After months of anticipation, the NFL has finally released the schedule for the 2013-14 regular season (via NFL.com). As one might expect, the football universe is clamoring and speculating as to what the season has in store for their favorite respective teams.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, we must evaluate Week 1's most intriguing matchups.
The season will officially kick off on Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 when the defending champion Baltimore Ravens travel to play the Denver Broncos. That's just one of the many intriguing clashes, as the NFL offers a full week of elite matchups.
Thursday, Sep. 5 at 8:30 p.m. ET: Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
The 2012 NFL Super Bowl champions were none other than the Baltimore Ravens. With an offensive rally from Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice, as well as elite defensive play from Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company, the Ravens did the unthinkable.
Unfortunately, Lewis, Boldin and Reed have all either retired, been traded or signed elsewhere—can Baltimore repeat with their core disbanded?
In order to begin their return to glory, the Ravens will need to win a rematch against their AFC divisional round foes. That team just so happens to be the Denver Broncos.
How better for Flacco to prove he deserves a mega-deal than to defeat the legendary Peyton Manning?
As for the Broncos, they have a chance to prove their status as the AFC's elite with a win over the defending Super Bowl champions. With this victory, Denver would set the stage for yet another season of double-digit wins.
After starting at 2-3 in 2012, Denver needs to start hot in 2013. Which team will emerge through this must-win game?
Sunday, Sep. 7 at 1:00 p.m. ET: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
The Atlanta Falcons are coming off of a season in which they won an NFL-best 13 games and reached the NFC Championship Game. The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, fell from the ranks of the elite and went 7-9 in the absence of head coach Sean Payton.
With Payton back in New Orleans and Tony Gonzalez returning to Atlanta, we'll finally see the NFC South at full strength.
The Falcons may have gone 13-3, but they split their six games in the division. In fact, every single NFC South team went 3-3 in the division during the 2012 regular season.
Don't think for a second that either team has an advantage in this one.
In 2012, the shorthanded Saints defeated the Falcons by a score of 31-27 when they played at the Superdome. For that reason, we're inclined to believe that we're in store for another close battle in 2013.
The question is, which team will get an early leg up in the chase for the NFC South division title?
Sunday, Sep. 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
For the second consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers will meet in Week 1. After San Francisco won 30-22 in 2012, the Niners followed that up with a 45-31 victory over the Packers during the postseason.
Will the third time be the charm for the Packers as they attempt to take down the 49ers?
Aaron Rodgers enters this game with plenty to prove, as he attempts to bounce back from a season in which the Packers never looked like themselves. Between key injuries and a lack of chemistry during the first five weeks, nothing seemed to click for Rodgers or his teammates.
Once they appeared to find their groove, they were bounced out of the playoffs.
As for the Niners, they have just as much on the line after a monstrous period of free agency. Furthermore, the 49ers are the defending NFC champions and Colin Kaepernick is the NFL equivalent to Jeremy Lin as a player whose rise to stardom was unexpected and beyond explanation.
Can Kaepernick warrant the hype by defeating Rodgers again?