Must-Watch Games for Every Week of the 2014 NFL Schedule
The NFL released its 2014 regular-season schedule this week, finally giving fans starving for offseason news something to chew on.
With more than four months until the opening week kick-off, it’s the perfect time to pour over your team’s slate and make absurdly early predictions about the year’s juiciest matchups.
As usual, the league’s schedule-makers strategically filled the season with contests that feature many of the best rivalries and narratives from across the NFL. In anticipation of another thrilling year, let’s take a look at the top must-watch games for every week of the season.
Disclaimer: If your favorite team is very bad at football, it will not be featured prominently in this article.
Week 1: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
The NFL season opens with the “Fail Mary” rematch from 2012.
This time, when Green Bay comes to visit the reigning league champs, it will be without replacement refs or wide receiver Golden Tate, the player who “caught” the controversial game-winning pass.
This matchup should live up to the hype. The two previous NFC teams to win the Super Bowl facing off in a battle for conference dominance. If the Packers should pull off the unlikely upset in Seattle, its status as a legitimate title contender will be reinstated and validated. Now that Rodgers is fully healthy, we will get the chance to see how well he can test the Seahawks’ top-notch secondary.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Week 2: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
What used to be the greatest rivalry in the NFL has now lost some of its luster. Several of the iconic faces from years past have moved teams or retired and neither club is the perennial Super Bowl contender it used to be.
Still, when these two teams meet, it always promises to be an entertaining contest. Nine out of the last 10 regular-season meetings between the Steelers and Ravens have been decided by three points or less. Bad blood. Scuffles galore. And who can forget the Thanksgiving Day gem from last season featured in the video above, courtesy of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers
Week 3: Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks
Here we go again. Seven-and-a-half months after the “Massacre at the Meadowlands,” Denver gets the unpleasant task of traveling to CenturyLink Field for Round 2. Much like the Packers in Week 1, a win (or even a close loss) would make a huge statement for the Broncos’ title chances.
With multiple key players returning from injury and several high-profile free agents joining the defense, Denver will hope to put forth a much more meaningful effort this time around. Peyton Manning and Co. were outplayed, outmatched and just outright dominated in a title game in which the Broncos were favored.
The oddsmakers have a Super Bowl XLVIII rematch lined up for 2014. Denver will get an early season opportunity to make the case it deserves one.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Washington at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 4: Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens
“Put your goggles on cause there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.” No, that wasn’t Quentin Tarantino promoting Kill Bill Vol. 3. That was former Panthers star wide receiver Steve Smith when questioned about a reunion with his former team.
Now on WFNZ, Steve Smith on possibly playing vs #Panthers: “Put your goggles on cause there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.”— Bill Voth (@billvoth) March 13, 2014
Assuming Smith’s graphic prediction is more figurative than literal, the bloodbath will likely come from the Raven’s stout defense when matched up with the Panthers’ dreadful receiving corps.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Week 5: Bye Week
This is a tough week in the schedule—for fans, that is. Apparently even the NFL schedule-makers needed a bye week. Sure, there are some decent games on the schedule—Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots—but nothing screams “must-watch.”
If you’re looking for a good weekend to go visit your in-laws, Week 5 is your best bet.
Week 6: Washington at Arizona Cardinals
Yet another week lacking a truly marquee matchup, however, the Skins and Cards should make for an entertaining game. Featuring two teams trying to distinguish themselves as fringe contenders in the NFC, this game should serve as a good benchmark for where both clubs stand at this point in the year.
New Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is expected to implement a high-flying passing offense, especially now that the team added wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to a passing attack that already included Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. Matched up against Arizona’s elite secondary featuring the likes of cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and newly acquired Antonio Cromartie, along with free safety Tyrann Mathieu, RGIII and Co. should have their hands full.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks
Week 7: New York Jets at New England Patriots
The Jets will reunite with their former star cornerback Darrelle Revis on Thursday Night Football when the team travels to Foxborough to face division rival Patriots. One year after trading him away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a first-round pick (which they used on cornerback Dee Milliner), the Jets now must live with the consequences.
For the second straight year, the Jets will have to play on the road against New England on a short week, and last time the results weren’t too pretty. Now with Revis and Brandon Browner looming in New England’s secondary, it could be another long night for the Jets.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
Week 8: Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
Likely scheduled during Game 4 of the World Series, the NFL will serve up some tasty primetime competition in the form of Packers versus Saints on Sunday Night Football. While the league used to shy away from competing with the biggest games in baseball for fear it might suffer low ratings, it now tries its best to win the viewership battle.
Last year, the Packers and Vikings were not quite enough of a draw to beat out the most-watched baseball game in three years. This year, with quarterbacks Rodgers and Drew Brees facing off in a midseason contest at the Superdome with possible playoff implications, the NFL could very well win the night.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals
Week 9: Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Advantage: Peyton. Yes, the Broncos crumbled to pieces in the Super Bowl, but Denver’s dismantling of New England in the AFC Championship was an underrated storyline from the 2013 postseason. Had Manning and Co. lost that game, it could have been devastating to Manning’s legacy (whether or not that is fair is another debate). Instead, Manning picked them apart and Denver’s defense actually contained Brady.
