It might seem like a farce if you think about all of the NBA, MLB and NHL action still to play this season, but the NFL released its 2013 regular season schedule on Thursday evening, and the chatter has been dominating the internet from that point on.
Are you ready for some football?
The full 17-week schedule was released at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday night, as NFL Network did a show to highlight some of the best matchups, and it all starts with Week 1 on Sept. 5 before going through the end of December.
If you're not ready, that's OK—there's a full four months for you to get on board with the upcoming campaign.
If you are ready, it's never too early to start breaking down what could be some of the best matchups of the 2013 season—starting with Week 1. Here's a look at four games that have the most intrigue when the NFL kicks off this year—and why.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
The NFC South has the potential to send three teams to the playoffs in 2013, and that should be on full display when these two division rivals square off in Week 1.
Coming off a playoff win for the first time in the Matt Ryan era, the Falcons are riding high, and didn't lose many pieces on offense after replacing Michael Turner with former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson.
The big area of concern for the defending regular-season NFC champs is on defense—where Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense will give the Falcons an immediate secondary challenge with their run-and-gun, high-octane passing attack.
Head coach Sean Payton is back on the sidelines for New Orleans after his year-long suspension, and the Saints also brought in former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to install the 3-4 scheme. New Orleans and the "Who Dat" nation are extremely bitter and disappointed that the playoffs were missed last year—and who better to take it out on in Week 1 than a team considered to be one of the top-three squads in the NFC?
Add in that these matchups (a Saints win in November followed by a Falcons win three weeks later) were two of the best in the 2012 season, and we should get another grind-it-out game during opening weekend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets
Cornerback Darrelle Revis will be playing in this game, almost a year after he tore his ACL and missed most of the 2012 season.
Which team will he be playing for?
The Jets put trade talks on hold (h/t ESPN) earlier in the week, but that doesn't mean anything with nearly four months before Revis has to suit up and the Bucs in clear need of a shutdown cornerback, even if they choose to use the No. 13 pick in the NFL draft on such a prospect.
On the other hand, the Jets have insisted they are not going to give Revis away, setting up an interesting power dynamic between the two squads as the Bucs have leverage over Revis' impending free agency while the Jets know Tampa Bay is desperate to make a move.
In other news, will Mark Sanchez be starting for the Jets, be backing up Josh Freeman for the Bucs or be admiring Rex Ryan's wife's tattoo from the stands?
OK, so the last question is a joke, but the amount of time these two franchises have been in contact about a potential trade for Revis makes it so fitting that they will see each other in Week 1. It won't affect such talks, but two aspiring playoff squads who struggled to live up to expectations are more than enough drama to make this a must-win for both teams to get off on the right foot.
Oh, and Tim Tebow might still be a Jet.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
The stats from the Green Bay Packers' two attempts to beat the San Francisco Giants in 2012-13 are not pretty:
Record vs. Colin Kaepernick: 0-1
Record vs. Alex Smith: 0-1
Rushing Yardage Comparison: 509 (SF) - 149 (GB)
Look no further than the final stat to see why Green Bay is seriously considered to be a team eager to add a marquee running back in the draft this year.
In any event, both of these franchises are high-class, successful teams that continue to exude excellence both on and off the field. This matchup opened up the 2012 regular season with a bang and a San Francisco win that put the 49ers on a path toward the Super Bowl, and the NFL is hedging its bets that a similarly impressive display from both teams will be the case.
The evolution of Kaepernick as a passer will also be a huge storyline in this game.
As will the team's ability to stop the read-option attack, something Kaep and the Niners lived with after he became the starter in the middle of the regular season. Will the second year dropoff affect San Francisco's offense, or will lighter heads prevail who proclaimed this kid as the real deal during their near-Super Bowl run?
Tune in to find out.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
This is the mothership of all motherships, slated by the league to be played a clear three days before any other team hits the field.
Check out the tape from the AFC divisional round, and you'll see why.
Joe Flacco's miracle pass to Jacoby Jones that vaulted the Ravens into the AFC Championship game and eventually the Super Bowl sent shockwaves through the Mile High faithful, as the epic collapse ranks among the most disappointing moments in franchise history.
The Broncos have not taken the loss lying down.
Keen on adding players and talent around quarterback Peyton Manning who will further push Denver to the brink of a championship, John Elway has managed to snatch Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Stewart Bradley from the free-agency pool.
Baltimore has been active, too, something out of necessity and need after the retirement of Ray Lewis, the trade of Anquan Boldin to the 49ers and the decision not to bring back key free agents Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Dannell Ellerbe.
While the transition for both teams is high, the talent level under center is consistent. Flacco and Manning are two of the league's best—and both are paid like it, too.
As Denver looks to cement itself as a powerhouse contender and Baltimore looks to prove to fans and league pundits everywhere that the hangover from the Super Bowl will be fixed with a baby aspirin, this matchup has all the intrigue of a Week 17 game.
Maybe that's why the NFL is gracing us with it in Week 1.
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