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25 2012 NFL Matchups You Should Circle on Your Calendars

Vincent FrankCorrespondent IJune 25, 2012

25 2012 NFL Matchups You Should Circle on Your Calendars

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    Every single NFL season, there are matchups that fans of every team circle on their calendars. Heck, players do as well.

    While last season might have been the most entertaining in the recent history of the league, 2012 promises to give us a whole bunch of great moments.

    We are going to see some games that could have easily been Super Bowl matchups last season if a bounce went in a different direction during the postseason. Rivalries are going to be rekindled, and division races are going to come down to the final week.

    This article focuses on 25 games that you must mark on your calendars to watch in 2012. Also, feel free to comment on games that you think I might have missed.

Week 1: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

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    Opening Wednesday Night Game on NBC

    It may be the first game of the season, but it is going to be absolutely huge. Don't forget that the New York Giants needed a Week 17 win over the Dallas Cowboys to even make the postseason in 2011. It wasn't like they were so far ahead of the pack in the NFC East.

    This division promises to go down to the wire, and every game between the Cowboys, Giants and Philadelphia Eagles is going to be enormous.

    The opening-night game is no different. Tony Romo and Co. will be traveling to New Jersey to take on the defending Super Bowl champions. A win here by the Cowboys might change the tide in the NFC East right out of the gate in 2012.

Week 1: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers

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    Regional Late Game on FOX

    This is the NFC championship game that many experts, including myself, were predicting leading up to January. This never materialized, as the Green Bay Packers lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants the week prior.

    It was pretty obvious throughout the 2011 regular season that these were the two best teams in the NFC. The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers lost four games by a combined 20 points, which put both in a position for a Super Bowl appearance.

    Opening the 2012 season against one another is going to be huge for these two title contenders. If San Francisco can go into Lambeau and knock off the Packers, it will cement their status as the odds-on favorites to win the conference. If Green Bay can hold off the 49ers, it will act as a little redemption for their playoff failure last season.

    Another interesting side story here is Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers. It is by now well known that San Francisco made the "mistake" to select Smith over the local product and longtime 49ers fan Rodgers during the 2005 NFL draft.

    Now that both are seemingly on teams with a shot at the title, this little story takes on more of a narrative than in their previous meetings.

Week 2: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

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    Thursday Night Game on NFL Network

    The Chicago Bears made strides to close the gap between themselves and the Green Bay Packers this offseason. By simply adding Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush, Chicago became much more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball.

    This is one of the great longtime rivalries in the National Football League. The hatred each fanbase and organization feels for the other is only magnified when both teams are in contention. You can fully expect Chicago to be in contention for the division and a playoff spot this season.

    This Week 2 Thursday night matchup is going to be a huge barometer of where Chicago is in its chase of Green Bay. If it is able to go into the "Frozen Tundra" and win, Chicago will be putting Aaron Rodgers and Co. on notice.

Week 2: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers

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    Sunday Night Game on NBC

    Lost in the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz incident in October of last season when the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions was just how important of a game it was. Detroit came into the matchup with a perfect 5-0 record, while San Francisco had won four of its first five games and was in the midst of what would eventually be a eight-game winning streak.

    Something had to give. Alex Smith hit Delanie Walker late in the fourth quarter on a 4th-and-goal situation to give San Francisco an unlikely victory and a lot of momentum moving forward.

    On the other hand, Detroit would lose four of its next six and have to "settle" for a wild-card spot come January.

    Now these two teams meet again. A lot will be made of Schwartz and Harbaugh in this nationally televised game, but that really is a secondary story. San Francisco is one of the favorites to capture the NFC championship, while the Lions want to get to "elite status."

    This game by the bay has the makings of something special.

Week 3: New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens

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    Sunday Night Game on NBC

    No, Lee Evans won't make his presence known in this game. He is now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, much to the pleasure of Baltimore Ravens fans the world over.

    That being said, this AFC championship game rematch between the Ravens and New England Patriots promises to be special. Both teams are considered favorites to bring home the Lamar Hunt Trophy and grab the conference championship.

    This game could go a long way in determining which team has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Considering that the Patriots are nearly unbeatable at home in the postseason—10-2 under Tom Brady—we could get an inkling as to what team will come away the favorite in the AFC.

