If you didn't have a whole lot of fun watching MNF in 2011, I don't blame you. The games were not a whole lot of fun, and even the games that looked good on paper ended up being disappointing more often than not.
Things should be different this year. The 2012 MNF slate looks strong on paper, and some of the matchups lined up for ESPN promise to shake up the landscape of the league.
Here's a one-by-one look at each MNF matchup, with predictions for each and every game.
Date and Time: Sept. 10 at 7:00 p.m.
The Bengals were a lot better than people expected them to be in 2011, as they ended up going 9-7 and making the postseason.
However, they weren't able to master the Ravens, who went 12-4 and won the AFC North. The Ravens beat the Bengals twice last season.
Baltimore's defense is getting older, but it's still dangerous. Andy Dalton is going to be tested right out of the gate.
The same is true of Joe Flacco. He's confident in his abilities, but the Bengals have a solid defense that could give him trouble.
Still, I can't bring myself to doubt the Ravens at home.
Ravens 24, Bengals 17
Date and Time: Sept. 10 at 10:15 p.m.
The Chargers failed to live up to expectations in 2011, going 8-8 and missing out on the postseason. To make matters worse, they haven't exactly gotten better this offseason.
The Raiders are also in a tough spot as an organization. The power structure in Oakland got a big shake-up this offseason, as the Raiders got a new general manager and a new head coach. The days of Al Davis are squarely in the rear-view mirror.
Expectations are not going to be high for the Raiders in 2012. But if Carson Palmer plays well after playing decent football in 2011, the Raiders could very well make some noise in the AFC West.
The Chargers will need improved play from Philip Rivers and improved play from their defense in order to do the same. Since Rivers will be facing a weak Oakland secondary in this matchup, I'll take the Chargers to win it.
Chargers 31, Raiders 20
Date and Time: Sept. 17 at 8:30 p.m.
Peyton Manning's first Monday Night Football outing in a Broncos uniform will come in Atlanta.
Tough draw. The Falcons are routinely one of the toughest teams to beat on the road in the regular season, as Matt Ryan just doesn't lose games at home.
This will be a big year for Ryan and the Falcons. He's always good, and the Falcons will undoubtedly find themselves in the playoff hunt, but the question will always be whether or not they are among the league's elite teams.
We'll be asking that same question of Manning's Broncos. The answer will depend entirely on him. Is he the Manning we remember, or is he a shell of his former self?
Either way, I don't see him beating Matty Ice on the road.
Falcons 31, Broncos 24
Date and Time: Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m.
On paper, this looks like a game that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers should have no trouble winning.
Don't be so sure. Seattle is one of the toughest venues in the league for opposing teams, and the Seahawks are a team on the rise. They'll once again revolve around Marshawn Lynch and his Beast Mode, but they'll also have a new quarterback in Matt Flynn, and they'll be able to throw a very good defense at Rodgers.
Flynn will be in the spotlight in this game, assuming he earns Seattle's starting job. He backed up Rodgers for several seasons in Green Bay, but he had little trouble stealing the show when he got chances to start.
The Seahawks are going to be a big-time sleeper team in 2012. I'm picking them to win an upset in this game.
Seahawks 21, Packers 20
Date and Time: Oct. 1 at 8:30 p.m.
The Bears have been busy bees this offseason. They went out and traded for a much-needed star wide receiver in Brandon Marshall, and they shored up their running back depth chart by signing Michael Bush. His presence will come in handy if Matt Forte's contract situation spins even further out of control.
The Cowboys have also been productive this offseason. They'll be looking to win the NFC East after watching it slip through their grasp last season.
The Bears are going to give the Cowboys problems, but the question I have is whether Chicago has enough talent and depth on defense to contain what is going to be a highly explosive Cowboys offense.
Look for the Cowboys to win this one.
Cowboys 35, Bears 24
Date and Time: Oct. 8 at 8:30 p.m.
In Week 5, we'll get to see the Jets' special Tim Tebow packages in a Monday Night Football setting.
