. Now Smith seeks out a win for some closure. However, a couple of questions remain, which could determine this game’s importance. Can the Chiefs sustain the same unheralded level of success they did last year? And will Kaepernick prove his critics wrong and become an elite (or at least improved) passer?
17 Steelers at Ravens, Week 2, Thursday
Last season was the first since 1999 that neither of these AFC powers made it into the playoffs. This year should be different. The Steelers have a plethora of young talent that should make an immediate impact. They expect second-year receiver Markus Wheaton to run with the “X” receiver position and hope that rookie receiver Martavis Bryant can make an impact. On the flipside, the Ravens’ offense needs to improve upon the pedestrian effort they put forth last year. Also, they need to hope their defense will be more like the one from 2012, the year they won the Super Bowl.
16 Panthers at Saints, Week 14, 1:00 ET
This is a true sleeper pick, but don’t count this game out. With its 1:00 pm Eastern Time showing, it might be the best game of the week you never see. Of course, that all depends on how well the Panthers’ offense holds up. Their receiving core is a mess and their offensive line is unproven. The Panthers and head coach Ron “Riverboat” Rivera hope to build on last year’s strong performance. And the Saints? Well, we expect them to be as explosive as ever.
15 Giants at Eagles, Week 6, 8:30 ET
There are a lot of storylines coming out of the NFC East this offseason, but an overlooked plot is the matchup between the Eagles and Giants. It’s not surprising few have penciled this game into their calendars as a must-see: The Giants fell flat on their face last season finishing 7-9 and third in their division. Eli Manning owned an abysmal 57.5 percent passer rating, and some desk junky high up in the Giants’ headquarters wants Manning to up that to 70 percent. So, you hopefully get where I’m going with this. Another sleeper pick! But, this game has potential for two reasons. One, it’s a divisional matchup and two, it’s a primetime game, which means I have the NFL behind me on this one. And that’s a lot of power to wield.
14 Packers at Bears, Week 4, 1:00 ET
Do we really need much build up to this game? The Packers narrowly beat the Bears last season to win the NFC North. If you don’t remember, Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers converted a fourth-and-8 to receiver Randall Cobb with less than a minute to go. Last year, both teams faced almost insurmountable injuries at the quarterback position—the Bears’ actually proved they had a more stable backup in Josh McCown, who's now in Tampa Bay. In any case, this will be an intriguing matchup, which may affect both teams divisional and playoff standings at season’s end.
13 Redskins at Eagles, Week 3, 1:00 ET
The big story here will be receiver DeSean Jackson returning to Philadelphia, the team that had awarded him a five-year, $48 million extension in 2012 and released him two years later. Jackson, somehow unhappy with that extension, felt like he deserved more. Deemed a malcontent and a disruptive player by the Eagles, the team released him on March 28th, 2014. Some speculate the Eagles released the gifted wide out because reports had him tied to gang members in Los Angeles. It isn’t a surprise the Eagles opted out.
12 49ers at Broncos, Week 7, 8:30 ET
A possible championship matchup? It almost happened last season before the Seahawks scored 16 unanswered points against the 49ers and punched their first-class ticket to MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII. This will be another matchup of the league’s top offense and defense under the primetime lights of Sports Authority Field at Mile High. the Niners will hope it ends differently than their preseason game, which ended 34-0.
11 Eagles at 49ers, Week 4, 4:25 ET
This will be the third time in four weeks the 49ers are featured in this article, but that's not a huge surprise. Most expect San Francisco to contend again this year—and get over the proverbial hump—with an always stout defense and a supposedly improving quarterback. On the flipside, the Eagles likely want to run more offensive plays per game than they did last season, which could test the 49ers’ defense. Last year, the Eagles averaged 64.8 plays per game, finishing 13th in the league. There’s a good chance they’ll top that in 2014.
10 Packers at Seahawks, Week 1, Thursday
Nothing may be more intriguing in week 1 than watching Aaron Rodgers take on the “Legion of Boom.” How will the Seahawks follow up their Super Bowl victory and how will the Packers respond after a shaky 2013 season. More so, have you missed the days when replacement refs roamed the field? Probably not, but you’ll be sure to see plenty of highlights of them attempting to determine whether receiver Golden Tate had caught that game-winning Hail Mary pass. Will more fireworks be in store? The Packers return to the scene of the crime hopeful to rewrite history.
9 Buccaneers at Bears, Week 12, 1:00 ET
Buccaneers’ head coach Love Smith returns to his former city in temperatures and conditions that might be as suited for the former boss as they are for his opponents. In December 2012, the Bears’ new general manager Phil Emery axed Smith after nine relatively successful seasons, which included an 81-63 record, three playoff appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.
