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17 Intriguing Games On The NFL Schedule

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It's easy to forget that the NFL has already released the 2010 schedule.  After all we had the NFL Draft, the Bucks had everyone fearing the deer and the Brewers offense has pulled a disappearing act.  So, now that things have settled in a bit and I've had time to digest the schedule, here's 17 games that caught my eye:

Week One: Detroit at Chicago

The last two years the team that opened the season against Detroit made the playoffs.  A good omen for the Bears however this is a test for both teams as the Bears have remade their team via free agency while the Lions have built through the draft.  Can either team compete in the NFC North though?

Week Two: New Orleans at San Francisco

As is customary, the Saints open the season on a Thursday night but then have a long layover and face an improving 49ers team.  The NFC West is wide open and the Niners can make an early statement with a Monday Night win over the defending champs.  This game features the classic confrontation of a wide-open offense against a shut down defense.

Week Three: Green Bay at Chicago

Another Monday Night matchup here and Packers-Bears is always special under the lights.  However, with the Packers facing Philadelphia early and the Bears traveling to Dallas in Week 2 neither team will want to close September with the potential of two losses already on the books.

Week Four: Baltimore at Pittsburgh

There's a reason the Ravens wear purple and the Steelers wear black.  Both teams love to bruise their opponents with physical play.  When these two meet it's usually painful to watch with all the carnage on the field.  Last year the Ravens beat Pittsburgh when the Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger and Baltimore gets the early advantage again in this crucial AFC North battle.

Week Five: Minnesota at New York Jets

Which team is better equipped for LAF (that's Life After Favre)?  New York is already prepared with Mark Sanchez back for his second year but is he the real deal or will he be in sophomore slump?  The real question is will #4 be under center for the Vikings or will Minnesota be caught unprepared?  Either way keep an eye on the defensive line for both teams as the Vikings and Jets feature some of the best defensive linemen in the game.

Week Six: New Orleans at Tampa Bay

I called it when the season ended and I'll say it again: the Buccaneers will make the playoffs in 2010.  Everyone knows the last place team in the NFC South qualifies for the postseason the next year and if Tampa Bay is to continue the trend they will need to win within the division.  A victory over New Orleans would serve as a huge statement and remember, the Bucs shocked the Saints on the road late last year.

Week Seven: Arizona at Seattle

Pete Carroll might be surprised to find that this is the Arizona Cardinals on the schedule, not the University of Arizona.  Joking aside, the Seahawks are well positioned to take back the NFC West but to do so they'll need to beat the two-time defending division champs.  Arizona comes back to the pack with Matt Leinert under center but look for extra motivation here as Leinert faces his former college coach.

Week Eight: Pittsburgh at New Orleans

The Steelers may or may not be happy to have Roethlisberger back after his suspension but either way this Sunday Night showdown is one of the marquee matchups of the season.  A Roethlisberger-Drew Brees duel has the potential for big points but if either of these two teams want to return to the Super Bowl they'll need to showcase their defense and this is a prime spot to do so.

Week Nine: Dallas at Green Bay

The calendar turns to November and with it a huge NFC showdown as the Cowboys come to Lambeau Field.  This will mark the fourth straight year these two meet and desperation may start to set in as both teams will be in the middle of a brutal stretch of games on the schedule.  A win for either team would be a shot in the arm heading into the second half of the season.

Week Ten: Tennessee at Miami

In 2008 both teams won their division but in 2009 a slow start kept both out of the playoffs.  Nevertheless both the Titans and the Dolphins played well enough in the second half of '09 to claw into the playoff race.  If the AFC is as muddled this year as it was last year a potential tiebreaking win like this one will loom large come late December.

Week Eleven: Indianapolis at New England

I wrote the same thing last year: Colts.  Patriots.  In November.  Enough said.

P.S. Dear Mr. Belichick, don't be afraid to punt.

Week Twelve: Kansas City at Seattle

It is fitting that Carroll should meet Charlie Weis again on Thanksgiving weekend.  For years Carroll's USC teams beat up on Weis's Notre Dame squads in late November.  Now Carroll is guiding Seattle while Weis is the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs.  Both teams have put the pieces in place to be contenders and as the jockeying for playoff position begins a win here would be a huge boost for either of these up-and-coming teams.

Week Thirteen: Washington at NY Giants

It doesn't get much better than a December NFC East showdown and normally the Giants can handle the Redskins but this year it's different.  Donovan McNabb made a habit of beating the Giants late in the season with Philadelphia and now McNabb is leading the 'Skins.  After fading down the stretch the last two years New York cannot take anything for granted in December.

Week Fourteen: Baltimore at Houston

Is this finally the year the Texans break through and make the playoffs?  If so Houston may need a win here as the Texans finish with Baltimore, Tennessee, Denver and Jacksonville.  Meanwhile Baltimore will be coming off another physically taxing matchup with Pittsburgh.  With Anquan Boldin now in Baltimore this could be a shootout featuring Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Houston's Matt Schaub.

Week Fifteen: Jacksonville at Indianapolis

Last year the Jaguars stood toe-to-toe with the undefeated Colts in a memorable Thursday night matchup.  Traditionally this game has served as a barometer for both teams.  Indeed the last five games between these two have been decided by a total of 18 points and another nip-and-tuck game should be expected.  As an added twist if the Colts are unbeaten at this point will we again hear talk of resting starters this early?

Week Sixteen: San Diego at Cincinnati

Last year the Chargers scored a huge late season win over the reeling Bengals at home.  This year San Diego has to go on the road to face Cincinnati in a potential cold weather situation.  Both teams were division winners last year, can the same hold true this year?  If not, this may be a elimination game in a wide-open AFC playoff race.

Week Seventeen: Dallas at Philadelphia

Rivalry Week: NFL-style.  This year the NFL is experimenting with all divisional games in Week Seventeen and perhaps none will be bigger than this one.  In 2008 the Eagles stunned the Cowboys in the season finale to knock Dallas out of the playoffs.  Last year the Cowboys returned the favor and clinched the NFC East with a win over the Eagles.  To be sure, this game will carry major NFC playoff implications.

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