Consequently, I have a feeling we're going to see those packages get absolutely destroyed by the Texans.
The Texans are going to be a very dangerous team in 2012. They have a loaded offense that will be at full strength with Matt Schaub back at the helm. They also have a defense that is still scary despite the losses of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans.
The Jets will need to have a strong defense in 2012 if they hope to contend, as they simply have no idea what they're going to get out of their offense.
Against the Texans, the Jets will be overmatched.
Texans 24, Jets 13
Date and Time: Oct. 15 at 8:30 p.m.
Looks like the NFL schedule-makers saw an opportunity when Manning agreed to sign with the Broncos. He'll be featured on MNF early and often in 2012.
The Chargers aren't quite as menacing as the Falcons, which is good news for Manning and the Broncos. Manning should be able to pick apart a Chargers defense that underachieved in 2011, and he should be able to put points on the board.
The trouble is that Rivers will be able to do those exact same things. The Broncos are going to be strong defensively in 2012, but Rivers is going to be much, much better than he was in 2011.
I get the feeling that this game will end up being one of the more exciting MNF tilts. I'll take the Broncos to win a big one on the road.
Broncos 38, Chargers 35
Date and Time: Oct. 22 at 8:30 p.m.
The Lions will be a team to watch in 2012. They rode their explosive offense to a 10-win season in 2011, and their offense isn't going to be any less explosive this season.
It all revolves around the connection between Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Very few, if any, corners are capable of guarding Megatron one-on-one, and nobody can beat him in a jump-ball situation.
However, the Lions weren't good enough to beat the Bears at Soldier Field last season. The Bears intercepted Stafford four times, and the Lions lost their composure late in the game.
The Bears will have to be similarly tough against Stafford in this game, and they'll also need to protect Jay Cutler from Detroit's brutal pass rush.
Unfortunately, I think the Lions are going to be too much to handle.
Lions 24, Bears 21
Date and Time: Oct. 29 at 8:30 p.m.
The 49ers were the class of the NFC West in 2011, and it wasn't close. They rode their dominant defense to a 13-win season and a division title.
The 49ers are going to have some competition in 2012. The Seahawks will be tough, and so will the Cardinals. Not a whole lot of people noticed, but the Cardinals finished the 2011 season playing very good football.
We're going to know by Week 8 if Kevin Kolb is the answer at quarterback for the Cardinals. He was injured for much of the 2011 season, and he was ineffective when he wasn't hurt. In order for the Cardinals to challenge the 49ers in the division, Kolb needs to be better.
I don't have much faith in Kolb. I'll have even less faith in him when the Cardinals step out onto the field to play the 49ers.
49ers 20, Cardinals 13
Date and Time: Nov. 5 at 8:30 p.m.
The Eagles were without a doubt the most disappointing team in the NFL last season. After all the hype they generated during the offseason, they ended up going 8-8 and missing out on the playoffs.
Don't expect the Eagles to be that mediocre again. They're not going to have any problems on offense, and their defense should be much stronger. The trade for DeMeco Ryans is one of the most important transactions of this offseason, as he's the middle linebacker the Eagles needed last season.
The Saints are going to be under the microscope in 2012. They'll be without Sean Payton, and everyone will be expecting their defensive players to be on their best behavior. That's a disadvantage, as the refs will surely throw flags at the slightest hint of an illegal hit.
It's a good thing the Saints still have Drew Brees. As long as they have him, they have a chance to contend.
And as long as they have him, they can outscore the Eagles.
Saints 38, Eagles 28
Date and Time: Nov. 12 at 8:30 p.m.
Mark these words: The Chiefs are going to be a dangerous team in 2012.
Of course, the Chiefs ended up being a surprisingly dangerous team in 2011 despite suffering a lot of key injuries and firing their head coach before the end of the season. In 2012, they'll look to get back to playing good defense and pounding away with the run on offense.
The Chiefs will have the personnel to do just that. Jamaal Charles will be back healthy, and he'll have Peyton Hillis to split carries with. Not a bad duo.
