10 NFL Regular-Season Matchups We Can't Wait to Watch in 2014
Is it September yet?
With the first two days of free agency in the books, the plot has thickened for what is already sure to be a drama-filled 2014 NFL season.
As we sit here in mid-March, let's count down the most anticipated regular-season matchups from No. 10 to No. 1. This list was compiled with the following criteria in mind: the two teams' rivalry history, player movement in free agency, whether the game was a rematch of a game played last season and any other relevant player or coach connections.
Feel free to include the game that you can't wait to see in the comments section. In the NFL, 10 just isn't enough.
10. Washington Redskins at Indianapolis Colts
This coming season, the top two overall picks from the 2012 NFL draft will go toe-to-toe for the first time ever in a regular-season game.
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during his first two seasons in the league. After a dream rookie season in which he led the Redskins to their first NFC East title in 13 years while picking up Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, 2013 proved to be a nightmare.
Griffin tore his ACL in the NFC Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks, causing him to miss an entire offseason of OTAs, training camp and preseason games. The end result was a gut-wrenching 3-13 2013 season for Washington, which ended three weeks early for Griffin when he was benched by former head coach Mike Shanahan.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has been as advertised and then some. Luck has led the Colts to the playoffs in both of his seasons under center and will be looking for more in 2014.
These two will forever be linked, and early returns have Luck with a leg up. Griffin will have his shot to prove that 2013 was an aberration.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith must have this game circled.
When Smith was head coach of the Chicago Bears, he enjoyed five winning seasons, two appearances in the NFC Championship Game and a Super Bowl appearance. He was fired in 2012 after a 10-6 season.
Smith will have a shot to stick it to his old team in front of the Windy City faithful in 2014. He also may have a couple of former Bears in his corner to help.
On Wednesday, Tampa Bay agreed to a two-year deal with former Bears quarterback Josh McCown, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman met with Bucs officials, via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, and could also soon be reunited with his longtime head coach.
Smith doesn't come across as a person who seeks revenge or harbors bitter feelings. But you can bet that whenever this game is played, Bucs players will pull out all stops to make sure their leader is rewarded with a game ball in the Soldier Field visiting locker room.
8. Steve Smith vs. Carolina Panthers
It seems as if Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has no fear of playing with fire.
According to Steve Reed of the Associated Press, the NFC South champion Panthers are expected to release wide receiver Steve Smith if they can't consummate a trade, which seems to be unlikely. Expect the 34-year-old Smith to have more than a few suitors when he hits the open market.
Smith is a player who feeds off of emotion. It wouldn't be surprising in the least to see him sign with a team that has the Panthers on their schedule at least once this upcoming season.
The NFL is a cutthroat business, but Smith is the most decorated Panther of all—you'd think that Carolina could have handled this breakup more cleanly.
Smitty won't let Carolina off the hook for this one. I'll have my popcorn ready when he lines up across his old team in 2014. The Panthers secondary may need some ice.
7. Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
Both guys are surefire Hall of Famers. Both have been named Super Bowl MVP. And together with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, both are on the Mt. Rushmore of best active quarterbacks in the NFL.
In today’s league, it’s easy to get caught up in the next best thing. Sometimes, we as fans fail to appreciate greatness simply because we’re used to it. That’s a bad excuse.
The Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints matter every season because of Rodgers and Brees. 2014 will mark only the fourth time the two quarterbacks have gone head-to-head.
There's no real bad blood between these two teams, no bulletin board material to get excited about. But few games on the NFL docket can match a good old-fashioned shootout in the Superdome. Enjoy it.
6. Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
It will always feel strange to watch Peyton Manning play against the Colts.
Manning's much-anticipated return to Indy last season probably garnered more buzz than any other regular-season matchup in 2013. As for the game itself, Manning and the Denver Broncos fell behind early, eventually losing to Andrew Luck and the Colts 39-33.
Manning will get another crack at his former team in 2014, this time in Denver. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard, the Broncos have a few new players on defense (more on that a bit later).
