With the 2013 NFL schedule now officially available to the public, football fans everywhere are talking about the season's most exciting matchups. Naturally, Monday Night Football is at the head of the conversation, as it is generally considered to be the premier weekly event in the NFL.
While the Monday night games have admittedly gotten worse over the years as a whole, there are still plenty of interesting clashes on tap in 2013. There are definitely some Monday Night Football games worth avoiding completely this year, but diamonds in the rough certainly exist.
Here are the top three Monday Night Football games this season that you absolutely don't want to miss.
1. Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (Dec. 23)
Apparently the NFL believes in saving the best for last, as the final Monday Night Football game of the season appears to be the best one on paper. Just two days before Christmas, the San Francisco 49ers will host the Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game. While it's possible that both teams could be clinched by the time they play, the stakes could be very high as well.
Most probably consider the 49ers to be the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl once again this season, but the Falcons aren't very far behind in that regard. Atlanta played the Niners extremely tough in the playoffs last year and has to have plenty of confidence heading into this season. The Falcons and 49ers are bound to be two of the league's best teams and this game could decide the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The matchups within the game are tantalizing, particularly Atlanta's offense against San Fran's defense. Quarterback Matt Ryan enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last year and has a full complement of weapons. The 49ers are suddenly stacked on the offensive side of the ball too, though, with Colin Kaepernick at the helm. When it comes to elite competition, this is easily the best Monday night game of the season.
2. Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (Nov. 4)
No matter how good the teams involved are, fans are interested when the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers lock horns. They are the oldest rivals in professional football and they are usually good for at least one prime-time game per season. Luckily, both teams have high expectations heading into the season and they're definitely threats to make the playoffs and do some damage once they get there.
The Packers have gotten the better of the Bears on most occasions over the past couple seasons, however, the Bears have dealt with a lot of injuries. Quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte should be back healthy, although it's tough to say what condition they'll be in by November. When Chicago's offense is intact, it has the ability to hang with pretty much anyone in the league.
That includes the Packers who boast arguably the best offense in the league. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will likely have his hands full against a stingy Chicago pass defense, so there are a lot of little storylines that will be worth watching in this one. If there are divisional championship implications in the contest as well, the stakes will be raised even higher and the battle will be even more intense.
3. New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (Dec. 2)
One of the NFL's biggest enigmas heading into the NFL season is the New Orleans Saints. The Saints struggled to a 7-9 finish last year, but there were extenuating circumstances as head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season due to his involvement in the team's bounty scandal. Payton is back in the fold, however, and the Saints will certainly be motivated to return to the top of the NFC.
In a game that could very well make or break their season, the Saints will travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks on Dec. 2. The Seahawks surprised a lot of people last year as they made the playoffs behind the arm of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The Wisconsin product figures to be even better in his second season, and thanks to the addition of wide receiver Percy Harvin, the Seahawks are among the favorites in the NFC.
The Saints and Seahawks may not have a natural rivalry, but there is probably still some bad blood left over from Seattle's home playoff victory over the Saints back in the 2010-11 playoffs. New Orleans was favored in that game, but the Seahawks pulled off the upset in spectacular fashion. Seattle will be at home in this game as well and it will be interesting to see how quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints handle the raucous crowd.
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