As the busy and assiduous NFL offseason continues, many tasks and events have been crossed off the league's to-do list. Free agency, the scouting combine, owner's meetings, the draft, and announcing the 2010 schedule have all been completed. But with four months left before the season officially begins in New Orleans, there is plenty left to happen and plenty of time for it.
As we wait for training camp to get underway and the exciting regular season to begin, players and fans alike study their schedule to see which opponents could create problems, and which ones won't. Some games will capture the attention of the national audience, some rather will draw local attention.
Here are the 12 most intriguing games for the first half of the NFL season that you will not want to miss.
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints, Week One, NBC
Not only do the defending Lombardi Trophy winners kick off the season, but they do so against the team they defeated in the NFC Championship game. You can't get much more of a thrilling game for opening kickoff. Two powerful offenses with stingy Ds will line up for the season's first game.
MVP candidate Drew Brees will light up the airways for the Saints, but maybe the most interesting player to watch will be Brett Favre, assuming he returns for another season. Favre, who has not announced his decision, said he will require ankle surgery if he wants to play in 2010.
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams, Week One, FOX
Of course, the storyline here is 'Sam Bradford makes NFL debut.' This will be the key thing to watch, but the Cardinals have a new look. These aren't the Cardinals of your grandmother's day, or even of last year. Quarterback Kurt Warner retired in the offseason, receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to Baltimore, and other stars such as linebacker Karlos Dansby, and safety Antrell Rolle, also moved on, to name a few.
How will Bradford handle his first start after being the first pick in the draft? How will the Cardinals respond to big changes in the roster? These questions will be answered during these teams' Week One matchup.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals, Week Two, CBS
Coming into 2010, both the Ravens and Bengals are division title contenders in the AFC North. Both made the Playoffs last season, Baltimore advancing to the Divisional Round, Cincinnati falling in the first round to New York. Anquan Boldin will be playing his first game against a division opponent. The biggest matchup to watch will be Boldin against a tough secondary of the Bengals. This game will be the first indication of who has the upper hand in 2010.
New York Giants vs. Indianapolis Colts, Week Two, NBC
Peyton versus Eli. The sibling rivalry continues on Sunday Night Football in Indianapolis as the Colts take on the Giants. Peyton has won all previous games between the two (not including backyard two-hand touch games).
For the most part, Indy returns its 2009 AFC Championship team and Manning is coming off his third MVP award. The Giants are now one of the two big contenders for the NFC East title with the Cowboys, this coming after the Donovan McNabb trade to Washington.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles, Week Four, FOX
Donovan McNabb returns to the City of Brotherly Love. But will Eagle fans treat him with love? This is somewhat reminiscent of Vikings-Packers last season when Brett Favre returned to Lambeau Field and was serenaded with boos.
But this isn't the only thing to watch. What we will get out of this game is whether or not Philly can compete in a tough NFC East without their former franchise quarterback. If Washington wins, it shows McNabb and their other key offseason acquisitions are turning around the franchise, and that it will be a long season for the Eagles.
Minnesota Vikings at New York Jets, Week Five, ESPN
Even if Brett Favre retires, this looks to be a tight game. All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson of the Vikings will be pitted against the NFL's best rush defense, which is even stronger now with tackle Kris Jenkins back from injury. The Vikings' intimidating defensive line will go up against the Jets' offensive line that includes Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
And if Favre returns for another season, he will face an even more revamped defensive backfield of the Jets, who added Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie and first-rounder Kyle Wilson. Add to this that it would be Favre's return to the Meadowlands, where he played in 2008. Receiver Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII MVP, will make his Jets debut after a four-game suspension.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots, Week Six, CBS
When these two teams faced each other in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs last season, Baltimore blew out the Pats, 33-14. Rookie Ray Rice pounced on New England's rush defense, which they need to improve for 2010. Baltimore has stocked itself with extra talent and New England returns its key players, including receiver Wes Welker (missed playoffs with injury), but did not address a big need at running back.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings, Week Six, FOX
After Minnesota crushed Dallas in the Playoffs last season, this game should be much more competitive. For either team, this would be a big win, but not a crushing defeat. The Cowboys now have two playmakers at the wide receiver position and will challenge the Vikings with both Miles Austin and rookie Dez Bryant.
Both teams consider themselves in contention for a Super Bowl run and this Week Six game will be an early feel for what could be the NFC Championship game.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers, Week Seven, NBC
Call this one 'The Return of Favre: The Sequel.' Probably.
Living in Packerland, the majority of Cheeseheads do not like Brett Favre. In fact, a good amount of them hate him. And after he defeated Green Bay at Lambeau in 2009, the Packers will make it their goal to knock him down in 2010. Packers linebacker and captain Nick Barnett said he wants Favre to come back, just so he can hit him even harder.
But even without the Favre storyline, this game pits the contenders in the NFC North division. Both teams reached the playoffs last season and expect to do so again. The Packers' defense needs to pressure whoever the Minnesota quarterback is and create turmoil in the pocket, because that will lead to good things with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson.
Aaron Rodgers get another chance to show the NFL that he is a top-five quarterback that can lead his team to a Super Bowl. This is a grueling two-game stretch for Minnesota.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Miami Dolphins, Week Seven, CBS
After making the Playoffs in 2008-09, both teams missed out last season. For the Dolphins, it was in large part due to missing quarterback Chad Pennington. For Pittsburgh, it was a dreadful mid-season stretch in which their offense was nonexistent.
Along with two good teams playing each other, Ben Roethlisberger makes his season debut after a six-game suspension for alleged sexual assault charges, his second in nine months (the suspension could be reduced and he would make his first appearance in week six against Cleveland). After winning two Super Bowls, Big Ben has had major off the field issues and needs to get his career on track. Some have said the Steelers might release Roethlisberger due to his problems, despite his talent.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, Week Seven, ESPN
When these two teams met last season in the inaugural game at Cowboys Stadium, New York came out victorious in a competitive game. But this season, Dallas expects to be the victor and win the division. This won't be easy, however, with the Giants in their way.
The Giants need to get the running game going against the Cowboys and make DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears non-factors if they are going to win. The winner of this one has a very good chance at winning the division.
Green Bay Packers at New York Jets, Week Eight, FOX
Defense won't be a problem in this one, as the Packers had the best scoring defense last season and the Jets had the best rush defense. Charles Woodson won Defensive MVP and Darrelle Revis finished second and is considered the best cover corner in the NFL.
Both the Packers and Jets have expectations to reach the conference championship, and further on to the Super Bowl. New York made multiple additions in the offseason with Holmes, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, Cromartie, and others.
Green Bay returns practically the same roster, minus linebacker/end Aaron Kampman. The key to this game will be the quarterbacks and who controls the other defense better. While neither will light up the other, turnovers will be crucial and costly in this one.