Anyone who thinks the NFL lasts for just a few months during the fall and winter is clearly not paying attention.
The official release of the NFL schedule used to be just any other day on the calendar. Teams would link to their schedule and diehard fans of that team wold begin to pick it apart.
These days, the anticipation leading up to the big day is nothing in comparison to the reaction from fans when the slate of games is officially announced. Along with the feedback from fans, every NFL analyst slices up the schedule to find the most intriguing games to write about.
Speaking of that, man are there ever some outstanding prime-time matchups to watch when the season actually gets underway. With 50 games set to take place in the prime hours for NFL fans, nearly every single one offers intrigue for individual fanbases.
But just a few of the games can earn the title of being the best throughout the 17-week schedule. Here's a look at the top matchups for each prime-time category and a breakdown for each game.
The full NFL schedule can be viewed on NFL.com.
Thursday Night Game: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks (Week 1)
Calm down Packers fans, there won't be any replacement referees.
While there was a preseason game last year between these two teams, this is the first meeting for the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers since the infamous "Fail Mary" play in 2012. The Seahawks also won't have Golden Tate for the regular-season matchup, so there's no hope of an identical play.
ESPN Stats & Info provides a look back to that game with the matchup coming at the start of the season:
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
Seattle comes into the season as the defending Super Bowl champions, so a target will be placed firmly on its back from Week 1. Going up against a proud franchise like the Packers means the Seahawks have a stiff test to start the season.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke about the challenge for the team going up against the No. 1 defense in the league in 2013, per Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com:
Though it's the only prime-time game at home for the Seahawks' 12th Man, it will certainly be a memorable one as the team celebrates its first Super Bowl in franchise history. Top that off with the likes of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas III going against Aaron Rodgers and this game has everything.
Sunday Night Game: San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos (Week 7)
This matchup pits two teams who were served up as sacrificial lambs for the Seahawks en route to last year's Super Bowl win, but both are clearly two of the best in the entire league.
For the Denver Broncos, recovering from the Super Bowl loss meant adding several pieces like DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders to bolster an already prodigious roster. But don't expect the Broncos to come into this matchup undefeated, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:
The Broncos first three opponents were a combined 35-13 last season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 24, 2014
On the other side of the ball, the San Francisco 49ers come into the season once again with hopes to make the Super Bowl. While taking down the Seahawks will be tough enough, getting a win against the Broncos midway through the season would do a lot for the team's confidence after a turbulent offseason.
Much like the Seahawks, the Niners strength is their defense, but with the status of Aldon Smith unknown after his arrest at LAX airport and NaVorro Bowman rehabbing from injury, nothing is for sure for the team's defensive corps.
But with a legendary quarterback in Peyton Manning going up against the likes of San Francisco's always gritty front seven, anything can happen at Mile High Stadium when these teams clash.
Monday Night Game: Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles (Week 10)
Which prime-time game are you most excited for?
One of the league's best defenses matched up with an explosive, high-powered offense. Watching the Carolina Panthers vs. Philadelphia Eagles is simply going to be a matchup of two teams facing off in a battle of wills.
Sure, this would be a lot better if both teams didn't lose crucial wide receivers—most notably Steve Smith for the Panthers and DeSean Jackson for the Eagles—but there is no less suspense for two of the biggest surprises in the 2013 season.
As for something that the Eagles can go ahead and look forward to, Cam Newton might finally be at full health after having offseason ankle surgery. Newton spoke about the ankle recovery, per David Newton of ESPN.com:
It wasn't 100 percent for a long time. It was a lot of conversation on my part where I really didn't know what 100 percent felt like. I was just dealing with the pain without any other anti-inflammatory, no pain killer or anything.
I was just going out there and playing. It's scary to know there will be a significant difference moving forward, but it's not going to happen by itself.
Philly's offense still features the likes of Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy, which makes it a deadly offense without Jackson lining up outside the numbers. Going up against a stout defense that will test that midway through the season, the Eagles and Panthers will be a highlight game on Monday Night Football.
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