With the 2010 NFL season behind us and the Packers the Superbowl XLV Champions, it’s never too early to look at next year’s opponents. The schedule for 2011 was just released. What games do we have to look forward to in 2011? Here is a look at the most intriguing matchups from the just released NFL schedule.
The last two Superbowl champions will kickoff the season at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees could provide some aerial heroics in the late summer meeting. Green Bay leads 14-7 all-time, but the Saints have won three of the last four. The Saints have scored 85 points in their last two games against the Packers. New Orleans thumped Green Bay 51-29 last season.
The Sunday night opener will feature plenty of characters. Jason Garrett will return home to New Jersey where her starred at Princeton. Rex Ryan and the Jets will kickoff the season hoping to improve their status as the two time AFC Runners-Up.
The Cowboys fired head coach Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start to the 2010 season. Jason Garrett took over at mid-season and led Dallas to 5-3 finish to conclude the season 6-10. With the expectation that the Cowboys were going to be the first team to play a Superbowl in its home stadium, the season was considered a colossal disappointment.
The Cowboys hold a 7-2 series advantage, winning the last two meetings. Dallas outscored the J-E-T-S 51-9 the last two times they met.
With heavy hearts on the 10 year anniversary of 9-11, the New Meadowlands Stadium will be rocking.
The NFC’s top two seeds from 2010 will open the season on the Lake at Soldier Field. The last two meetings have produced memorable late game victories for Atlanta. In 2009, Michael Turner scored a touchdown with three minutes remaining and the defense stopped the Bears on the Atlanta 10 to preserve victory. In 2008, Atlanta won with a field goal on the last play. Both of those games were in Atlanta.
The series is tied at 12.
The Steelers will kickoff the 2011 season at Indianapolis in a game that will have likely have big playoff implications four months later. The Steelers, Colts and Patriots have combined to win the last eight AFC Championships.
Pittsburgh has dominated the series, winning 18 out of their 24 meetings. This will be their first meeting since 2008.
Michael Vick will play in his first game as a starting quarterback as the visitor in Atlanta. The Eagles played in Atlanta in 2009, when Donovan McNabb was still the Eagles starter. This matchup of 2010 division winners could have a say in playoff positioning in the NFC.
Philadelphia holds a 17-11-1 series lead.
The Bears will play their second straight game against an NFC South opponent to begin the season when they travel to New Orleans. The game will be a match of wills between Lovie Smith’s Cover-2 defense and Sean Payton's the pass happy Saints.
After winning six of eight against Chicago, the Saints have dropped the last four, including the Bears victory in the 2006 NFC Championship game. Many people anticipated a Bears-Saints playoff game last season, but the Saints upset loss at Seattle ended that.
The Bears lead the all-time series 15-11.
During the Brady and Rivers eras, the Chargers and Patriots have had a tumultuous rivalry. It began with New England’s shocking 24-21 upset of the 14-2 Chargers in the divisional round of the 2006 playoffs. LaDainian Tomlinson was upset when Patriots players were dancing and celebrating at midfield after the upset.
The Pats then eliminated the Chargers from the 2007 playoffs during their near perfect season. New England has won four of the five Brady-Rivers matchups.
Both teams enter the 2011 season seeking redemption. New England finished the 2010 season an NFL best 14-2, but lost to the arch-rival New York Jets in the divisional round. San Diego’s four year reign as AFC West Champions ended last season after a 2-5 start doomed them during an 8-8 season.
New England won 23-20 at San Diego last season after a 17-3 fourth quarter rally by the Chargers fell short.
The Jets will make their second Football Night in American appearance in the first four weeks when Rex Ryan faces the team that employed him for 10 years. Ryan and the Jets lost 10-9 last season in their opening game at the New Meadowlands stadium.
Expect another low scoring game between two of the NFL’s best defenses. Which young quarterback plays better could determine the outcome.
The Falcons will hope to avenge last season’s playoff loss at home to Green Bay. A lot was expected of the Falcons after a 13-3 season and the NFC’s top playoff seed. The Packers took control of the divisional playoff game with a 28-point second quarter and dominated the Falcons on their way to a 48-21 victory. The crowd at the Georgia Dome should be raucous for the Sunday night game
Last year’s win gave the Packers a 14-13 edge all-time over the Falcons.
Dallas and New England are two of the NFL’s marque franchises. They have played only 10 times, with Dallas winning the first seven and New England the last three.
Their last meeting was a 48-27 shootout at Dallas in 2007. The game had matched two 5-0 teams. The Patriots outscored the Cowboys 27-10 in the second half to pull away with the win.
The game was not even as close as the 21-point win indicated (if that’s possible). Tom Brady threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns. New England out gained the Cowboys 448 to 285 and had 28 first downs compared to just 13 for Dallas.
The Saints and Colts will kick-off for the first time since the Saints defeated the Colts in Superbowl XLIV. Both teams were upset in the wildcard round last season. The Saints lost at Seattle and the Colts were eliminated at home by the Jets. The Seahawks were the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record.
The Saints hold a 6-5 series advantage over the Colts.
The Chargers and Jets will meet for the first time since the Jets shocked the Chargers in San Diego in the 2009 divisional round of the playoffs. That was the second time in six season that the Jets eliminated the Chargers from the playoffs in San Diego.
