Ranking the Most Exciting NFL Primetime Matchups for the 2012 Season

Dan Snyder@@dsnyder34Correspondent IJuly 10, 2012

Ranking the Most Exciting NFL Primetime Matchups for the 2012 Season

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    Primetime is where the madness happens.  

    From Thursday Night Football to the Sunday and Monday nighters, the prime-time games are some of the most anticipated of the year, and with that come some of the best matchups of the season.

    Players prepare themselves for their best games, knowing full well they'll be seen by millions of people across the country.

    So, let's take a look at some of the best prime-time matchups we'll all be looking forward to this 2012 NFL football season.  

10. Cam Newton vs. Eagles Pass Rush

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    When: Week 12 / Monday Night Football

    Last year, Cam Newton exploded on the NFL scene by recording the best rookie season by a quarterback in the league's history.

    Not only did he throw for over 4,000 yards and rush for over 700, but he led a dismal Panthers team to six wins and virtually resurrected Steve Smith from the brink of wide receiver oblivion.

    In Philadelphia, the Eagles attempted to build a monster in the mold of their chief competitors—the Giants. The team stacked their defensive line by adding Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins which led the Eagles to become the NFL leaders with 50 sacks.

    If you can imagine, the Eagles' defensive line has only gotten better by adding Fletcher Cox into the mix. Cam Newton will be entering his second season carrying high expectations for the Panthers. This game on Monday Night Football will be decided by this matchup.

    If the Birds front can get to Newton, Carolina won't stand a chance. If not, Cam could have a BIG day.  

9. Brandon Marshall vs. Charles Woodson

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    When: Week 2 / Thursday Night Football

    One of the biggest and most shocking moves this offseason was the Bears acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins for a pair of third-round picks.

    Marshall will now be reunited with former quarterback and friend Jay Cutler in the Windy City and gives Chicago something they haven't had since the days of Marty Booker...a legitimate threat on the outside.

    This contest will be Marshall's first taste at the Bears/Packers' rivalry, something Charles Woodson has been privy to for the last six seasons. And, although he looked slow at times, Woodson was still able to haul in seven interceptions.

    There's no doubt that Woodson will be called upon to shut down Marshall when Chicago comes to town.

    The question is can he? 

8. A.J. Green vs. Lardarius Webb

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    When: Week 1 / Monday Night Football (Game 1)


    This is one of the more underrated matchups of the 2012 season, but it could display a power shift in the AFC North. 

    A.J. Green was phenomenal as a rookie last season, reaching the 1,000-yard mark and helping the lowly Bengals to the playoffs. His 1,057 yards and seven scores were both team highs, but the one thing he wasn't able to do in 2011 was beat the Ravens. 

    In Baltimore, Lardarius Webb has established himself as one of the league's best corners. He ended last season with over 70 total tackles, five picks and a sack as the Ravens went to the AFC championship. 

    With Webb being just 26 and Green a mere 23, this is a matchup we could be watching for the next few seasons. But as it applies today, if Green wins this battle on Monday Night Football, it could mean great things for the Bengals in 2012. 

7. Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning

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    When: Week 8 / Sunday Night Football


    It's always fun when two great quarterbacks duke it out in a high-scoring, high-flying affair. So on Sunday Night Football in Week 8, we'll all be privileged to watch two of the best take center stage. 

    Both of these men have had their struggles this offseason. Drew Brees still doesn't have a long-term contract from the team he helped raise from the depths of the league, and Peyton Manning has been on a cross-country tour of the league, trying to make the case that his neck is fully healed. 

    In the end, come the night of October 28th, we will see two of football's best quarterbacks go head-to-head in prime time.

    Does it get much better than that?

6. Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Demetress Bell

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    When: Week 4 / Sunday Night Football


    This may seem a little high to many of you, but this battle could very well help decide a division champ...and it's only happening in Week 4!

    Jason Pierre-Paul established himself as an elite-level pass-rusher last season, recording 16.5 sacks and leading a Giant defense that (again) halted the unstoppable Patriots offense and in doing so, won the Super Bowl. 