Week 4: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers

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    Regional Late Game on FOX

    The 2011 season opener between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints set into motion one of the most exciting years in recent NFL history. In the end, Green Bay came out on top in a high-scoring 42-34 affair.

    Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees combined for over 730 yards and six touchdowns, as Randall Cobb had a coming-out party in his first NFL game.

    Adding more fuel to the fire is the Saints' "Bountygate" scandal that has scarred their offseason to date. Expect the national media to play never-ending cycles of the 2011 game as well as stories about this aforementioned scandal in the week leading up to the game.

    It should also give both teams a barometer of where they stand early in the season. Is New Orleans going to be the same dominating team minus Sean Payton? Will the Packers be able to continue their regular-season success following a 15-win 2011 campaign?

Week 4: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

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    Regional Early Game on CBS

    Have the Buffalo Bills closed the gap between themselves and the New England Patriots? This is going to be the major question that should be answered during this late September matchup.

    While it is hard to imagine the Bills being able to contend for the division crown with a dominating Patriots squad, they have the look of the second-best team in the division. In short, Buffalo could make a major statement here.

    You also have to remember the last time New England traveled to upstate New York. Tom Brady threw four interceptions as the Bills put up 17 fourth-quarter points en route to an amazing comeback victory.

Week 5: Denver Broncos at New England Patriots

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    Regional Late Game on CBS

    Same ol' names, different teams. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts seemingly played one another for a shot at the Super Bowl every single season during a 10-year stretch with Tom Brady and Co. coming out on top more times than not against Peyton Manning.

    Overall, Brady was 2-1 against the Manning-led Colts in the postseason. The winner of each of these three games went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

    In short, it was the Steve Young-Troy Aikman rivalry of the 2000s.

    Now Manning has joined the Denver Broncos, a team that New England defeated in the postseason last year en route to another Super Bowl appearance. The two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks have gone up against one another a total of 12 times in their careers, with Brady winning eight of them.

    We also have the little-known fact that both teams are coming off division championships and are looking to vie for a spot in the Super Bowl.

    It should be fun.

Week 6: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers

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    Regional Late Game on FOX

    Oh, the storylines for this one. The San Francisco 49ers shocked the football world by defeating the New Orleans Saints and earning an appearance in the NFC championship game against the New York Giants last season.

    That game was something that history is made of. Lead changes were the theme of the evening, as these two powerhouses fought tooth and nail for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

    In the end, it came down to two Kyle Williams fumbles, one in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal for the Giants.

    Two weeks later, the Giants would take home their second Lombardi Trophy with Eli Manning at the helm. All the while, San Francisco was left to wonder what could have been.

    Both teams are back at full force and will be contending, once again, for a spot in the Super Bowl. While this game might not have home-field implications for the postseason, it will allow us to gauge where each team is.

    It will be the third time in less than a calendar year that New York has traveled to California in order to face off with the upstart 49ers.

Week 6: Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans

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    Sunday Night Football on NBC

    There were many, including myself, that thought these two teams would play one another in the Super Bowl last season. This was long before Matt Schaub went down to a season-ending injury and Andre Johnson had consistent nagging injuries himself.

    Despite this, the Houston Texans did win the AFC South and earn their first postseason berth. With everyone healthy and ready to go, Houston should be much stronger in 2012.

    They will be going up against a Green Bay Packers team that won 15 games last season and seemed nearly unstoppable en route to a second consecutive Super Bowl championship. A meltdown against the New York Giants in the playoffs disabled this opportunity.

    Now these two teams are raring to go. We could conceivably be looking at a preview of the real deal in New Orleans next February.

Week 9: Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints

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    Monday Night Game on ESPN

    This being a huge game is predicated on two things: the Philadelphia Eagles actually living up to their talent level throughout the first half of the season, and the New Orleans Saints not having a hangover after a scandal-filled offseason.

    If both teams perform as I expect they will, this will be a huge midseason game. Not only do you have Drew Brees going up against Michael Vick—you also have two of the most talented teams facing off on Monday night in the Bayou.

    Should be good!

Week 10: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

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    Regional Early Game on FOX

    Mike Smith drew a lot of heat for his decision to go for it on fourth down on his own end of the field against the New Orleans Saints in overtime last season. I can understand his thinking to an extent, but it went against every possible logical decision that a head coach is supposed to make in the National Football League.

