The NFL season is never really over. While we’re still months away from the opening week of action, there are plenty of intriguing storylines to break down, including the biggest matchups already on the schedule.
Full schedules haven’t yet been released, but we already know each team’s opponents for the 2013 season. As expected, there are some mouth-watering matchups every football fan should be looking forward to.
Each of these games has the potential to be a thrilling shootout featuring some of the league’s brightest stars. While we can’t know the impact of each game in relation to the playoff race at this point in the year, there’s reason to believe all three contests could have a substantial impact on postseason pairings.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks
Playoff rematches litter the 2013 schedule, and few will be as exciting as the showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons.
A late-game comeback propelled the Falcons to a 30-28 victory in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs last year, fueled by a tremendous effort from Matt Ryan. Russell Wilson outperformed his counterpart, but it was Atlanta who would go on to face the 49ers in the NFC championship.
Seattle was a surprisingly dominant team last season, and it's only getting stronger. With a terrific haul in free agency, the Seahawks should be back in the Super Bowl discussion in 2013.
The balance of power isn't necessarily shifting, but the NFC is certainly getting more top-heavy. With teams like Atlanta and Seattle continuing to improve, this marquee matchup will be one to watch.
Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers
After bouncing Green Bay from the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl appearance last season, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers will be hungry to prove they can have continued success against the powerhouses of the NFC. Regardless of the outcome of this matchup, there’s a good chance we’ll see Green Bay and San Francisco square off again in the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers will have a chip on his shoulder when these two squads face off. Kaepernick upstaged the All-Pro signal-caller in the divisional round last year, accounting for 444 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-31 victory.
Green Bay’s defense struggled to contain Kaepernick in that game, and general manager Ted Thompson hasn’t exactly done much to improve it so far this offseason. The Packers have to find a way to keep him bottled up if they hope for different results this time around.
As strong as San Francisco’s defense could be this year, it will take a lot to shut down Rodgers and his impressive receiving corps. Given the offensive prowess of both teams, the NFL would be wise to give this game a prime-time billing.
New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
Wes Welker’s return to Foxboro probably won’t be a friendly one.
The Denver Broncos travel to New England in 2013 for what will be the most anticipated regular-season showdown on the schedule. Welker’s homecoming will be a big storyline, but nothing can upstage the rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
With as much offensive firepower as any teams in the league, New England and Denver should put on a show when they take the field this season.
The two AFC powerhouses squared off last season in a 31-21 New England victory, but Manning threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns in that contest, besting Brady and his mediocre 223-yard, one-touchdown showing.
It’s too early to predict a winner, but I’m going to anyway: Brady and Manning will revert to vintage form and we’ll all come away winners. When the schedule is released, be sure to mark this one on your calendar.