The NFL unveiled the complete 2014 regular-season schedule on Wednesday night, and while flex scheduling will change when some games are played later this year, the road to Super Bowl XLIX has become much clearer.
It all starts with the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks, who will hang the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl banner before kicking off the season against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on the first Thursday in September.
The excitement surrounding the 2014 season will only build from there, as the league has scheduled a plethora of tantalizing early-season showdowns next fall.
Below you'll find a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 regular-season schedule (via NFL.com) and a closer look at three early-season matchups you can't afford to miss.
Week 1: Packers Look to Avenge "Fail Mary" Defeat on Opening Night
When: Thursday, September 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks will kick off the 2014 season at home against a fellow NFC contender in the Green Bay Packers.
But while the Pack haven't met the Hawks in a meaningful game since September 2012, Green Bay has had plenty of time to sit and think about the "Fail Mary" game, when replacement referees awarded Seattle's Golden Tate simultaneous possession in the end zone on a last-second Hail Mary attempt, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Packers-Seahawks open the 2014 NFL season. In the infamous "Fail Mary," the Seahawks' win probability was only 3.4% on the final play.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 24, 2014
The devastating result ultimately led to the return of the NFL officials, but still doesn't sit well with many outside the Emerald City.
Aside from the drama brought on by their last regular-season meeting, Packers-Seahawks will be must-see television for a number of other reasons, mainly the fact we'll get to see Rodgers go up against Seattle's dominant secondary, better known as the Legion of Boom.
This game will also be a potential playoff preview as both teams have become perennial postseason contenders and are expected to be in the mix come January.
Week 2: Eagles, Colts Aim to Make a Statement on Monday Night
When: Monday, September 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Week 2's Monday night matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts will provide fans with an early look at one of the league's most explosive offenses and two of the NFL's top young quarterbacks in Philly's Nick Foles and Indy's Andrew Luck.
The Eagles posted all sorts of eye-popping offensive numbers during Chip Kelly's first season in 2013, en route to a playoff appearance, while the Colts have gone 11-5 in each of Luck's first two seasons, reaching the AFC divisional round a year ago.
Unsurprisingly, both teams have legitimate hopes of winning their division for a second straight year and getting back to the postseason. And since these two teams could only meet again in Super Bowl XLIX, you won't want to miss their rare meeting in prime time.
Will it be the Eagles picking up a huge road win or the Colts making a statement against one of the NFC's best?
Week 3: DeSean Jackson Returns to Philadelphia
When: Sunday, September 21 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
The NFC East promises to be hotly contested once again in 2014. And while all dozen division matchups will be pivotal in terms of crowning a champion at season's end, none will carry bigger storylines than Week 3's clash between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.
Much of the talk surrounding this matchup will center on DeSean Jackson, who signed with the Redskins this offseason after being released by the Eagles after six productive seasons in Philly.
Earlier this week, Redskins owner Dan Snyder discussed the acquisition of Jackson and what it means for his club, via ESPN.com's John Keim:
When you look at the fact that the head coach [Jay Gruden] and general manager [Bruce Allen] said this is the right move, the only thing I can do is support it and that's what I've done. It's been great. I've spent a little time with him and he's really a good guy.
[Watching him is] going to be exciting, and not just the two games against Philly. We got tired of seeing him score a lot of touchdowns against us and watching him on TV, so it's great to have him here.
There'll also be added motivation for Robert Griffin III and the rest of the Redskins to win this game as they were swept by the Eagles a season ago.
And if Jackson's rivalry with the Eagles doesn't interest you, Chip Kelly's explosive offense just might. Keep in mind that Philadelphia boasted the top rushing attack in all of football last season and ranked second in total offense behind only the Denver Broncos.
These two teams will meet again in Landover, Md. in Week 16, but who knows what the NFC East standings will look like by then. Every team in the league will still be very much in the hunt for the playoffs come Week 3, making this NFC East clash must-see television.
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