    A team that was a Super Bowl favorite in the beginning of 2011, the Eagles suffered miserably throughout the season, and when news of Jason Peters' torn Achilles hits the airwaves, it seemed to only get worse.

    But the team signed Demetress Bell away from the Bills, and hopes he's the answer to filling the void left by the All-Pro Peters.

    New York and Philly are the two favorites to win the NFC East, and if Bell can't handle JPP off the edge, those odds are going to become a little more lopsided.  

5. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley vs. Peyton Manning

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    When: Week 1 / Sunday Night Football


    It was stunning to see the lack of turnovers forced by the Steelers defense last season, and there's really one reason why it happened. For much of the year, the team's elite pass-rushing duo of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were held out of games due to various injuries and only played six games together. 

    That was six more than Peyton Manning got to play last season. The future Hall of Famer was relegated to the sidelines after undergoing multiple neck surgeries and now has a new team for the 2012 season. 

    Manning may not have drawn a worse straw for his triumphant comeback. Not only will he be facing a healthy pass-rushing duo like Harrison and Woodley, but he's also struggled in the past against 3-4 defenses, especially the Steelers'. 

    Denver's offensive line better be ready to protect up front come opening night, because if they don't, Manning might not make it to week 2. 

4. Marshawn Lynch vs. Patrick Willis

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    When: Week 7 / Thursday Night Football


    Last year, as San Francisco ran away with the NFC West, it wasn't the Niners' stellar defense that was grabbing all the headlines, it was Marshawn Lynch. 

    Lynch dominated the second half of the 2011 season and finished the year with career highs in rushing yards (1,204), attempts (285) and rushing touchdowns (12). Lynch and the Seahawks battled to a 7-9 record but were competitive in almost every game. 

    As the Seahawks running back grabbed the headlines and SportsCenter highlight reels, the 49ers defense kept on churning out wins. And they did so behind their fearless leader—Patrick Willis.

    Willis was again named to the Pro Bowl—and deservedly so. He finished the year over 100 total tackles again, all while missing three games in 2011.

    There could be some epic collisions if these two meet head on on Thursday Night Football. So when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, which bends first? 

3. Tom Brady vs. Joe Flacco

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    When: Week 3 / Sunday Night Football


    It's amazing to think that the quarterback who played best in the 2011 AFC Championship game didn't go to the Super Bowl. It's even more amazing to think Joe Flacco outdueled Tom Brady

    As hard as that is to believe, it's true. Flacco was on point and determined that game, throwing two touchdowns to Brady's two picks. 

    So Week 3 will be sort of a revenge game for Flacco to prove it wasn't just a fluke the first time. 

    These two offenses are much closer than people think. New England has the advantage at receiver and tight end, but Baltimore has a huge edge at running back. 

    It's all going to be on Flacco this time. If he can take down Brady, he'll be one step closer to the ever-elusive Super Bowl. 

2. Joe Flacco vs. Ben Roethlisberger

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    When: Week 11 / Sunday Night Football


    The matchup for this slide should just be Steelers vs. Ravens because the game has become the best rivalry in the NFL. 

    But all eyes will be on the quarterbacks in this duel. 

    Joe Flacco beat Ben Roethlisberger both times the two teams met last season and don't think the two-time Super Bowl champion has forgot that. 

    Since this game is relatively late in the season, it becomes even more interesting, seeing as a division title and playoff spots could be on the line here. 

    These games always come down to the entire team's performance, but it'll be the quarterback who wants it most who's coming away with this game. 

1. Eli Manning vs. Aaron Rodgers

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    When: Week 12 / Sunday Night Football


    Talk about the grudge match. Eli and Aaron Rodgers met twice last year, splitting the season series with the Giants winning the game that mattered more. And with that win, Eli has rocketed himself to a place amongst the elite QBs in the NFL. 

    These two guys are the last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, and both times they played last season was an absolute blast to watch. 

    I don't anticipate the game getting any worse in 2012. 

    Make no doubt about it, Aaron Rodgers will be highlighting this game on his calendar well before the season starts. It could end up being the battle of the NFC's top two teams, and who knows, a preview of this year's NFC championship.