2013 NFL Schedule: Previewing Top Early-Season Matchups

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IApril 29, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 22: Wide receiver Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots makes a catch for a touchdown as LaRon Landry #30 defends during the second quarter of a game at MetLife Stadium on November 22, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL draft is in the books, setting the stage for summer minicamps and eventually the 2013 NFL season.

That said, it's time we turn our attention to the 2013 regular-season schedule. This fall will feature a ton of intriguing matchups and rivalries renewed, but a few gems in particular that are set to kick off early on in September.

Got a pen and calendar handy?

Below we'll preview a trio of top early-season matchups fans should be watching for in 2013.

Week 1: Houston Texans vs. San Diego Chargers

Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: Monday, Sept. 9 at 10:15 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

The final matchup of Week 1 will pit the Houston Texans against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football.

This clash could offer the first regular-season look at the Chargers' second-round draft pick Manti Te'o, as well as the Texans' first-round selection, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. 

Te'o is obviously the more recognizable name, but Hopkins is an entertaining, can't-miss talent with the ball in his hands.

In addition to featuring some fresh faces, Texans vs. Chargers will offer up an excellent Week 1 test for both AFC challengers. Houston has come up short in the AFC Divisional Round the past two seasons, while San Diego has missed the postseason the past three years.

If you're on the East Coast and don't mind staying up late on a Monday, there will be plenty of interesting storylines to follow in this one.

Week 2: New York Jets vs. New England Patriots

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

When: Thursday, Sept. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: NFL Network

NFL fans won't even have to wait for the weekend in Week 2 to catch one of the league's top rivalries.

The new-look New York Jets will visit Foxborough in the first installment of Thursday Night Football in Week 2 to take on the Patriots, a perennial contender that's won the AFC more than any other team in recent years: Five times since 2001.

Not only is this matchup worth watching given the history between the two teams, but there'll be plenty of exciting rookies to keep an eye on as well, including Jets second-round draft pick Geno Smith, who could potentially be starting under center for Gang Green.

Also, New York's two first-round selections, cornerback Dee Milliner and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, should both be on display as the Jets aim to knock off Tom Brady and Bill Belichick after being embarrassed in 2012.

Week 3: Chicago Bears vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Sunday, Sept. 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: NBC

Prepare for smash-mouth football when the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers get together on Sunday Night Football in Week 3. The two franchises are notorious for their blue-collar styles and will both be legitimate playoff contenders in 2013.

For the visiting Bears, this will be the first time many fans outside the Windy City get a glimpse of rookie linebackers Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene, who will look to begin the post-Brian Urlacher era with a bang.

On the other side, Pittsburgh will likely showcase some new talent of its own, including offensive rookies Le'Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton. Bell adds some versatility to the Steelers' back field while Wheaton gives Ben Roethlisberger another vertical threat in the passing game.

Don't forget about linebacker Jarvis Jones. The former Georgia star went No. 17 overall to Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, and is a stud playmaker in the middle.

*Click here to view the entire 2013 NFL schedule from NFL.com.

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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