The NFL has announced the full schedule for the 2014-15 regular season, which means it's time to start talking about the best games. Some of these games were pretty obvious from the start, and weren't dependent on when they'd be played. For instance, you already knew the Super Bowl rematch was going to be one to watch, but we're fully prepared to beat that dead horse.
Anyway, let's jump into the 15 best games of the upcoming season and kill some time before the NFL Draft, which seems so far away still.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins
The NFC East has been one of the most competitive divisions in football during the last several seasons. Teams have had trouble separating themselves from the pack, and that was especially true in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In each of those seasons, the Cowboys were a win away from making it into the playoffs. In every single one, the Cowboys lost -- to the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, one after the other.
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In other words, the Week 17 game involving the Cowboys has been a de-facto NFC East Championship game, and we know that things never change in the NFL, right? Right!
Houston Texans vs. Washington Redskins
The Texans were among the NFL's top teams in 2012, clearly counted as one of the elite. That all changed in 2013, when Matt Schaub hit a figurative wall (maybe a literal one?) and became a machine specifically designed to find new ways to complete passes to the opposite team. Houston suddenly collapsed, and finished with the worst record in the NFL.
But the Texans are moving forward, and if they took one giant step back in 2013, that means they're still only one step away from where they were the previous year. The reason this game is so interesting is the fact that Houston will have a new quarterback throwing the football. Think of the first game we saw Andrew Luck play for the Indianapolis Colts.
Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks
This game would be an awful lot more interesting if it was being played in Denver. Seattle's home-field advantage isn't a guarantee that it will go in the Seahawks' favor, but many believe the Broncos have a lot more to offer than what they managed to display in the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning against that defense will always be a great matchup, and it seems likely the Broncos can at least put up a better fight than they did last time out.
Either San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahwaks game
Week 13 at SF; Week 15 at SEA
The 49ers and Seahawks might be the two best teams in the NFL. When the two played in the NFC Championship game this past season, nobody quite knew what would happen ... despite the two teams playing two previous times in the regular season. It doesn't matter where they play or even when they play, the 49ers and Seahawks facing off is a sight to see and should be some of the most anticipated matchups of the season.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
It's still weird to see Peyton Manning playing for a team other than the Colts. Last season, the Broncos played in Indianapolis, where Manning was cheered by the local fans (at the beginning of the game, of course). This time, Andrew Luck and the Colts will travel to Denver. It's a big test for Indianapolis to gauge the strength of the defense, but it's the storyline of Manning playing his old team that will have most people excited.
New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers
Packers fans were robbed of a half-season of Aaron Rodgers last year. Rodgers went down with an injury, and the Packers suffered because of it. Seeing Rodgers versus Brady just feels right, as two of the best quarterbacks in the league. What will be most interesting, however, is not whether either quarterback can be stopped by the opposing defense, but how poor the secondaries will look in this game. Brady should shred Green Bay's abysmal unit and Rodgers could definitely do the same to New England. Bet the over on this one, yeah?
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Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
It's always interesting when a former star player returns to play his former team at his old home for the first time (See Manning, Peyton). When that former player is one of the most-explosive players in the NFL, still in his prime, and coming off a somewhat messy divorce from his old team, that game becomes a must watch. DeSean Jackson's return to the Linc has the potential for fireworks.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Look, you don't need me to tell you why this is a good game. It's Tom Brady and the Patriots versus Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Brady continues to hold the edge against Manning and that's not going to change given the time left in either of their careers, but it's still a rivalry worth watching every time you possibly can. After losing the regular season meeting in overtime, the Broncos dominated the playoff game last year. Brady holds the edge at 10-4 in Manning/Brady games.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
The NFC South should be an exciting battle between these two teams, though neither the Atlanta Falcons or Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be counted out, obviously. But the main event is the Panthers and the Saints. We've chosen the game in New Orleans because it could easily be a deciding factor within the division. The Panthers have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the Saints have one of the best offenses. Further, the Saints are a much, much better team when playing in the Superdome. If the Panthers can win there, it would be mighty impressive.
San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
Sure, this list is a bit heavy on teams like the Broncos and 49ers, but they're two of the top three teams in the entire NFL at this point. The 49ers have a strong defense, the Broncos have a strong offense. These two almost played in the Super Bowl, and this is the matchup fans were denied when the Seahawks hung on to beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears
Lovie Smith is one of the most successful head coaches in Chicago Bears history. That wasn't enough to keep him from being fired and now he'll return to Soldier Field as the head coach of the Buccaneers. The game will be notable for Smith's return, but should also be entertaining on the field. The Bucs and Bears figure to be in the NFC playoff hunt and the game could potential have wild card implications. A Tampa Bay win would be especially sweet for Smith.
Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers
Hey, did you guys know that Alex Smith used to play for the 49ers? True story! These two teams have met in the preseason since Smith went to Kansas City and helped turn that team around big time. But that's not enough. We need to see what happens when Smith goes to Levi's Stadium to take on the 49ers in a meaningful regular season game. It helps that these are two really good teams as well.
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
They don't get discussed as much as Seattle and San Francisco, but the Packers and Saints aren't far behind in the race for the NFC. Both teams feature high-powered offenses, possibly leading to a shootout. If Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are healthy, the matchup will be one of the best quarterback duels of the season. It could also potentially be a NFC Championship preview as both teams have the talent to get there, regardless of how much attention is paid to the NFC West.
Either Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game
WEEK 2, WEEK 9
The Steelers and Ravens are coming off down seasons, but their rivalry is still one of the best in the NFL. Their games last year were hard-fought, entertaining battles, just like they usually tend to be. Both teams are candidates for bounce back seasons and the matchups could go a long way in deciding who wins the AFC North.
New England Patriots at New York Jets
Jets-Patriots games are rarely short on entertainment. From whatever Rex Ryan may have said that week to the fact there is no love lost between the two AFC East rivals. New England lost to the Jets on the road last year and its trip to New York this year will have the added element of the return of Darrelle Revis. The one-time Jet will played in New York last season with the Bucs, but returning as a member of the rival Patriots turns things up a notch.