Every game in the NFL season is exciting for one reason or another. Hundreds of thousands of people will tune in whether it's an offensive shootout, a defensive struggle or a lopsided blowout (except fans of the losing team).
Some of the games, however, look more exciting on paper. With bitter feuds and interesting matchups pitting potent offenses against stout defenses, or any combination therein, there are certainly some games that have excitement written all over them.
These are my choices for the top 50 can't-miss games of the season.
The Cardinals are trying to do something they've never done in franchise history by winning their third division title in a row. The 49ers, however, are looking to return to the land of the prominent with a winning season this year. Without future Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner and former leading receiver Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals could take a step back, and the 49ers will look to capitalize with wins.
These two teams played in the final game of the season last year, with the Steelers edging out the Dolphins by six points as Miami came roaring back in the fourth quarter. These two teams are flying under the radar in their division races for various reasons, and both will look to this game to prove that they're not middle-of-the-road pretenders, but playoff contenders.
This game features a Patriots offense that's trying to prove that it's as powerful as it was in 2007 versus a defense that's trying to return to its No. 1 form of 2006.
One has to wonder if Chicago's bottom-half defense can come close, even with the addition of Julius Peppers in the offseason. Tom Brady could feast on them, but Jay Cutler could also abuse a paper-thin Patriots defense.
The Cowboys won the NFC East last year, and the Texans finished above .500 for the first time in team history. Neither team got there by playing stout pass defense, though, and both teams feature high-octane offenses capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.
There are no big-time playoff implications here, but this is exactly the type of game that the NFL has been promoting with rule changes that favor the offenses. If you're into high-scoring affairs, you can't miss this game. The two teams ranked in the top 10 in many offensive categories. The Texans were 10th in points and fourth in overall yards including the most of any team through the air, while the Cowboys were 14th in points and second in overall yards.
And then there's that whole thing about Texas bragging rights.
This game hardly has any playoff implications, but anytime the Manning brothers are on the same field at the same time, it's worth watching. The two are talented in their own rights, and it's always fun to make comparisons between the two. Ultimately, it's two talented teams that have participated in and won Super Bowls three times in the past four seasons. May the best Manning brother win.
The Bengals did what no one expected them to do last year. Not only did they win their division, but they did it impressively and convincingly by sweeping the two favorites, the Steelers and the Ravens. The Bengals are out to prove that last season wasn't a fluke and have added explosive wide receiver Terrell Owens into the fold. The Ravens defense would love nothing more than to shut up both Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
These games are of added intrigue because they happen at the very beginning and end of the season. Each team will be looking to gain momentum and advantage in the division race, and the final game of the season could even be for the division title.
Something's gotta give, as last year's No. 1 passing offense squares off against the No. 1 passing defense. This is a game that could also have implications for seeding purposes if the two teams are vying for wild card spots or even their respective division title. The Texans gave up a lot of touchdowns (17) but not many yards (1,711) on the ground last year, so it will be interesting to see if Mark Sanchez can take charge of the game if the rush attack is slowed down. The return of Darrelle Revis should have the Jets defense rounded into form for another late-season playoff push.
The past two Super Bowl Champions collide in this match of titanic proportions. The Saints are looking to prove that last year was no fluke as they went 13-3 and marched into the Super Bowl for a win with their No. 1 overall yardage and scoring offense.
The Steelers, on the other hand, are out to prove that last year was a fluke and that they're still a team to be feared in the AFC. That could be hard to do for a Steelers' pass defense that ranked 16th in yards against the Saints vaunted aerial attack that put up 4,355 yards for the fourth-highest total in the league. Also, Ben Roethlisberger should be back from his early-season suspension and ready to rev up the Steelers offense.
This rivalry has gained a lot of traction recently, but has been bitter for a long time. The Steelers will be out for blood after a Super Bowl repeat was nixed when the Bengals swept them and won the division. The Bengals have been built to beat the Steelers at their own game with a top-10 rushing attack and run defense. This contest should feature a lot of heavy-hitting and chippy attitudes could fly.
The over-under is 40 miles per hour for how fast the Steelers' defensemen will be flying at Terrell Owens to make a tackle or block.
Last year's matchup between these two teams was exciting, and with mostly returning players on both teams (with a few key losses and additions), it only figures to be exciting yet again. The two sides were very evenly matched, tallying similar statistics in many categories in that game (314 yards for Carson Palmer, 308 for Philip Rivers). The Bengals' offense poses a new threat with Terrell Owens that it didn't necessarily have last year, as does the Chargers' offense with the addition of Ryan Mathews.