It's once again Super Bowl or bust for Denver, but on the way there lies another challenge that will likely haunt Manning if it's not met: Beat the Colts and silence owner Jim Irsay, if only for a day.
5. Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
As a member of the Bears, quarterback Jay Cutler has a record of 1-8 against the hated Packers. With a hefty new contract that will keep him in Chicago long-term, Cutler will be expected to buck that trend—quickly.
The last image Bears fans have of the 2013 season is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finding a wide-open Randall Cobb for a game-winning touchdown to seal the NFC North at Soldier Field.
It's one thing for the Bears to lose to Packers, but in a Week 17 elimination game? That's colder than any Chicago winter.
The NFL's oldest rivalry rarely disappoints. The way last season ended only adds more intrigue—especially when the defending NFC North champs return to the place where they clinched the division.
4. New England Patriots at New York Jets
As long as Rex Ryan is the head coach of the New York Jets, this game will always be of the must-watch variety.
Then this bombshell from ESPN's Adam Schefter was dropped:
CB Darrelle Revis and the New England Patriots have reached agreement on a one-year, $12 million deal, league sources told ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014
The Revis news—which surely made Jets fans sick—was shortly followed by this counterpunch a few hours later:
Jets are giving former Broncos WR Eric Decker a 5-year, $36.25M deal, including $15M gtd, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014
Patriots CB Darrelle Revis vs. Jets WR Eric Decker.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014
Revis back in New York as a member of the New England Patriots? Who writes this stuff?
3. Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks
While nothing fully numbs the pain of getting pummeled 43-8 in the Super Bowl, Denver will be granted an opportunity to exact a little bit of revenge on the Seattle Seahawks in 2014.
The Broncos will travel to Seattle this upcoming season for a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII—only this time they'll be packing a revamped defense.
Denver executive vice president and general manager John Elway wasted no time in upgrading the D, going all-in to win a title before the Manning window closes. As reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, safety TJ Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive end DeMarcus Ware were all signed within the first 48 hours of free agency. Ware will team up with defensive end Von Miller—who didn't play in the Super Bowl due to injury—to form arguably the best pass-rushing tandem in football.
All that said, the Seahawks are the champs and have the best home-field advantage in football. Heck, the '85 Bears would struggle to win in Seattle.
This time around, though, the score won't be 43-8. It may not be the last time we see these two teams battle it out next season, either.
2. San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Who wouldn't put up pay-per-view money for this street fight?
Many thought that Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers played the real Super Bowl in last season's NFC Championship Game—and it's hard to argue otherwise.
This rivalry is perfect on so many levels. From Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll to Michael Crabtree and Richard Sherman, these teams despise each other. The quarterbacks—San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Seattle's Russell Wilson—are young stars in the making who push each other to excellence.
After three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, the Niners must prove that they can break through and win a Super Bowl. That means first finding a way to beat Seattle. Harbaugh has been under scrutiny this offseason, and another failed title run could lead to a parting of the ways.
The football gods gave us three installments of this epic rivalry last season. We would be so lucky for lightning to strike twice this upcoming season.
1. Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
What more could you possibly want out of a football game?
After the New England Patriots' improbable 34-31 regular-season comeback last season in New England, the Broncos got their retribution in the AFC Championship Game.
In 2014, Manning and Brady will go head-to-head for the 16th—and potentially final—time in their distinguished careers. Both organizations are attempting to one-up the other in free agency in hopes of hoisting one last Lombardi Trophy before their Canton-bound quarterbacks ride off into the sunset.
In addition to snagging Ward and Ware, Denver lured Talib out of New England, only to see the Patriots upgrade by reeling in Revis. This back-and-forth positioning for AFC supremacy will continue throughout the offseason before culminating in what is sure to be a prime-time showdown in Foxborough.
In an NFL season with countless storylines and stars galore, it's only fitting that Brady and Manning still receive top billing.
*All stats and information courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.