When the NFL schedule was released on Thursday, each team had one game that stood out a little more than the others.
It could be an early-season test, an annual showdown against a division rival, a rematch against a team that knocked you out of the playoffs or a visit from one of the NFL’s best teams. But there’s always one game that seems like the highlight.
With the schedule out, it’s time to identify the biggest game for each of the 32 NFL teams this season.
Week 1 vs. Falcons
To the victors go the opening NFL game. Philadelphia waited a long time for a Super Bowl title, and it will be a madhouse for the opener. The Eagles also want to get off their title defense to a good start, and there’s a big question of whether Carson Wentz or Nick Foles will be at quarterback, depending on Wentz’s recovery from knee surgery.
Week 10 at Eagles
By this point of the season, we’ll know if the Cowboys — presumably with Ezekiel Elliott for a full season, but without the released Dez Bryant — have regained their status as a contender. And if they have, this Sunday night showdown at Philadelphia will have huge implications.
Week 3 vs. Packers
Washington has two winnable games in Week 1 and Week 2, at the Cardinals and at home against the Colts. The Redskins have an early Week 4 bye, and there’s a chance a tough home date against the Packers could offer the chance to begin the season 3-0 before a week off.
New York Giants
Week 1 vs. Jaguars
There is the Tom Coughlin angle, as the former Giants coach now runs the Jaguars front office. More than that, it’s a chance for a new-look Giants offense with a healthy Odell Beckham (and perhaps Saquon Barkley?) to test itself against a very good Jaguars defense.
Week 2 at Packers
Last season, the Vikings knocked Aaron Rodgers out of commission with a broken collarbone, and beat Green Bay twice with Brett Hundley playing most of the time. Assuming a healthy Rodgers this year, the Vikings will face a much tougher test as they look to defend their division title.
Week 3 vs. Patriots
What a spot for new Lions coach Matt Patricia. He gets to face a Patriots team he was with from 2004-17, and it will be on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” A win against the defending AFC champions in prime time would be huge for Patricia as he tries to establish himself in Detroit.
Green Bay Packers
Week 9 at Patriots
While both games against the Vikings will be fun, a date at New England will probably be the last time we get to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers square off (though, who knows when Brady will actually retire). That’s appointment viewing, and strangely enough, just the second time the two legends have faced each other.
Week 1 at Packers
You can pick any one of the four games against the Vikings or Packers. For the Bears to be taken seriously, and for Mitch Trubisky to establish himself as the quarterback answer the Bears have hoped for, they’ll need to play better against the two established powers in the division. What better time than the first “Sunday Night Football” game of the season?
New Orleans Saints
Week 8 at Vikings
Nobody will ever forget the way the Saints’ last trip to Minneapolis ended. Even though there probably won’t be a second Stefon Diggs miracle, this is a great matchup between two of the top contenders in a loaded NFC.
Week 17 at Saints
Carolina was very good last season, just not as good as the Saints. The Panthers lost six times including playoffs last season, and three of those losses came against New Orleans. They gave the Saints a spirited run in the playoffs but fell just short. The NFC South should be very good again, and the Panthers need to get over the Saints hump to win the division.
Week 12 at Saints
The Saints-Falcons rivalry is one of the best in the NFL, and now that the Saints are contenders again it’s even better. Both games between these 2017 playoff teams will go a long way in shaping this season’s NFC playoff picture. The second meeting between the teams this season comes in prime time on Thanksgiving, and we should thank the schedule makers for that one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 2 vs. Eagles
The Buccaneers came into last season as a popular pick to break out, then watched as the rest of the NFC South left them behind. The Bucs can’t afford a slow start after last season’s disappointment. Coach Dirk Koetter, who was on the hot seat by the end of last season, doesn’t have the job security for a sluggish start. Beating the Eagles in their home opener would be quite a statement.
Los Angeles Rams
Week 15 vs. Eagles
The Rams loaded up to chase a Super Bowl this season, with additions like Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Getting a No. 1 seed would make the Super Bowl road easier, and a win over the defending champion Eagles – who won in Los Angeles last December – would go a long way toward that. When these two teams square off on “Sunday Night Football” in December, it’s possible the top seed in the NFC playoffs could be at stake.
Week 1 at Broncos
The Seahawks shook things up in the offseason, hitting the reset button as they moved on from some big-name veterans and both coordinators. As a result, what we see early in the season from the Seahawks is a bit of a mystery, though we can count on Russell Wilson being great again. The Seahawks have the tough task of starting their season with two road games.
Week 2 at Rams
The Cardinals didn’t plan well for Carson Palmer’s retirement. Coach Bruce Arians is gone too. This is a new-look Cardinals team, and a slow start with Sam Bradford (or a rookie?) at quarterback won’t lead to much optimism. We’ll get a read on how good they are when they face the Rams.