In this game, however, the Chiefs will be going up against a Steelers team that finished eighth in the league in rushing defense in 2011. They also finished first in the league in passing defense.
They also lost just one home game all season. So yeah.
Steelers 23, Chiefs 17
Date and Time: Nov. 19 at 8:30 p.m.
The Bears will come up against an entirely different challenge in their third Monday night appearance. Instead of outscoring the opposition, the emphasis versus the 49ers will be merely scoring against the opposition.
The 49ers are going to be a tough team for the Bears to beat. They don't allow running backs to gain too many yards, and they can also pressure quarterbacks with the best of 'em. That doesn't bode well for Cutler.
The Bears will have to hope Alex Smith will make a few mistakes in this game. The trouble is that Smith is going to have more toys to play with in 2012, and he proved in 2011 that he can limit his mistakes and keep games under control.
Also, the 49ers don't lose at home. They won't in this game.
49ers 23, Bears 18
Date and Time: Nov. 26 at 8:30 p.m.
Cam Newton had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time in 2011—and not just in football either. In any sport.
Admit it—you can't wait to see what he's going to do for an encore.
I can't either. I also can't wait for this game, as it gives us one of the most intriguing individual matchups of the regular season:
Cam Newton vs. Michael Vick.
Tough call. Vick has more weapons to work with, and the Eagles are the better overall team, so they should win.
But what can I say? I'm a sucker for Newton.
Panthers 28, Eagles 27
Date and Time: Dec. 3 at 8:30 p.m.
The Super Bowl champs will make their Monday night debut in Week 13. A little late, but better late than never.
The Giants' matchup against the Redskins looks like a mismatch, but I wouldn't be so sure. The Redskins beat them twice in 2011, and that was with the likes of Rex Grossman and John Beck handling quarterback duties.
In all likelihood, Robert Griffin III will be under center for the Redskins in this game. Or maybe Andrew Luck. Whoever it is will have to contend against one of the best defensive lines in the league. To boot, Eli Manning and the G-Men are not exactly inexperienced in prime time.
They'll take this game.
Giants 27, Redskins 14
Date and Time: Dec. 10 at 8:30 p.m.
Mark this one down. This is going to be one of the best games of the 2012 season.
The Texans probably would have been the best team in the AFC last season if Schaub had been able to stay healthy. With him sidelined, the Texans struggled down the stretch, allowing the Patriots to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Patriots will look to do so once again, and nobody should doubt their ability to do it. They may have fallen flat in the Super Bowl, but the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick duo simply doesn't fail in the regular season.
The Texans will give them a test in this game, however. It's going to be a battle between two elite teams.
I'll take the Texans to win it in what will feel like a big upset.
Texans 31, Patriots 28
Date and Time: Dec. 17 at 8:30 p.m.
One of the most intriguing games on the 2012 MNF slate will be followed by one of the least intriguing games on the 2012 MNF slate.
ESPN loves the Jets, but this year's Jets team shouldn't be featured on any more than one Monday night game. They've generated a lot of headlines this offseason, but they don't promise to be anything special in 2012.
The Titans, on the other hand, are an interesting team. They don't jump off the page, but they managed to win nine games in 2011 despite a relative lack of firepower.
Take a closer look, and it's hard not to notice that the Titans are a good young team with a solid defense and one of the best running backs in the NFL. Chris Johnson struggled early on last year, but he came on strong in the latter end of the season.
My hope is that Jake Locker will be starting by the time this game rolls around. No matter who is under center, I think the Titans will take it.
Titans 20, Jets 17
Date and Time: Dec. 22 at 8:30 p.m.
A few months after hosting Peyton Manning and the Broncos, the Falcons will be back on Monday Night Football.
This time, they'll be on the road, and they'll be playing a team in the Lions that could be standing on the verge of a division title. The Falcons could be trying to secure their own division.
Invariably, this game will turn into a battle between Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford. Or at least, that's what I'm hoping to see as the MNF season comes to a close.
It's a toss-up, but I'll go with Stafford and Megatron.
Lions 31, Falcons 24