Thursday Night Football Schedule 2012: Game-by-Game Breakdown and Predictions
Football may not start until September, but there's nothing like releasing the 2012 NFL schedule right before the draft to get fans pumped.
Let's be honest: Thursday night games were introduced because we all had come to the realization that we couldn't wait an entire week to watch football again.
This year's slate has a slew of fantastic matchups, whether they boast historic rivalries or up-and-coming teams with new pieces.
Thursday Night Football begins in Week 2 this season, and the opening TNF matchup should create plenty of fireworks.
Week 2: Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
The last time the Bears saw the Packers at Lambeau Field was in Week 16 of last season.
In that game, Aaron Rodgers proceeded to record the first five-touchdown performance of his NFL career, and in the process knocked the Bears out of the playoff picture.
The Bears will be looking for payback this season, complete with a new running back in former Oakland Raiders backup Michael Bush.
But after finishing 8-8 last season, the Bears haven't significantly addressed their problem areas yet, and I don't see this working out for them at Lambeau.
Prediction: Packers 30, Bears 21
Week 3: New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers certainly made strides last season with Cam Newton as their starting quarterback, but they still finished 6-10.
The Giants, on the other hand, rode momentum into the postseason, only to win the whole thing behind Eli Manning, a strong receiving corps and a suffocating defensive line.
The good news for the Panthers is they won four of their last six games last season, but they are still playing a better team in the Giants.
Prediction: Giants 27, Panthers 24
Week 4: Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Browns landed a top-five pick in the 2012 NFL draft on the back of another disappointing campaign last season, when they went 4-12.
Even if the Browns land a future star in the draft, they still have a ways to go before they can compete in the AFC North.
The Ravens, on the other hand, won the division last season and kept their team mainly intact. The Ravens are still capable of being dominant on defense, not to mention scoring from time to time.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Browns 13
Week 5: Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
I'd like to think the Cardinals and Rams will make for a more competitive NFC West this season, but realistically I don't see that happening.
The Cardinals and Rams finished 8-8 and 2-14, respectively, last season and the San Francisco 49ers are the clear front-runners in the division.
The Rams still have a host of problems, while the Cardinals are hoping Kevin Kolb gets it together. Nonetheless, the Cardinals defense got better as the season wore on in 2011, and they should finish second in the NFC West in 2012.
Prediction: Cardinals 23, Rams 17
Week 6: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans
The Steelers faced the Titans in Week 5 of last season, and they destroyed them, 38-17.
While the Steelers can't realistically be expected to be as strong this season, they are still in a different league as the Titans, who are still grooming young quarterback Jake Locker.
The Titans should be competitive in 2012, but I'm not expecting them to exactly be world-beaters. That will be evident against the Steelers.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Titans 13
Week 7: Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
The Seahawks weren't particularly impressive last season, but they have a new (and better) quarterback now in Matt Flynn. They only lost 19-17 to the 49ers in Week 16 last season.
Nonetheless, this game will be in San Francisco, and the 49ers haven't changed much since last season. That is a good thing for them and a bad thing for the Seahawks.
If Flynn can catch fire like he did last season as a backup with the Green Bay Packers, the Seahawks have a chance. But the 49ers are simply an elite team and should distance themselves by the end of it.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Seahawks 17
Week 8: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings
This may be the most disappointing Thursday night game on the 2012 slate, with the Buccaneers and Vikings finishing a combined 7-25 last season.
The Bucs have a shot at cornerback Morris Claiborne in the draft, who could be a game-changer. The Vikings will likely bolster pass protection with Matt Kalil. But these two teams are still devoid of much hope for at least a little while.
I could see Adrian Peterson being the difference-maker in this game and the Vikings hanging on.
Prediction: Vikings 23, Buccaneers 20
Week 9: Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers
The Chiefs and Chargers disappointed mightily last season based on preseason expectations. Todd Haley was fired by the Chiefs, and Norv Turner somehow wasn't fired by the Chargers.