    In the end, this really didn't cost the Atlanta Falcons as much as many believed it would at that point. After all, they finished three games behind the Saints when all was said and done.

    Now that Atlanta has upgraded a great deal during the offseason and New Orleans has had obvious issues, this game could mean a lot more. It could go a long way in determining who captures the NFC South in 2012.

Week 11: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Sunday Night Game on NBC

    The 2011 season kicked off in extraordinary fashion between these bitter division rivals, and it set a tone for the remainder of the season in the AFC North.

    The Baltimore Ravens destroyed the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The final score of 35-7 wasn't indicative of how the game went.

    Baltimore outgained Pittsburgh by just over 60 yards, but it forced seven Steelers turnovers en route to the lopsided victory. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball another two times.

    Considering that the AFC North provided three playoff teams in 2011—a marker of just how difficult the division is—this specific game is going to be huge.

Week 12: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions

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    Thanksgiving Morning Game on CBS

    Gobble gobble. Finally, we are not forced to watch a disastrous Detroit Lions football team on Thanksgiving morning. After having to suffer through brutal play from this organization on the national holiday for nearly two decades, we can finally look forward to the annual game.

    They will be taking on a Houston Texans franchise coming off their first postseason appearance and fully prepared to challenge for the AFC championship.

    You have the two best receivers in the game, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson, going up against one another. You have two teams that won double-digit games, Houston for the first time in its history and Detroit for the first time since Bill Clinton was fighting with Newt Gingrich on Capitol Hill vying for national prominence.

Week 12: San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints

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    Regional Late Game on FOX

    So many stories here that a biopic could be written in short order. Let's start with the 2012 NFC divisional game between the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. Despite the fact that San Francisco was hosting this game, not many in the national media gave them a shot.

    A turnover-riddled first half by the Saints put San Francisco up two scores quickly. However, Drew Brees and Co. came fighting back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter before Alex Smith led the 49ers on a drive for the ages, connecting with Vernon Davis for the game-winning touchdown with under 10 seconds left to give San Francisco the game.

    Then a few months later, this video was released (warning: vulgar language), which indicated that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was looking to do physical harm to 49ers offensive players in the game. This gave a face to the "Bountygate" scandal and further indicated guilt from within the Saints organization.

    Now these two teams face off in New Orleans with a tremendous backdrop of intrigue and conflict. Both are going to contend for the conference championship, and this game might actually have long-term playoff implications.

    You just cannot write a better story than this.

Week 12: Green Bay Packers at New York Giants

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    Sunday Night Game on NBC

    Probably the most interesting week of the 2012 NFL season comes to a climactic ending between the Green Bay Packers and the team that ended their repeat hopes in the playoffs in January, the New York Giants.

    This is the third time that these two teams are going to meet in less than a calendar year, and it just couldn't get any better.

    Postseason positioning might be on the line. Green Bay is looking to avenge that disastrous loss in Lambeau, and the Giants are going to be looking to prove that they are indeed the team to beat in the NFC.

    The last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, will be going up against one another in a game that brings a tremendous amount of intrigue.

    Set your DVRs, record the game and sit down with a beer in your hand to watch what promises to be one of the best games of the 2012 season.

Week 13: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

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    Sunday Night Game on NBC

    Every single divisional game in the NFC East is going to be hard-fought. More so than nearly every division in the NFL, these teams just don't like one another.

    Giving added importance in 2012 is the fact that three teams should be vying for the division crown with the Washington Redskins looking on from the cellar.

    This matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in the "Big D" could play an important role in who wins the tough division. They play in the first weekend of December, a time when contenders step up and pretenders sit down.

    With a career 11-17 record in December and January, the onus in Dallas is going to be on Tony Romo to help his teammates step their game up when it counts the most.

    On the other hand, Philadelphia went 4-1 in these two months during the 2011 season. It is all about the Eagles starting out the season well so that this game actually means something.

Week 14: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

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    Sunday Night Game on NBC

    If the Detroit Lions want to be the top dog in the NFC North, they must have more success against the current pacesetters. The Green Bay Packers swept Detroit last season, including in the final week of the season, when Matt Flynn set a franchise record for the most touchdowns in a single game.

