17 intriguing games on the NFL schedule
Week 1: Atlanta at New Orleans Without coach Sean Payton the Saints stumbled to an 0-4 start to open the 2012 season. Now Payton is back for a full season and the Saints are poised for a rebound but to do that they must beat the defending divisional champs.
Week 2: Miami at Indianapolis Will we see a sophomore slump from either Ryan Tannehill or Andrew Luck? Both teams took steps forward in 2012 with the then-rookie quarterbacks so the question now is can either quarterback take that next step? This matchup could provide an early clue.
Week 3: Houston at Baltimore The Ravens finished 2012 at just 10-6, giving them the worst record among AFC division winners. After an offseason that saw a number of key players leave can the Ravens repeat? Baltimore has to start at Denver in the opener and with the Texans in Week 3 the defending champs could be on the ropes early.
Week 4: Dallas at San Diego Despite two rosters with talent the Cowboys and Chargers have defined average the last two seasons. Last year Dallas was 4-4 at home and 4-4 on the road. Meanwhile, San Diego scored a total of 350 points while giving up 350 points. San Diego made wholesale changes in the offseason and now the pressure is on in Dallas. But can either team stop underachieving?
Week 5: Houston at San Francisco A potential preview of Super Bowl XLVIII. The Texans raced out to an 11-1 start last year before wilting under pressure. A road win over the NFC's best team would help put the late failures of 2012 to rest.
Week 6: Oakland at Kansas City The Ted Thompson Bowl. Both franchises plucked away key members of the Packers front office in an attempt to duplicate Green Bay's track record. Add to that a new quarterback in both KC and Oakland and the question becomes can either team return to respectability?
Week 7: New England at New York Jets Is this it for Rex Ryan? With the Darrelle Revis trade the Jets are now rebuilding and that usual means brooming the head coach. If the Jets flop against the Patriots like they did last November the end will be near for Ryan.
Week 8: Washington at Denver The past meets the future. By this point RGIII should be back to his old self and running the read option against Peyton Manning, one of the last great pure pocket passers.
Week 9: Chicago at Green Bay It has become an annual rite of passage: the leaves change colors, clocks are set an hour back and the Bears fizzle out shortly thereafter. In the last two seasons Chicago has gone 6-10 after Week 9. To help erase this trend the Bears may need to score a key divisional road win on Monday night.
Week 10: Carolina at San Francisco Colin Kaepernick became the NFL's ultimate weapon in 2012 but it was Carolina's Cam Newton who started the trend of the two-way threat quarterback in 2011. It's hard to say if the read option is here to stay but it will be on full display here.
Week 11: Green Bay at New York Giants Have we found the rivalry of the decade? This will mark the fourth straight year these two teams have met in the regular season and it comes at a time when both teams will start gearing up for a Super Bowl run.
Week 12: San Francisco at Washington The prelude comes two weeks earlier but here we'll get to see the NFL's two most exciting quarterbacks go head-to-head for the first time.
Week 13: Pittsburgh at Baltimore Grab an early leftover turkey sandwich and get ready for the AFC North's annual battle royale. Neither team might be as strong as they have been in past year's but until further notice this is still THE rivalry in the division.
Week 14: Seattle at San Francisco Both teams were in one-upsmanship mode in the offseason and this late season matchup could not only help to decide the NFC West but the conference's top seed as well.
Week 15: New England at Miami There's no question the Dolphins are trending upward but until they beat the Patriots Miami remains in the AFC East's backseat. However, Miami gets a break from the schedule makers here by facing the Pats at home in December after three straight years of making a late season trip to Foxboro.
Week 16: Minnesota at Cincinnati Two wild card teams from 2012 meet in a late season interconference game that will help to shape Week 17. NFL individual records could be at stake with Adrian Peterson on one side and A.J. Green on the other.
Week 17: Washington at New York Giants The NFC East was decided on Sunday Night the last two seasons and there's no reason to think it won't be three straight years with the division's two best teams squaring off in the season finale.