The Dolphins are a dark horse candidate for the division. They're quietly flying under the radar which gives them an opportunity to stop the flapping of Rex Ryan's gums, or to perhaps instigate some tears if a loss in Week 14 puts them out of the division title race.
The Jets, however, have a real bone to pick with the Dolphins, after two late-game rallies charged the Jets with two losses and put them in a position to struggle to make the playoffs. I nearly had to pinch myself after Chad Henne dismantled the Jets' No. 1-ranked pass defense by going 21-of-28 for 262 yards and 2 touchdowns. And lest we forget, long-time Dolphin Jason Taylor returns to play his old team, after signing with the Jets as a free agent.
Two of the league's top defenses collide in what could be a potential playoff preview. It could also be a matchup between two teams desperate for a win to make the playoffs, as question marks surround both teams headed into the 2010 season, and both teams play in competitive divisions.
Both teams pride themselves on stout defenses, and the two have led the league in both points and yards allowed on defense over the past two seasons. This game may end with a final score of 12-9, but the defenses will be headhunting in this game, looking to lay jarring blows on one another for 60 minutes straight. And the difference in the game could come down to Santonio Holmes, the wide receiver who caught the winning touchdown pass for the Steelers in their Super Bowl win two years ago who was traded to the Jets this past off-season.
Both the Packers and Eagles are coming off disappointing early exits from the playoffs, as both were bounced in the Wild Card game against the Cardinals and Cowboys respectively.
This is Kevin Kolb's coming-out party in Philadelphia, and he has the displeasure of facing Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson and the fifth-ranked Packers pass defense. Many are also expecting an improvement on last year for Aaron Rodgers as he enters his third season in the league, which is saying a lot considering he threw for 30 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last year.
For 11 years, Donovan McNabb bled green as he led the Eagles valiantly, bringing them to five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl. The Kevin Kolb era has been ushered in in Philadelphia, and on October 3, McNabb suits up for their rivals, the Washington Redskins, in his first return trip to Lincoln Financial Field.
The build-up goes without saying in that regard; it's sort of a student-meets-master a la Favre-Rodgers. The Redskins may still be far from a playoff team, while the Eagles are out to prove that they won't miss a beat despite the change at quarterback. Most interestingly may be the reaction McNabb gets from the notorioiusly nasty Philly fans: Will they cheer Donovan in his return?
Two of the league's top aerial attacks collide in what could end up being an offensive shootout on either or both occasions.
The Houston Texans just had their franchise's first winning season in history, but are a far cry from the winning tradition of the Colts as they look to continue a streak of seven consecutive seasons with 12 or more wins. The Texans always seem to have a hard time stepping out of Indy's shadow, but the game should be a nail-biter to the finish either way. While the Colts have won nine of the last 10 matchups, the Texans traditionally play the Colts tough and Indy has had to come from behind with late-game drives on multiple occasions.
The only team to dethrone New England as division champions in the past eight years, Miami always seems to have a bone to pick with the Pats. It was the Dolphins that ended New England's 21-game regular season winning streak back in 2008.
These games are sometimes blowouts, but usually they're relatively close. The Dolphins sometimes look like fish out of water against the Patriots, but the Wildcat has rescued that fish and put him back in the water...or something. It'll be interesting to see the cat and mouse game between Belichick and Dolphins coach Tony Sparano.
The Jets got into the playoffs by winning two games in which the opposing team rested their starters in preparation for the playoffs. One of those teams was the Bengals. One week later, I bet they wish they hadn't sat their starters . The Bengals get their chance for retribution in Week 12 against a Jets team that ran all over them in the Wild Card round.
The seventh-ranked Bengals run defense gave up an astonishing 171 yards and two touchdowns. The Jets pass defense stifled the Bengals, forcing a 50 percent completion rate at less than 10 yards per completion and an interception off Carson Palmer. Let's see how fired up the Bengals will be in this revenge matchup.
Favre gets a chance for revenge against his former team...the New York Jets. Yes, Favre's stint with the Jets was short-lived, so this isn't quite the retribution matchup that Green Bay-Minnesota has become. Favre may feel compelled, though, after being replaced by Mark Sanchez in the 2009 Draft, to show them that he's better than their new golden boy.
Two of the league's best on defense look poised to make this a great matchup. The two teams are both out to prove that they're contenders, and this will be a measuring stick for both teams. In the end, I think the Jets defense may prove too much for the Vikings as Rex Ryan will be sure to send plenty of pressure against the aging, hobbled Favre.
It surely doesn't matter right now, but Brett Favre is only 1-3 against the Jets in his career.
