2011 NFL Schedule: The Must-See Game for All 17 Weeks
With the NFL formally releasing its schedule just a short while ago, fans everywhere are looking ahead to the most anticipated matchups, especially those involving their favorite teams.
But if you just enjoyed pro football in general, or if your favorite team wasn't playing, what one game would you choose to watch each week?
I went through every week of the scheduled NFL season, and providing they play all 17 weeks of the regular season, I picked what was the most compelling matchup in the slate of games for each week.
The criteria used to determine these games were the overall skill level of both teams in a game, interesting subplots, the time of year, the impact on possible playoff races and natural rivalries.
Without further ado, here are the 17 must-see games of the NFL season.
Week 1: New York Jets at Dallas Cowboys: Sunday Night Football
I resisted the temptation to go with the season-opening game between the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints on September 8th.
For some reason, the Thursday night game just doesn't create the same level of excitement as the first Sunday of the season.
Plus, you have several appealing factors with this matchup. You have Rex Ryan, New York Jets head coach, against brother Rob Ryan, new defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.
Rob Ryan is arguably underrated and will have Dallas ready to play attacking defense in Week 1. There are some great individual matchups bound to occur in this game, such as Miles Austin or Dez Bryant being covered by Darrelle Revis or DeMarcus Ware going against D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
One has to imagine that Rex will have some commentary about going to "Jerry World" and backing up his annual Super Bowl prediction.
Week 2: Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons: Sunday Night Football
NBC executives are thrilled right now with their second must-see game in two weeks.
You want drama?
Michael Vick will start in the Georgia Dome for the first time since he last led Atlanta in 2006. I wonder whether the crowd will cheer or boo Vick.This is where we find out how many Atlanta fans kept those black Vick No. 7 jerseys.
I almost forgot there is a football game to be played here between two very good teams.
Both defenses are somewhat suspect in certain areas, but with Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner in the stadium, you would expect a shootout anyhow.
This could very well be an NFC playoff preview.
Week 3: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Most of us know and remember vividly what happened the last time these two intense NFC North rivals met. Cutler went out of the NFC Championship Game with a knee injury, and despite speculation that he could return, well, he didn't.
The Bears defense seemed to have the best answer for Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's offensive attack in the playoffs. Chicago might have even replaced the Pack in the Super Bowl if its offense wasn't limited to Caleb Hanie.
Honorable mention for a must-see game this week has to go to another Sunday Night Football game; this one is between the Steelers and Colts. At least one of the two teams has been in the AFC Championship Game each of the last five years.
Week 4: New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens: Sunday Night Football
Okay, enough is enough.
At this point, I am convinced that NBC has compromising pictures of Roger Goodell. Just kidding Commish. Seriously though, four outstanding football games in four weeks? Put away the DirecTV, folks—the Peacock has got you covered.
Both teams play attacking defense, so if you are a Mark Sanchez or Joe Flacco superfan, then you might want to look away because both quarterbacks are in for a long night.
I'll tune in for two of the best middle linebackers in the game, Baltimore's Ray Lewis and the New York Jets' David Harris.
Week 5: Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs
The Colts proved to be nasty hosts to the Chiefs on October 10, 2010 with a 19-9 victory, but figure on this game being much higher-scoring, weather permitting.
The temps might be getting chilly in Kansas City in early October, but the action will be hot with offensive weapons such as Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe.
This is a possible AFC playoff preview, but both teams also have a lot to prove. Manning wasn't always his typical dominant self last year, and the defense let the Colts down.
The Chiefs have to prove their playoff berth last year wasn't a fluke, especially after getting demolished in the Wild Card Round by the Baltimore Ravens.
Just in case you were wondering, the Sunday night game features the Green Bay Packers against the Atlanta Falcons. Don't worry, I'm letting it go.
Week 6: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This game follows a theme that is carried over from the must-see game in Week 5. It's the matchup of the newcomer against the established old guard. Just as Kansas City will face a test of whether it belongs against Indy, this game against the Saints is a measuring stick for how far Josh Freeman and company have come along.
Another interesting element to this game is how much support the resurgent Buccaneers will receive from a fanbase that seemed enthralled during the Super Bowl run in the 2002 season and absent for many of the years after.
Week 7: Denver Broncos at Miami Dolphins
I am not going to lie. There are better games on the schedule. The Bucs and Bears in England and the Colts visiting the Saints come to mind, but I like grudge matches.
Even though this game is in Miami and not in Denver and Josh McDaniels is no longer the coach of the Broncos, you can bet that some of Brandon Marshall's old teammates would love to "beat the beast" for campaigning his way out of Denver.
Perhaps even more relevant, Marshall will want to show the Broncos what they are missing. The mercurial receiver is sure to put on a show one way or the other.
Week 8: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
These two teams have accounted for quite a rivalry for more than a decade. There was the Patriots upsetting the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game. In 2004, the Steelers stopped the Pats' 21-game winning streak only to be upended by New England in another AFC Championship Game later that season.
The Patriots own a 3-1 edge over the Steelers in the playoffs and seem to be the one team in the conference that Pittsburgh just doesn't match up well against. That's likely because the Pats love to throw out of multiple-receiver sets, and Tom Brady gets the ball out so quickly that the Steeler pass rush is ineffective and its secondary is exposed.
Week 9: Green Bay Packers at San Diego Chargers
There are so many outstanding games this week that it is truly hard to pick one. You really should plant yourself on a couch and take in the Falcons and Colts, the Ravens against the Steelers and Eagles versus the Bears.
