There are 256 regular season games in the NFL, and while there are plenty of those worth watching, it's important to mark your calendars for some of the really intriguing matchups. The NFL released the full schedule for the 2015 season on Tuesday, giving dates and times to the games we already knew were coming.
Obviously, such a list will feature a lot of talk about the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and the other elite teams in the league. Of course we'll want to see how the defending Super Bowl champions are looking, and Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, so you can pretty much circle 16 games there. But other than simply watching the elite face the elite, there are plenty of underlying stories and intrigue to make one matchup better than another.
So we're going to look at the 15 best matchups of the upcoming season -- you can bet each of these games are going to be worth watching, one way or the other.
Week 1: New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
As the defending Super Bowl champions, the Patriots will play host to the season opener at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 10. This is the first real, meaningful football action since February. It really doesn't matter who they're playing -- no offense to the Steelers. The Patriots have been one of the most successful NFL dynasties ever, but many perceive their window as closing with Tom Brady getting older. Will they have another successful run? It starts here, if so.
Week 1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Tennessee Titans
Let's not beat around the bush -- the Buccaneers are not likely to enter the 2015 season with Mike Glennon as the starting quarterback. It's just not going to happen. On top of that, they didn't manage to sign a veteran in free agency who could realistically take over the job. They'll likely need to draft a rookie to do the duty, and smart money is on that being one of Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, taken with the first overall pick. This will be the first chance to see said quarterback in action, which means it's absolutely worth watching.
The 49ers will be an interesting team to watch all season. The crazy amount of nonsense that happened this offseason cannot be overstated, with drama all over the front office and across the roster. Just seeing what they look like should be a goal of everyone watching, but the first game against the Cardinals is interesting for one reason in particular: defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. He joined the 49ers as a free agent and if you weren't aware, his trash-talking game is elite. Will he trash talk his former team, and better yet, will he back it up on the field?
Week 12: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
The defending Super Bowl champs actually have a rather easy-looking schedule as far as home games are concerned. But on the road, they've got several tough matchups, and none tougher than this game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Nov. 29 on NBC. Brady vs. Manning is worth at least one more go-around, isn't it? Of course it is.
Week 6: Baltimore RavensSan Francisco 49ers
This is the second 49ers game appearing on this list and it has nothing to do with the 49ers being a good team (they very well could be). San Francisco had a messy, messy divorce from head coach Jim Harbaugh this offseason and the Baltimore Ravens are coached by Jim's brother John Harbaugh. Do you think Jim will attend, and if so, will he be wearing Ravens gear? The game is worth watching for that alone -- this is also the first meaningful game between the two teams since the Ravens beat the 49ers in Super Bowl 47.
The NFC East has been in a state of constant flux for a while now, with each team taking a turn at the helm. When it finally looked like the Eagles had found their stride and were poised to take a dominant place in the division heading into this past season, the Cowboys remembered that they had some quality players and quickly dispelled that notion. The division and a high seed in the conference were up for grabs in Week 17 last season. Seeing which of these two teams comes out on top early should be plenty interesting.
Week 2: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
Aside from the divisional matchups against the 49ers, Cardinals and St. Louis Rams, the Seahawks have what appears to be a relatively easy schedule, at least judging by last season. But they do have a handful of tough games, and their rather strong home-field advantage won't come into play for those games. The biggest one is this away game against the Packers, a team with legitimate claim to the top spot in the NFC on paper. This is also a rematch of last year's NFC Championship and the infamous Fail Mary game still hangs over this rivalry. This isn't one to miss.
Week 6: New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
This qualifies as one of those "these guys are both really good" games. The Colts are among the NFL's elite but have had something missing, preventing them from really getting over on the top teams. Indianapolis made several positive moves this offseason, but this game against the Patriots will be a true measuring stick, on Oct. 18 at Lucas Oil Stadium on NBC. They need to prove they can be the top team in the AFC before they start worrying about the Super Bowl.
Week 2: Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots
This is the last time the Patriots appear on this list -- we promise. No division did as much as the AFC East to improve this offseason. The Patriots did what the Patriots do and were relatively quiet, but the Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins all made moves to try and close the gap with the Patriots. But not only did Buffalo make a lot of quality moves, they also brought in Rex Ryan to be their new head coach. That immediately intensifies the rivalry with the Patriots as Ryan is ... well, he's not a fan of those guys, you know? Pay attention to the leadup to this game as much as the game itself.
Week 9: Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets
Keeping along the same lines, see what Ryan has to say in the week leading up to this Thursday Night Football game against his former team. There's plenty of room for a rivalry there, not to mention the fact that it's totally wide open behind the Patriots in this division. Either one of these two teams (or the Dolphins) could step into the No. 2 role and push the Patriots. This game could be a good determining factor in figuring out which team that will be.
Week 14: Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles
Revenge is so sweet. Thanks to the scheduling gods, the East divisions are playing each other this season and the Bills are one of the Eagles' home opponents. Fans in Philly have been known to boo Santa Claus, so how do you think the locals at Lincoln Financial Field will welcome LeSean McCoy back to the City of Brotherly Love? On the field, it will be the ultimate battleground to prove which franchise made the right choice in changing up their backfield -- the Eagles with DeMarco Murray, or the Bills with McCoy.
Week 3: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins "won" free agency. They signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a massive contract, signed tight end Jordan Cameron and acquired wide receiver Kenny Stills from the New Orleans Saints. History has not been kind to teams that "win" free agency by any means, but there's a lot of room for competition in the AFC East. This is the first big test for the Dolphins, going up against a Bills team that has gone all-in on contention.
Week 5: Cleveland Browns
The AFC North was probably the most exciting division in football last season. The division was a four-team race for much of the season, and at the end of it all, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals all made it into the playoffs. It was the Browns who fell off the fastest. But the Browns made some quality moves this offseason, bringing in wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, cornerback Tramon Williams, wide receiver Brian Hartline and quarterback Josh McCown. Can they compete in the division? They'll find out early with this matchup.
Week 8: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
As noted above, the AFC North was plenty exciting last year, and the Bengals and Steelers were at the top of it. Seeing which of these teams comes out on top the first time they meet is plenty exciting. This could very well be a two-team race if the Browns can't keep up. The Ravens are a factor but smart money is on these two teams battling for the division lead.
Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs at Green Bay Packers
There are 19 Super Bowl rematches on this year's schedule, and this is the one that started it all -- Super Bowl I on Jan. 15, 1967. Of course, it was merely called the AFL-NFL World Championship at the time when the Packers beat the Chiefs, 35-10, and it would take a few more years until the game got the full super-sized treatment that it deserves. Being that this season is the 50th game in Super Bowl history, it's only fitting that we recognize this Monday Night Football matchup on ESPN as one of the must-see contests on the league's 2015 schedule.
SB Nation presents: The worst games of the 2015 NFL season