The 2013 NFL schedule will be released on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, but each team's home and away opponents are already public knowledge. Given that fact, several matchups will be must-see entertainment no matter where they fall on the regular-season slate.
One particularly intriguing divisional rivalry may wind up determining the NFC's top seed, while other storylines will dominate the headlines in the other contests.
Here is a breakdown of the best games that the upcoming pro football campaign will have to offer.
Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
What's great about this showdown is that the NFC West powers each feature a strong nucleus and two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the NFL.
Seattle is led by 2012 third-round signal-caller Russell Wilson, whose slight stature caused his draft stock to plummet—much to the delight of Seahawks fans. Wilson had the worst game of his rookie year in San Francisco in a loss but guided his team to a blowout victory in Week 16 at CenturyLink Field.
While the Seahawks bowed out in the playoffs, the Niners reached the Super Bowl on the strength of an equally wonderful defense and the explosiveness of QB Colin Kaepernick.
Antoine Winfield was added Wednesday as a slot corner, which bolsters an already spectacular Seattle defensive backfield, per Clare Farnsworth of the Seahawks' official website. The Niners must find a solid replacement for All-Pro FS Dashon Goldson to match.
Both teams feature physical running games and hard-hitting defenses. With so much talent, each will likely face salary-cap difficulties at some point in the coming years. However, this will be a clash to enjoy for sure in 2013 and the near future.
Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts
Peyton Manning makes his return to Indianapolis to square off with the young man who replaced him under center in Indianapolis, last year's No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck.
Lucas Oil Stadium is sure to be buzzing when these two teams meet for that reason alone. Luck will have presumably progressed from his first season, and he also has improved protection and his college offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to continue his growth as a pro.
It almost doesn't seem fair that Manning has so many weapons, but this Indianapolis bunch has also improved thanks to immense cap space over the summer. Upgrades to the defense and the raucous crowd should make it a difficult test for Manning in his homecoming.
The matchup on the outside between future Hall of Famers Reggie Wayne and the Broncos' Champ Bailey will also be fun to watch, as will the way Luck matures in a battle against arguably the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Andy Reid was fired by the Eagles and is now at the helm in Kansas City. Known for being an innovative offensive mind, he should have success with a savvy veteran QB like Alex Smith and an explosive running back like Jamaal Charles at his disposal.
Speaking of crafty schematics on offense, that is precisely what allowed Chip Kelly to be Reid's successor in Philadelphia. Kelly has a supreme athlete in Michael Vick at quarterback, and it remains to be seen whether he'll run Kelly's lightning-fast, up-tempo offense.
The Chiefs and Eagles have made significant strides to upgrade their secondaries in free agency (h/t SI.com), which should only enhance the quality of this game.
This offseason fostered quite the coaching carousel, with eight franchises moving in a different direction. What happens on the field will determine this outcome, but this is a battle of Reid's consistent NFL success and Kelly's new-age concepts.
There should be an adjustment period on both sides, but Reid should have at least some insider knowledge in his attempt to notch a victory over his longtime ex-team.
Washington Redskins vs. Green Bay Packers
It remains to be seen how healthy Robert Griffin III will be, but it would be quite the quarterback duel between him and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay's defense has been down the past two seasons, and Rodgers doesn't have a viable running game at his disposal as of now. The draft will go a long way in determining how much improvement the Packers make in that area.
The Redskins don't have a first-round pick because of the heavy investment in RGIII. It shouldn't matter, though, because as long as he's in the fold alongside impressive RB Alfred Morris, Washington will be able to run the ball effectively enough to keep its defense off the field for long stretches of time.
Even if Griffin can't go, the adverse environment of Lambeau Field would be a huge opportunity for backup Kirk Cousins to shine in a prospective audition for a starting job elsewhere.
However, according to ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell, it seems Griffin is on track to take the field early in 2013, if not in Week 1:
Stephania Bell @Stephania_ESPN
Dr. Andrews also described RGIII and Lattimore as "superhuman," in their ability and motivation to recover. Compared to Bo Jackson and AP.3/22/2013, 9:54:00 PM
The atmosphere surrounding this game will be electric, and some sort of playoff ramifications will likely be on the line. If not, this will be an early-season "measuring stick" game that not even casual football fans will want to miss.
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