San Francisco 49ers
Week 7 vs. Rams
The 49ers finished last season on a winning streak led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, giving the franchise a huge shot in the arm. They’ll want to make a statement against the Rams, who suddenly find themselves as the hunted in the NFC West. It’s on “Sunday Night Football,” one of five 49ers prime-time games (they have four prime-time dates over a five-week stretch).
New England Patriots
Week 15 at Steelers
The Patriots have a lot of great matchups on the schedule, so it’s hard to narrow it down to one. No offense to the Jaguars, but it still seems like this late-season showdown with the Steelers will ultimately decide the No. 1 seed in the AFC, just like it did last season.
Week 12 vs. Jaguars
Not only are the Jaguars a marquee opponent – what a change from a year ago – it’s Doug Marrone’s return. The Jaguars coach used a loophole to get out of his Bills contract at the end of the 2014 season, and this will be Marrone’s first game back in Buffalo as a head coach. Also, the Bills will be looking for some playoff revenge.
Week 14 vs. Patriots
The Patriots pretty much dominate everywhere … except Miami, for some reason. New England’s 27-20 loss last Dec. 11 at Miami was a low point for the second half of their season, and a high point in a disappointing Dolphins campaign. Miami will try to work its home magic over New England again.
New York Jets
Week 1 at Lions
The Jets-Lions game was randomly picked to be the first game of the annual Week 1 “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. While that was a strange choice, it allows the Jets to get off to a good start with a national audience watching.
Week 11 at Jaguars
It’s easy to pick a home date against the Patriots, but there is clearly something for Pittsburgh to prove against the Jaguars as well. Jacksonville came into Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season and shocked the Steelers in a one-sided win.
Week 2 at Bengals
Both games against the Steelers will be the typical barroom fights we’re used to seeing. But after Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd connected on a fourth-down miracle in Week 17 to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs last season, the Ravens probably have some payback in mind. The two teams meet in the second Thursday night game of the year.
Week 4 at Falcons
The Bengals have a tricky September: at Colts, vs. Ravens, at Panthers, at Falcons. That’s a tough slate, though with a fast start Cincinnati could set itself up well because the schedule gets easier after that. Whether they’re 3-0 after that start or 0-3, it seems like the end of the gauntlet at the Falcons will be a turning point in their season.
Week 3 vs. Jets
Last season in this space we said, a bit in jest, that a game against the Jets in the first half of the season was the biggest because it was never too early to start worrying about 0-16. Well, the Browns went 0-16. There are no gimmes on this season’s schedule either, but the Browns (and specifically, embattled coach Hue Jackson) don’t want the 0-16 talk to renew if they don’t get an early win. Getting the Jets at home for a Thursday night game is the best shot the Browns have at a win in September.
Week 2 vs. Patriots
Last season the Jaguars gave the Patriots all they could handle in the AFC championship game and came up excruciatingly short. The Jaguars should come into this season thinking Super Bowl, but they also should know the Patriots will likely stand in their way come January.
Week 3 at Jaguars
Last season’s Titans looked primed for a breakout. Instead, the Jaguars stole that title, and the AFC South. The Titans did sweep the Jaguars last season, though Jacksonville had little to play for in Week 17. Tennessee has to know the road to a division title now goes through Jacksonville.
Week 5 at Patriots
“The rivalry is back on,” Colts GM Chris Ballard said in a tense press conference after Josh McDaniels changed his mind at the last minute and stayed in New England. We’ll see if the Colts can improve and really make it a rivalry, but there will be a little extra juice for this matchup. There’s a reason this one was picked for “Thursday Night Football.”
Week 1 at Patriots
If everything goes according to plan, quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt will be back on the field for the season opener after rehabbing injuries. Needless to say, there will be plenty of nervous moments for Texans fans that day, hoping their superstars look like they haven’t lost anything. And it’s not exactly an easy first opponent.
Kansas City Chiefs
Week 2 at Steelers
Not many teams win a division title and then trade a quarterback who posted a passer rating of more than 100. But the clock was ticking on Alex Smith when the Chiefs selected promising Patrick Mahomes in the first round last year. Mahomes doesn’t get an easy start: In Week 1 the Chiefs play at the Chargers, then travel all the way across the country to face Pittsburgh.
Los Angeles Chargers
Week 1 vs. Chiefs
The Chargers made a spirited run at the playoffs last season following a terrible start, until it was derailed by Kansas City in Week 15. With Patrick Mahomes taking over at quarterback in Kansas City there might be an opening in the AFC West, and the Chargers don’t want to play catch-up this year.
Week 1 vs. Rams
“Monday Night Football” just can’t quit Jon Gruden. Gruden’s first game back as Raiders coach will be on ESPN, where Gruden spent many years in the booth. And Oakland faces a Rams team that spent all offseason loading up for a Super Bowl run.
Week 4 vs. Chiefs
The Broncos, with new quarterback Case Keenum, begin the season with three of their first four games at home. So a fast start is required if Denver is going to be in the playoff race. The first meeting against defending AFC West champ Kansas City will come on “Monday Night Football.”
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