But you rarely get to see an inter-conference matchup that features two of the best players at their positions. Don't be fooled—this game is as much about Aaron Rodgers squaring off against Philip Rivers as it is the Green Bay Packers taking on the San Diego Chargers, even though both squads figure to be playoff-caliber.
Since the game is in San Diego, one would think the playing conditions might be close to ideal for an aerial showcase.
Probably means they'll have a torrential downpour.
Week 10: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
I repeat that I love grudge matches. As much as the New England Patriots and New York Jets hate each other, and believe me they do, that rivalry is a little played out at this point. In addition, a good portion of the nation despises both teams and detests their head coaches.
The rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons started to jump into the national consciousness late last year when the teams constantly had to be separated during a 17-14 Saints win two days after Christmas last year.
Earlier last season, the Falcons had won 27-24, and the three-point margin in both games tells you how close these teams truly are.
Week 11: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: Sunday Night Football
One of the most inexplicable, yet mesmerizing, images of 2010 in the NFL was the New York Giants' Matt Dodge punting a ball directly to the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson, which the dangerous returner took back 65 yards for a touchdown as time expired to cap a frantic 21-point fourth-quarter comeback as the Birds toppled the Giants 38-31.
Ironically, the dramatic win helped keep the Giants out of the playoffs and helped Green Bay into the postseason, where they dispatched the Eagles in the divisional playoff round.
The Giants will be looking for revenge against their southern neighbors in yet another rivalry game. One sure bet: Dodge won't kick to Jackson again, or he'll be unemployed.
Week 12: San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens: Thanksgiving Night
Thanksgiving is truly a time to be thankful, especially for your family.
Well, unless you have two ultra-competitive brothers who just happen to be coaches of NFL football teams that are squaring off on this night.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is the veteran NFL player with a 15-year career, but he's a rookie head coach in the NFL. Ravens' head coach John Harbaugh didn't play in the NFL, but he is in his fourth year running the show in Baltimore.
Expect the slightly older brother, John, to pick on Jim with his more talented Ravens. It definitely should be worth watching, unless you are a San Francisco fan perhaps.
Week 13: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots: Sunday Night Football
Well, at least there is flex scheduling to move this horrible Sunday night game between the Colts and Patriots. Two teams that clearly won't make the playoffs shouldn't be on prime time.
It's called sarcasm, folks.
Somehow, I think this game will stay on NBC, just as surely as The Office will bomb without Steve Carell.
On a football note, these two teams have met for the last nine seasons, and they are not division rivals.
I'll be honest. I think this is a bad spot for the Colts in having to go up to Foxboro in early December. I also think that New England will be a better team, but it's a must-see game for those who love to watch near perfect execution on offense.
Week 14: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Division champions are about to be determined starting around this time of the season. While the NFC West champion could come down again to the final weekend, these are the two teams likely to battle for the crown.
What makes this a must see is the fact that this game is going to played in prime time on Monday Night Football. Those of us on the East Coast watch about as much Seahawks and Rams football as we watched of the remake of Melrose Place on the CW before it was cancelled in 2010 after one season on the air.
That's another mainstream television reference for those counting.
Seriously though, the Rams are much improved, and it will be interesting to see if Sam Bradford can avoid a sophomore slump. I don't think anyone saw Seattle as a playoff contender under first-year head man Pete Carroll. With the Seahawks' 7-9 regular season record in 2010, some people still don't see how they reached the playoffs and have little confidence in a repeat this year.
Week 15: Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quite simply, this is a clunker week. There isn't really a definitive must-see game in the group, which is a shame considering there are only two more weeks left in the regular season.
With the possible exception of the Jets and Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys traveling to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers seems to be the most intriguing option.
These two teams went in completely different and unexpected directions last season. If Tony Romo can stay healthy, I think one could realistically see the Cowboys rebound with a playoff berth. In 2010, the Buccaneers were third in the NFC South despite going 10-6. Their division doesn't get any easier this season.
This is must-see football because the loser of this game might be eliminated from the playoff race.
Week 16: New York Giants at New York Jets
First of all, how can there be a home team when both squads play in the Meadowlands?
Second of all, as bad as Week 15 was, Week 16 is an awesome viewing smorgasbord for anyone who loves professional football. Texans-Colts, Dolphins-Patriots, Eagles-Cowboys, Packers-Bears and Falcons-Saints are divisional rivals that play football with an edge against each other.
But I picked the New York/New Jersey rivalry because it's a Christmas Eve battle scheduled for 1 pm between two teams that should have playoff aspirations and that are fighting to be the true representative of a $1.6 billion stadium and a large number of fans.
It helps that both teams have inconsistent but sometimes very prolific quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez. Both teams also like to pound the ball via the running game and would prefer to rely on their defense. The Jets have a better defense right now, and I would say the Giants offense is better, but the teams have similarities in their approaches to winning football games.
Week 17: San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
This is perhaps the toughest week to pick a must-see game because teams that have clinched a playoff spot will often rest their starters. Also, some teams that have long since been eliminated from the playoffs are playing younger talent or quite honestly look to have given up on the season.
So what you are looking for here is a game that might still have playoff implications and that is preferably between rivals. I tend to think the AFC West is a two-team race between the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Oakland compete for the division title either. In any case, I think this game will mean something for entrance into the postseason and/or seeding.
Combine that with a 4:15 kickoff on New Year’s between these classic rivals, and you have a winner.