The Chargers still have more talent, and that should be the difference in Week 9. Philip Rivers still has the ability to be an elite quarterback, and he still has tight end Antonio Gates.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Chiefs 23
Week 10: Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Well, this should be a bore.
Peyton Manning is no longer in Indy and the Jaguars finished 5-11 last season.
Should the Colts take Andrew Luck in the draft, it will be fun to watch him adjust to the NFL in this game. I still see the Colts losing this game because, frankly, they have a worse overall team.
Prediction: Jaguars 23, Colts 17
Week 11: Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills
The Dolphins still don't have a legit starting quarterback, and that's a bad thing. Even if they draft someone like Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, it's going to be a while before they contend for a playoff spot.
The Bills started off well, and then tanked last season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick certainly had his fair share of troubles, but the Bills simply couldn't stop anyone.
However, that may change after landing Mario Williams, and adding some protection on the line for Fitzpatrick would be a good idea.
Expect the Bills to assert their dominance in Week 11.
Prediction: Bills 27, Dolphins 13
Week 12: Houston Texans vs. Detroit Lions
Despite losing Mario Williams, the Texans still have a solid young defense and Matt Schaub should be good to go after missing time due to injury last season.
The Lions enjoyed a great comeback campaign last season, but they still have some issues with their secondary. Nonetheless, quarterback Matthew Stafford is impressive, not to mention receiver Calvin Johnson.
This should be a close game, but I'm giving it to the Texans because they have a better defense.
Prediction: Texans 27, Lions 23
Week 12: Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Redskins had a rough 2011 season, but the defense is emerging and they will likely grab a potential star in Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Dallas is a curious team that always seems to experience its fair share of highs and lows. The Cowboys went 8-8 last season despite having a shot at winning the NFC East down the stretch and didn't play to their potential.
But the Cowboys have more talent than the Redskins, a nice pass rush and more overall experience. They should be able to win this one.
Prediction: Cowboys 24, Redskins 17
Week 12: New England Patriots vs. New York Jets
Nothing like a fierce, physical football game to warm the heart on Thanksgiving and take you away from your family.
The Patriots and Jets have always been bitter rivals. Expect Tom Brady and Company to hear their fair share of noise in New York, but they have a better overall team and a sounder clubhouse. And, no, Tim Tebow won't save the Jets.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Jets 21
Week 13: New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons
Hopefully, Brees and the Saints work things out and he can go about playing football.
The Saints won both games against the Falcons last season. But there's some turmoil in New Orleans in 2012, with head coach Sean Payton getting suspended for the season after Bountygate.
I see this as a winnable game for the Falcons, who have kept their team largely intact and have a shot at winning the NFC South in 2012.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Saints 24
Week 14: Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
Losing Michael Bush could hurt the Raiders, and they still need to address their secondary.
The Broncos, on the other hand, just landed Peyton Manning.
Even with Manning playing in the infamous Black Hole, he should be able to put up some points. The Broncos defense is only going to get better, and Carson Palmer is not the answer in Oakland.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Raiders 20
Week 15: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Bengals are a rising team, while the Eagles need to find themselves.
The Eagles have the talent to defeat the Bengals down the stretch, but they need to come out with much more fire this season to beat Cincinnati.
Nonetheless, the Eagles will be in Philly. I see them winning this game as they go on to have a better season than their 2011 campaign. They've had more time together at this point.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Bengals 20
Week 16: Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions
I'm a big fan of what the Lions are doing, and I expect this to be one of the most competitive games of the season. I ultimately see the Falcons coming away with the victory and going on to win the NFC South.
This should be a great game featuring two top quarterbacks, and Detroit's atmosphere will make it even more electric. Then, you have wideouts Calvin Johnson and Roddy White.
But Detroit had trouble against the run last season, and it hasn't done much to shore up its own running game with Jahvid Best iffy this season.
Prediction: Falcons 24, Lions 21