Now, Manning is back in New England for what could always be the final meeting between two of the all-time greats. Some may groan at the oversaturated coverage leading up to every contest, but let’s be honest, it will be sad when the paths of these two ultimate competitors no longer cross.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 10: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Ninety-three years of history will be on display when the league’s longest-standing rivalry kicks off for the 189th time on Sunday Night Football. In No. 188, the two historic clubs put on quite a classic. Six lead changes on a balmy 14-degree Sunday evening in Chicago all culminated with one of most exciting plays of the season, featured in the above video.
For us lucky fans, both teams are loaded at offensive skill positions, featuring possibly the two best wide receiver tandems in the league, along with two of the top running backs and quarterbacks. Oh, and Julius Peppers is now a Packer. The Seahawks and 49ers may have a stranglehold on the league’s current top rivalry, but the Bears and Packers have a great case for No. 2.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
Week 11: New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
Another Sunday Night Football showdown featuring the best narratives the NFL has to offer. It’s only a matter of time until Andrew Luck assumes the mantle as one of the best, if not the best quarterback in the NFL. But that title will have to wait at least until Brady decides to hang up his cleats and strap on his Uggs permanently.
Still, this rematch of 2013’s divisional round stomping by the Patriots should be fun to watch. Despite the Colts losing by three touchdowns in that game, at some point we will see a passing of the guard among quarterbacks—will it happen in 2014?
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
These teams already dislike each other, but you have to imagine Eli Manning and Tony Romo especially hate playing against one another. The two franchise quarterbacks undergo intense scrutiny during these contests (even more so than usual), and the losing quarterback inevitably gets tarred and feathered by the media.
Even when neither team is having a particularly great season (as was the case last year), all eyes are on this matchup.
The Cowboys and Giants have played each other very closely over the past few years. Eight of their last 10 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less and fourth-quarter heroics (and failures) are standard.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Week 13: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
An incredible 2013 NFC Championship game only further cemented this matchup as the greatest current rivalry in the NFL. Wilson versus Kaepernick. Harbaugh versus Carroll. Sherman versus Crabtree—NFL fans should give praise to the higher power of their choosing that these two teams meet two to three times every year.
Following the “tip heard around the world” to close out the teams’ most recent battle, fans are forced to wait with bated breath until Thanksgiving before these clubs add the next chapter to their already-storied rivalry.
The Seahawks will host the 49ers just two weeks later, however, their recent battles in Seattle leave something to be desired.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers
Week 14: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
In back-to-back weeks, Seattle steals the spotlight. And it’s no surprise—after their Super Bowl slaughtering, everyone will tune in to see if the Hawks’ aura of invincibility can be broken.
The Seahawks are clearly more susceptible to defeat on the road. During the Russell Wilson era, seven of their eight regular-season losses occurred away from CenturyLink Field.
Now, coming off an assuredly hard-fought battle on the road in San Francisco in Week 13, Seattle must travel to the East Coast the following week to face Chip Kelly’s Eagles. Nearing the end of his second season in Philly, the Eagles could be barreling toward another postseason appearance. And what better way for a hopeful contender to make a late-season statement than to stand your ground at home against the reigning champs.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers
Week 15: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Last season, these two teams met in Week 15 and San Diego handed Denver their first home loss of the season. This victory launched the Chargers into the public mindset as a potential postseason sleeper and elevated Philip Rivers’ bounce-back season. Suddenly, there was a new threat in the relatively weak AFC.
In another Week 15 matchup, this time in San Diego, will the AFC West still be up for grabs? The Broncos face one of the seemingly tougher schedules in 2014, especially through the first eight weeks of the year, and their record could reflect that fact. If the Chargers can build upon their 2013 progress, the outcome of this late-season contest could carry some significant consequences.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears
Week 16: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
The assumption here is that the 2014 Atlanta Falcons will look nothing like the 2013 version and much closer to the 2012 team that finished with the best regular-season record in the NFC (13-3). With the Bucs in rebuilding mode and the Panthers likely to regress, this game could easily decide the battle to crown the NFC South champions.
Prior to last season, meetings between these two teams represented one of the most heated matchups in the NFL. Both the Saints and the Falcons have jockeyed for top position in their division and 11 of the 12 previous meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Here’s to a rejuvenated Falcons team and reignited rivalry with the Saints!
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Week 17: Dallas Cowboys at Washington
Eight-and-eight. It’s become comical for everyone except Cowboys fans. For three consecutive years, the Boys have entered Week 17 with an 8-7 record facing a different divisional rival with the NFC East Championship on the line. Each year, the winner of that game has gone to the postseason and each year the winner has not been the Cowboys.
Runner-up Must-watch Game of the Week: San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs