Following months of anticipation, the path to Super Bowl XLIX will become a whole lot clearer when the NFL reveals its 2014 regular-season schedule on Wednesday night.
The league's official Twitter account confirms the 17-week slate will be made public at 8 p.m. ET:
For those looking to follow the release live as it happens, ESPN2 will broadcast a two-hour special starting at 8 p.m. ET. The NFL Network will also have you covered with instant analysis during a three-hour special beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Below, we'll get you set for what's become a national holiday for sports fans.
Release Date: Wednesday, April 23
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN2, NFL Network
We've known all 256 regular-season matchups and where they'll be played since late December, but we won't know until Wednesday night when those games will be played and what the stakes will be at kickoff.
While it hasn't yet been confirmed, the expectation is that the Seattle Seahawks will kick off the 2014 regular season at home on Thursday, Sept. 4. As tradition has it, the defending Super Bowl champions will unveil their championship banner on opening night.
Many have speculated about which team the Seahawks will play on opening night, but we won't know for sure until Wednesday's release.
CBSSports.com's John Breech ranks the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos as the favorites to face Seattle at CenturyLink Field on opening night. While Breech admits that the 49ers are the "obvious choice" to open 2014, he gives the Packers a 30 percent chance of visiting the Seahawks in Week 1:
The argument for the Packers playing in the opener is two words long: Simultaneous possession. The last time Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay played in Seattle came in September 2012 when the Fail Mary happened. If the Packers end up playing the Seahawks, the Fail Mary clip will probably be shown 117,000 times leading up to the game.
But no season-opening matchup would generate more buzz than a Super Bowl rematch, as pointed out by this teaser from NFL Network on Twitter:
While we have an idea of what the regular-season opener will look like, the NFL's three London showcases have been set in stone, according to ESPN's John Clayton.
|Sun, Sept. 28||Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders||1 p.m.|
|Sun, Oct. 26||Detroit Lions vs. Atlanta Falcons||9:30 a.m.|
|Sun, Nov. 9||Dallas Cowboys vs. Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m.|
Besides those overseas matchups, fans and analysts will have to continue to speculate on dates and times until Wednesday night.
In early April, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the league had no intention of releasing any specifics regarding the regular-season schedule, and it appears the NFL will stay true to its word:
NFL hoping for mid-April release of schedule, but it still may be late April. NFL not planning to release any part of the schedule early.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 1, 2014
Nonetheless, we do know which teams will play one another. And as Schefter points out, the Indianapolis Colts could benefit from the league's easiest schedule in 2014:
Colts have easiest schedule (opponents a combined 110-146). Last 2 teams with “easiest” sked, 2012 Pats and 2013 Broncos, reached Conf Champ— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 23, 2014
The Oakland Raiders will be at the other end of the spectrum, playing the toughest schedule of any team in 2014. While the Colts' opponents' win percentage in 2013 is .430, the Raiders' is .578.
A team to watch for in 2014 will be the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens, who have the fifth-easiest schedule based on opponents' win percentage in 2013.
Although several teams that struggled in 2013 will be greatly improved in 2014, we won't know which team truly has the easiest schedule until injuries and performance are factored in at season's end.
Adding to the drama of the schedule release is the ongoing discussion of potential playoff expansion. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the subject in March following the NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Fla., via USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones: "It's not out of the question, but we did not make that decision at all. We have more work to do. I wouldn't rule it out but that's not the direction we are headed right now."
For now, we can only speculate about which teams will have easy paths to the playoffs and what the postseason field will look like come January. But on Wednesday night, we'll know exactly what those paths are and have a much better idea of how the 2014 regular season will shake out.
And NFL fans can begin crafting their plans for the fall.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.