Just because the Saints are the defending Super Bowl Champions, doesn't mean they're a lock for the division title. Just ask last year's Steelers.
Although the Saints were undefeated through their first 13 games, the Falcons put up a good fight in the two games, going blow-for-blow in both games, pushing it to the final quarter of play both times. These should both be exciting games once again, as these two teams compete for the NFC South title early and late in the season. With running back extraordinaire Michael Turner healthy again, the Falcons could ruin the Saints Mardi Gras party.
The Patriots have had a tumultuous preseason, with one injury after another depleting their roster and forcing them to start their depth from the getgo. Without their starters, it could be a long day for the Patriots defense, but the Bengals' pass defense is a paper tiger itself, and Brady could prey on them all day.
There are compelling storylines aplenty: How will Wes Welker hold up in his first game back from a torn ACL? Will he still be that explosive slot receiver that makes the Pats offense go? Will the Patriots depleted secondary be shredded by Cincinnati's new Batman and Robin, wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco? And will this be Tom Brady's final year in New England or will the team work out a new contract?
Well, Peter Griffin made sure that everyone knows that the bird is the word. In this match-up of the Ravens and Falcons, who's dirty bird is dirtier?
Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both broke the mold of rookie quarterbacks in 2008 by leading their teams to the playoffs just one year removed from a losing season.
The two teams each look primed for a run at the playoffs once again in 2010, and this will be proving grounds for both teams. This game may come down to the wire, and it may even come down to clutch play by the two young quarterbacks. Two years later, this game will serve as a measuring stick for which young star is ready to take the next step and lead his team deep into the playoffs.
Two teams with Super Bowl hopes and star-studded rosters take the field at the "Space Ship.” Despite the out-of-conference matchup, both teams will be aggressively seeking wins in the first week in December, as Dallas tries to end their stigma of slumping in the last month of the season.
With two big-time offenses ready to take the field, this is the type of matchup fans across the nation will tune into for its high-scoring potential and star power. And it could even serve as a Super Bowl preview.
Any time two elite quarterbacks get together, its' a game worth watching. When it's two playoff teams in Green Bay and New England, it only gets better. This is yet another potential Super Bowl preview. In Week 15, we are treated to "The Battle of the 12s" as Tom Brady faces Aaron Rodgers for the first time. Many are expecting big things from Rodgers this year, and this seems to be the year that Brady will be asked to do more than ever before. And with the season winding down, we'll get to see how two cold-weather QBs get to handle throwing the ball in December playing conditions in New England.
The Cowboys and Packers were both playoff teams last year, and both look like playoff teams yet again in 2010. The two will look to this game to prove their case for dominance in the NFC. The teams are talented on both sides of the ball, as both ranked in the top 10 scoring defenses and passing offenses in yards. The two quarterbacks performed comparably, with Aaron Rodgers edging out Tony Romo by a slight bit in most categories.
The Cowboys are probably salivating at the chance to make up for Minnesota running up the score on them in their playoff matchup last year. That won't be easy to do, though, facing the Vikings in the noisy Metrodome. Minnesota's No. 2-scoring offense goes up against Dallas' No. 2-scoring defense, and Dallas' offense which was No. 2 overall in yardage goes up against Minnesota's No. 6-ranked defense in yards allowed.
With so much potency on both sides of the ball, it's anyone's guess who will come out on top, and this one could come down to the bitter end. I wonder if Favre will sing "Pants on the Ground" if the Vikings win.
This is another non-divisional match-up that has become a rivalry of sorts. The two teams are both in discussion for the (completely unofficial and totally meaningless) team of the decade. Although this game will hardly be a barometer of judgment in that regard, both the Steelers and the Patriots had "down" seasons by their standards.
The top-ranked Patriots offense goes up against the vaunted Steelers defense, and this will be Roethlisberger's fourth game back as he gets back in form after his suspension.
The two teams were seen as frontrunners for the division in 2009, but both of their dreams were derailed by the Bengals. The Ravens made the playoffs as a Wild Card and advanced, but the Steelers were held out. As usual, this game will be a proving grounds for both teams as they both will be dealing with absent star power in this game. The Steelers will be without Ben Roethlisberger and the Ravens will be without safety Ed Reed. But you can count on the Steelers and Ravens being a hard-hitting, physical affair whenever they get together.
This marks the third consecutive season that the Cowboys and Eagles will meet in the final game of the year. It also could mark the third consecutive season that the final game determines the NFC East champion. The Cowboys and Eagles have split the two prior games, with Dallas winning most recently, including a blowout win the next week in the Wild Card.
