17 intriguing games on the NFL schedule
Week 1: Washington at New Orleans The Redskins mortgaged the future to grab a franchise quarterback in the draft so this will likely be the debut of Robert Griffin III. It will also be the first look at the shorthanded Saints after the bounty hunting program came to light.
Week 2: Detroit at San Francisco Sure, this could be billed as Harbaugh-Schwartz II but it is also an opportunity for the Lions to prove themselves. Even though Detroit made the playoffs in 2011 they did so without a win against any NFC heavyweights. To be Super Bowl contenders the Lions must win games like this.
Week 3: Green Bay at Seattle Is Matt Flynn the real deal? A Monday night matchup against his former team will give us an early indication if Flynn is ready for prime time.
Week 4: Carolina at Atlanta The Panthers came back to life in 2011 and with the NFC South up for grabs these divisional games are crucial.
Week 5: Houston at New York Jets Sanchez or Tebow? The question may not fully be answered by this point but the Jets are sure to be as entertaining as they are dysfunctional in their first prime time game of the season.
Week 6: Denver at San Diego In consecutive years the Chargers eliminated the Peyton Manning-led Colts from the postseason. Now it's payback time as Manning's new team meets a crumbling San Diego team for the first time in 2012.
Week 7: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Like the Lions, Cincinnati returned to respectability in 2011 but did so without win against a team with a winning record. To take the next step Cincinnati must beat either Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
Week 8: New York Giants at Dallas New York's season was five minutes away from ruin before two late touchdowns propelled the Giants over Dallas in Week 14 of the 2011 season. That coupled with a Week 17 winner-take-all thrashing of the Cowboys put the Giants in position to make their Super Bowl run. The two teams collide again as the 2012 season reaches the halfway point, traditionally a time when the bullseye grows bigger on the champions' backs.
Week 9: Tampa Bay at Oakland It's sometimes amazing to watch the domino effect in the NFL. Four years ago a Week 17 upset of the Bucs by Oakland eliminated Tampa Bay from the playoffs and led to the dismissal of Jon Gruden. After three lackluster years under Raheem Morris Tampa Bay is again back to square one. Meanwhile the Raiders are putting the pieces together since their first postseason appearance since the Super Bowl XXXVII loss to a familiar foe.
Week 10: Tennessee at Miami While this game may not appear to be intriguing on the surface, it serves as a proxy for the importance of quarterback play. In both 2011 and 2012 the Dolphins failed to nab a marquee free agent quarterback, as such Miami may be forced to reach for a quarterback in this week's draft. Meanwhile, Tennessee has groomed in their franchise quarterback as the Titans set their sights on a wide-open AFC South.
Week 11: Indianapolis at New England Why not one last time for tradition's sake.
Week 12: Carolina at Philadelphia Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close with a matchup of electric quarterbacks. Around this time last year the Eagles saved Andy Reid's job with a strong finish but he may not survive a second straight disappointing season.
Week 13: Pittsburgh at Baltimore With Indianapolis rebuilding this becomes the premiere rivalry of 2012 as both teams will not only be gearing up for a division title but a Super Bowl run as well.
Week 14: Detroit at Green Bay This Sunday night matchup comes in the middle of a three game stretch of divisional games for the Packers and it is likely that the winner here will be in the driver's seat for a NFC North title.
Week 15: San Francisco at New England Last year a lack of offense for the 49ers and a lack of defense for the Patriots cost both teams the chance to win the Super Bowl. Did either team make the necessary adjustments to win it all this year? This late season Sunday night battle could hold the answer.
Week 16: Chicago at Arizona After New York, Green Bay and San Francisco there are nine teams good enough to make the NFC playoffs and both these teams are in that group. Tiebreakers and playoff position could be determined here.
Week 17: Kansas City at Denver The Chiefs were snakebitten by injuries last year and a healthy slate should propel the Chiefs into contention against the preseason favorites.