Although we already knew the opponents for every team, the NFL on Tuesday night released the 2012 NFL schedule with the dates and times of every game. The NFL is somewhat unique in the that every team can legitimately say before the season that it has a shot to compete for the playoffs. The playoff field annually has a turnover rate of about 50 percent, so even those teams that missed the playoffs last season have good reason to feel they can make a playoff run.
There are a ton of highlights to go over with the schedule release. Here are a few of them, including the best games each week.
Related: 2012 NFL Schedule Team-By-Team
Peyton Manning's debut comes in Denver. Mark your calendars -- 8:20 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9. Manning lines up as a Bronco for the first time against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's gonna be strange seeing him in Broncos colors. Pittsburgh's defense is about as tough as a first game as you can get.
The NFL obviously expects Manning to be healthy. Why else would they put Manning and the Broncos in primetime in a whopping four of their first eight games? The Broncos got five total primetime games, which is the max you can receive. The fact that four of them are coming so early in the season suggests the league thinks Manning will be healthy.
Harbaugh vs. Schwartz in Week 2. The surprise team in last year's playoffs, 49ers, lands a total of five primetime games, starting with the Lions in Week 2. Why is the Lions game significant? The handshake reunion. I'm sure they've made up by this point. And learned how to shake hands. San Francisco is one of the up-and-coming teams in the league so they're getting some good treatment from the league. I'm already looking forward to the game against the Patriots, which should be one of the best defenses against one of the best defenses.
A total of eight teams received the maximum five primetime games. Those teams are the defending champion New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers.
New England only has four primetime games. Not a big deal but it seems strange that the Patriots, of all teams, wouldn't have the max number of primetime games.
Giants will set a new NFL record this year. The Giants will be the first team in NFL history to play a game on a Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday and Monday in one season. The Wednesday game comes from the season opener against the Cowboys, then the Thursday Night Football game, the regular Sunday games and then Monday Night Football.
Thanksgiving lineup has two huge rivalries. The Texans and Lions are the first Thanksgiving game and while it'll be a cool game, it's hardly a rivalry. You can't say the same for the two other Thanksgiving day games -- Redskins vs. Cowboys and Patriots vs. Jets. For Washington, this game comes only five days after playing the Eagles. Hope Robert Griffin III is in good shape.
Saints first six games are actually manageable. The Saints will be playing the entire season without head coach Sean Payton but they'll only be without assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. Those first six games appear very manageable -- Redskins, at Panthers, Chiefs, at Packers, Chargers, BYE, at Buccaneers. The Packers are the only team you can say will definitely be elite this year. The rest of the games? The Saints should be favored to win, bounty suspensions or not.
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III make their debut. Assuming the Colts select Luck, his first game will come against the Bears. And assuming the Redskins select RGIII, his first game will come against the Saints.
All divisional games in Week 17. Once again, the NFL has the schedule so that Week 17 features divisional games only. This was first done last season to make the final week of the season more competitive with more playoff ramifications.
There are a number of great NFL games every week but I went out and picked out the one I'm looking forward to the most each week.
Week 1, Steelers vs. Broncos: Manning's first game as a Bronco against one of the league's best defenses.
Week 2, Lions vs. 49ers: All eyes on the postgame handshake. And, oh yeah, both these teams are really good.
Week 3, Patriots vs. Ravens: Two of the best teams over the last decade.
Week 4, Saints vs. Packers: Two of the best quarterbacks and offenses in the game.
Week 5, Broncos vs. Patriots: Manning vs. Brady returns with a slightly different look.
Week 6, Giants vs. 49ers: Rematch of the NFC Championship game.
Week 7, Ravens vs. Texans: One team that's been great for a decade vs. one team that could be good for the next decade.
Week 8, Redskins vs. Steelers: OK, RGIII, let's see how good you really are.
Week 9, Eagles vs. Saints: Should resemble a video game.
Week 10, Broncos vs. Panthers: Peyton meets Cam.
Week 11, Ravens vs. Steelers: Arguably the best annual matchup.
Week 12, Packers vs. Giants: This is also Thanksgiving week. One of the best games of the entire season.
Week 13, Saints vs. Falcons: Late season divisional game that should have playoff implications.
Week 14, Saints vs. Giants: What would've been the NFC Championship game last year if the 49ers hadn't upset the Saints.
Week 15, 49ers vs. Patriots: Last year's top defense vs. last year's top offense.
Week 16, Redskins vs. Eagles: RGIII meets Michael Vick.
Week 17, Eagles vs. Giants: I'm assuming this game has playoff implications (and the Eagles don't implode this year...)