This divisional rivalry has grown incredibly bitter over the past few years as the two teams have vied for dominance, and will continue to do so in 2010.
Week 8 features two of the league's top aerial attacks against two of the league's top defenses. The Packers' top-10 pass attack goes head-to-head with the Jets' No. 1-ranked pass defense.
This is the tail end of a difficult first seven games for the Jets, but Gang Green should be well-rested following their bye week. As with most inter-conference match-ups, the playoff implications are minimal, but with two star-studded rosters, the sky is the limit for the excitement level of this contest.
I doubt that New Orleans fans share the same resentment for the Cowboys that Patriots fans have for the New York Giants, but the Saints likely still have a sour taste in their mouth from their undefeated season being ended by Dallas. These are two teams that both expect to make the playoffs again, and both will be looking for a win here to send them into December with momentum. And Saints Coach Sean Payton gets to go against his old employer in Dallas, where he served as offensive coordinator.
This is the last image I remember seeing before I fainted from the inability of my brain to comprehend what my eyes were seeing. Did the Patriots really get shellacked in front of the home crowd? In the playoffs? No matter how many news reports, articles or pictures I see, I still can't believe that the Ravens made it look so easy.
The Patriots still have a sour taste in their mouth from that loss. The Ravens are out to prove they're a legitimate Super Bowl contender this year. This game will be a statement game for both teams.
In the Jets' first regular season game in New Meadowlands Stadium, Rex Ryan will go face-to-face with his old team. Both the Jets and Ravens are top picks in the AFC this year for some pundits, as they both feature some of the best defensive units in the league. We'll see what kind of impact all the off-season hype and “Hard Knocks” TV show had on the Jets, will they be a serious Super Bowl contender or pretender?
This has become one of the most bitter rivalries in the league over the past decade, with the two teams switching coaches and players on a frequent basis, as well as New York's unveiling of the SpyGate scandal, and new head coach Rex Ryan's propensity to run his mouth about anyone not wearing a Jets uniform. Hey, Tom Brady came right out and said he hated the Jets so there's no mystery about how these two teams feel about each other.
The Jets are many people's favorite to win the division, which clearly doesn't sit well with the Patriots. Both teams will be on a mission to prove that they're the top dog in the AFC East, and these games will be the place to do it.
Whenever these two top AFC teams get together, it's always an interesting matchup, filled with surprise twists and big plays made all over the field on both sides of the ball. The two best teams in the AFC in 2009 should put on a very good show that will come down to the wire as usual.
Not to mention the playoff implications of this game, which could be huge in terms of home-field advantage if they're both dominant teams again in 2010.
This is one of those classic offense vs. defense matchups that features two of the league's marquee heavyweights in each category, as the Saints explosive offense goes up against the Ravens stifling defense in could be viewed as a potential Super Bowl preview.
The Ravens defense, bitten by the injury bug in the preseason, should be back to full health by this point in the season. The Saints didn't face more than a couple of the league's top defenses last year, so this should pose a new and interesting challenge to their offense.
Two elite quarterbacks leading two perennial playoff teams screams of big-time football. Philip Rivers has yet to defeat the Patriots when quarterbacked by Tom Brady, but of course, Brady's not playing defense. The two quarterbacks could really go off against the opposing team's defense.
The rivalry between these two teams has also thickened over the past few years, as the Chargers felt disrespected when the Patriots danced on their logo after they were bounced out of the playoffs in 2006.
Playoff and legacy implications are bountiful in this game.
The Favre saga continues in Minnesota, and Aaron Rodgers continues to try to step out of the shadow of the old gunslinger. The Vikings beat the Packers both times they played last year, but the two teams are evenly matched and both are considered contenders for their division title, as well as the NFC title.
Bitter? Who's bitter?
This one's always a preseason candidate for game of the year. The Patriots have had the misfortune of playing on the road against Indianapolis in each of their last three regular season meetings over the past three years.
With both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning seeking contract extensions, and with each one's contract contingent upon the other's, both quarterbacks will be on a mission to make their case in a showcase environment against their rival.
Will the Pats ride the ponies, or will the Colts' stampede trample the Patriots?
Its the rematch we've all been waiting for. The NFC Championship game that was decided in overtime that fostered a new overtime rule in the playoffs will be seen for a second time, with both teams featuring largely the same cast of characters. This Week 1 non-divisional game could even have playoff implications if these two teams are the best in the NFC again.
Perhaps the fact that it's the first game of the season adds to its watchability, but the offenses both have a lot of firepower, and the defenses had trouble stopping anything in the championship game. Get ready for one hell of a game on opening day.