    In order for Detroit to break through and become an elite team, it is going to have to travel to Green Bay and compete with the Packers here. The division may rely on it. The postseason may depend on it.

    This won't be easy considering that Detroit has not won in Lambeau Field since the 1991 season, a stretch of 20 games.

Week 14: Houston Texans at New England Patriots

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    Monday Night Game on ESPN

    Yet another matchup that pits two teams in search of a conference championship against one another. Here the Houston Texans travel to Gillette to take on the New England Patriots.

    It promises to be a cold late-season game, conditions under which Tom Brady and the Patriots thrive. Home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs could depend on this nationally televised game.

    You have the Texans' dynamic offense going up against a Patriots defense that is looking to improve following a disastrous 2011 season. Moreover, this will be a major test for a Texans defense without Mario Williams, who departed to join the Buffalo Bills in the offseason.

    Should be fun!

Week 15: Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens

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    Regional Early Game on CBS

    Could this game be as big as some are making it out to be? Or are most of us overestimating the impact that Peyton Manning is going to have on the Denver Broncos team? We will surely have answers to this question long before Manning leads his new team to Baltimore in this mid-December game against the Ravens.

    Baltimore, which was a Lee Evans dropped pass away from the Super Bowl last year, will be in the midst of the conference championship hunt. The major question here is where the Broncos are going to be heading into this game.

    One thing is for sure: There will be a myriad of different playoff implications from this game.

Week 15: San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots

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    Sunday Night Game on NBC

    Some are coming to the conclusion that the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots are favorites to meet in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans next February.

    It is extremely hard to argue against that prediction at this point. Check out Bleacher Report lead writers Josh Zerkle and Matt Miller debating that right here.

    Whether we agree with this prediction is irrelevant to the article. I think we can all agree that the 49ers traveling to New England for a mid-December night game is going to be fun.

    You have one of the best defenses in the entire league going up against a Brady-led offense that usually makes opposing defenses look utterly foolish on the football field. You are also going to see a vastly improved 49ers passing game going up against what was a poor pass defense from the Patriots last year.

    Early Christmas present for football fans from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Week 16: New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens

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    Regional Early Game on FOX

    We came a Lee Evans dropped pass in the AFC championship last season from seeing a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants.

    Instead, the Ravens lost in heartbreaking fashion to the New England Patriots, who the Giants eventually defeated to capture the Lombardi.

    Nearly 10 months after the fact, we get to finally see these two on the football field, and it is going to be one important game. Baltimore and New York play in arguably the two toughest divisions in the entire league, which would seem to indicate that the outcomes of two division races might be on the line here.

Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

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    Regional Early Game on FOX

    This game may very well decide the outcome of the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles will travel to take on the New York Giants in the final regular-season game for each team.

    Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys are performing, this could practically be a one-game playoff for the division crown and a spot in the NFC playoffs.

    The Meadowlands has also been a venue for some crazy late-season games between these two teams. In November of 1978, Herman Edwards of the Eagles recovered a Giants fumble late in the game and returned it for a touchdown to secure Philadelphia a spot in the postseason.

    Over 30 years later, this feat was accomplished once more when DeSean Jackson returned a last-second Matt Dodge punt for a touchdown, giving the Eagles yet another "Miracle at the Meadowlands." That game ended up costing New York a playoff spot.

    What might happen this time?

Week 17: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Regional Early Game on CBS

    Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals are on this list. They deserve to be after a surprising run to the playoffs last season with two stellar rookies in the form of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green leading the way. They will be tasked with taking on a Baltimore Ravens team that won the AFC North last season.

    While some may say that Cincinnati's success last season was somewhat of a fluke, this is one of the most talented young teams in the league.

    In order for the Bengals to take their game to the next level, they are going to have to go on the road and defeat some quality opponents, none more difficult than the Ravens.

    This game also takes on added importance because it is the season finale for both teams and could decide the division.

Week 17: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

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    Regional Early Game on FOX

    While this game may not have an impact on the division title depending on what the Green Bay Packers do, it might be a playoff game for both the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

    Both teams are expected to contend for a postseason spot. If they are not competing with the Packers for the division, they could be going up against one another for one of two remaining wild-card spots.

    Nothing better than a win-or-go-home game on the final week of the season between two teams from the original "Black and Blue" division.

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