8 Patriots at Colts, Week 11, 8:30 ET
The Patriots are 2-0 against Andrew Luck’s Colts after beating them handily 43-22 in last season’s Divisional matchup. In 2012, the Patriots welcomed Luck to the NFL with a 59-24 whooping. Eventually, Luck will wear the crown that currently resides atop the heads of Brady and Manning, but he’d rather take it than have it passed down. And he’s closer than you think. Last year, the Colts defeated the Broncos 39-33 in Lucas Oil Stadium, but the first-overall draft pick has yet to take down the quarterback who also gave Manning fits for over a decade, Tom Brady.
7 Bears at Vikings, Week 17, 1:00 ET
This is one of those entries where you look at it and ask, really? How did the Bears and Vikings make the top 10, let alone the top 7? Three basic reasons: One, it’s a divisional matchup. Two, Jared Allen returns home to face his former team after 17 long grueling weeks away, and three, this game might actually have some playoff implications. No one expects the Vikings to do much this season, especially since the Packers and Bears look to be much more competitive. However, this game could affect the Bears chances at taking the division from the Packers and vice versa. The Vikings and Bears have split their past four regular season matchups, so this game will be competitive.
6 Patriots at Jets, Week 16, 1:00 ET
The Jets take a trip to Revis Island, and hopefully from there, a trip to the playoffs. While the major storyline will be Revis’ return to the Big Apple, the game’s storylines could be much deeper. Of course, that all depends on whether coach Rex Ryan can fully organize his group of jesters who show more bravado than skill on the football field. This is likely Ryan’s last chance to be a Jets’ head coach, so whether this game has playoff implications or it’s his last crack to stick it to Bill Belichick, the former will make the most of this week 16 matchup.
5 Any Thanksgiving Day Game (Bears at Lions, Eagles at Cowboys, Seahawks at 49ers), Week 13, Thursday
Sometimes I wonder whether it’s the Thanksgiving Day games that put me to sleep or the massive amounts of Turkey that I’ve just consumed. Not every Thanksgiving boasts a plate of scrumptious games to feast on for the afternoon. Some have been downright snoozers, but this year, the NFL may have just served you lunch, dinner and the largest side of pumpkin pie and desert you could imagine. By Thanksgiving, every one of these teams could be vying for a playoff spot and most definitely their divisions. These are classic matchups and in recent seasons these teams have produced massive flames with just a flint and some tinder.
4 Colts at Broncos, Week 1, 8:30 ET
Luck vs. Manning Chapter 2. It’ll always be somewhat strange to see both on the same field given how Luck took Manning’s spot in Indianapolis. Luck still has giant-like shoes to fill with the Colts, but he’s already shown he’s the future. In fact, Luck performed equally, if not better than Manning did during his rookie season. However, that was seemingly eons ago and this is week one of the 2014 season. Fans will be ready to watch this primetime game in the Mile-High City.
3 Seahawks at Eagles, Week 14, 4:25 ET
The last time they met, the Seahawks toasted the Eagles 31-14 in 2011. As long as both teams live up to their well-deserved hype, this game should be different. Can Chip Kelly’s offense, led by rising quarterback Nick Foles and receiver Jeremy Maclin, take the unit to the next level? And will the Seahawks defense regress from a year ago? However, the more important storyline may be how this game affects both team’s playoffs standings. By season’s end, both could be competing for a top seed and it may come down to this game.
2 Broncos at Patriots, Week 9, 4:25 ET
Fourteen years after their first battle in the dreary confines of Foxboro Stadium, you’d think the Brady vs. Manning rivalry would have gone stale by now. However, that is anything but the case. Like a fine, sweet wine, their matchups only get better with age. While both quarterbacks probably thought little about their football legacies years ago, each showdown now represents an opportunity to add to their Hall-of-Fame stories.
1 Broncos at Seahawks, Week 3, 4:25 ET
Which team will have the Super Bowl hangover? Or will they? The Seahawks still boast one of the league’s best defenses with a deep defensive line and secondary. Originally, the Seahawks selected third-year cornerback Byron Maxwell just one-round later than current, boastful star Richard Sherman. However, a number of injuries allowed Sherman to pass Maxwell on the depth chart. Now Maxwell has his chance to line up next to Sherman. His first test won’t be easy when he lines up against either Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker or newly signed Emmanuel Sanders. However, if any defense is up to the challenge, it is a squad that grinded that same receiving core (minus Sanders) into dust during last year’s Super Bowl.
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