It was also LaDainian Tomlinson’s last game as a Charger. He and teammate Antonio Cromartie joined the Jets during the 2010 offseason. This will be their first game against their former teammates.
The former NFL Central rivals will square off in London. Lovie Smith spent five seasons in Tampa as Tony Dungy’s linebacker coach before coming to Chicago. The Bears have dominated the series, holding a 35-18 advantage. Tampa has won three of the last five.
Josh Freeman and Jay Cutler should provide the fans across the pond with a good matchup at quarterback.
When New England and Pittsburgh meet, the game usually goes a long way towards determining home field in the AFC Playoffs. They have combined to win seven AFC Championships and five Superbowls in the last 10 years.
Their 2010 meeting was the difference New England needed to gain homefield. If the Steelers had won, both teams would have finished 13-3. Pittsburgh would have won the AFC on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Tom Brady has owned the Steelers during his career. He is 6-1 all-time against Pittsburgh, including winning four of five at Heinz Field. Brady has 14 touchdowns and three interceptions during his career against the Steelers.
Their 2010 game was memorable for a crazy fourth quarter. The Patriots carried a 23-3 lead into the final stanza. The Steelers ralied in the fourth quarter. They outscored New England 23-16 as the Patriots held on for a 39-26 win.
The Chargers and Packers have been two of the NFL’s most successful franchises in the 21st century. Two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and most prolific passing offenses will meet at Qualcomm Stadium. Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers are Pro-Bowlers and are their teams undeniable leaders. The Chargers finished second and Green Bay fifth in passing offense in 2010.
The Packers have dominated the series winning eight of nine. They have won five in a row against San Diego, with their last loss coming in 1984.
The Patriots and Giants will meet for the first time since the G-Men ruined the Pats perfect season in Superbowl XLII. New England went 18-0 through the playoffs and regular season in 2007 before the Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Superbowl History.
That game ended a four-game Pats winning streak in the series dating to 1996.
Cutler always speaks his mind. When he left the NFC Championship game with knee injury last season, he sparked conversation from the media and his peers about his toughness.
This will be the third meeting between the teams on Monday Night Football. Each team has won once. The Bears hold a 29-11-1 series edge.
Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers will meet for the first time since Cutler was traded to Chicago in the spring of 2009. The star QB’s had a heated rivalry when Cutler was in Denver. Rivers called Cutler’s injury in the NFC Championship game last season unfortunate, but added that if it was him, “I would have to be taken off in a cart...But that doesn't mean it would be right.” Rivers told the San Diego Union Tribune in January.
The weather could play a deciding factor. The Chargers bring their high powered passing offense to face Lovie Smith and the Bears cover two defense.
How well the Chargers protect Rivers against Julius Peppers will also be key. Peppers dominant 2010 season helped lead the Bears to their first playoff appearance since they won the NFC in 2006.
The series is tied five all.
The Patriots and Eagles will play for the second time since the Pats defeated the Eagles 24-21 to win Superbowl XXXIX. Bill Belichick the game’s foremost defensive mind against the NFL’s most dynamic quarterback, Michael Vick should provide a great backdrop for this game.
The teams have played once since the Patriots defeated the Eagles in Superbowl XXXIX.
The Eagles hold a 6-5 edge against New England, but they have dropped the last three.
Payton Manning lost seven of the first eight times he faced New England with Bill Belichick as the Patriots head coach. The Colts have rallied to win five of seven. The biggest of those was in the 2006 AFC Championship game. The Colts overcame a 21-3 deficit to advance to the Superbowl for the first time as the Indianapolis Colts.
New England ended a three game losing streak winning 31-28 at home last season. The Pats were able to overcome getting outscored 14-3 in the fourth quarter to win.
The Colts struggled through an injury riddled 2010 season.They still won the AFC South for the seventh time in eight years and their second in a row. The Colts have won the division seven of the AFC South’s nine years of existence and made the playoffs in the other two years.
The Giants and Packers have played some memorable games. Their meeting in the 2007 NFC Championship game was Brett Favre’s last game as a Packer. The Packers crushed a floundering Giants 45-16 in week 16 last season.
Another late season meeting should have playoff implications in 2011 as well.
Green Bay leads 30-23-2 all-time.
The Ravens won two of the first three times these franchises met. The rivalry is a natural one for Ravens fans who will never forgive the Irsay family for moving their beloved Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in 1983.
The Colts have defeated the Ravens eight straight times. Seven of those eight occurred in seven straight seasons from 2004-2009 Two of those meetings have occurred in the playoffs.
The Ravens offense has struggled to score recently with just 21 points in the last three meetings.
A week before playing the hometown rival Giants, the Jets will travel to Philadelphia for a match-up of 2010 playoff teams. In eight meetings that go back to 1973, the Eagles have dominated the Jets winning all eight times.
The game should be fascinating to watch with one of the best defense minds in football Rex Ryan trying to scheme against one of its most dynamic offensive players Michael Vick.
When the Ravens travel to San Diego week 15, the game could have a big influence on the AFC Playoff picture. The teams last met in 2009, with the Ravens posting a 31-26 victory at Qualcom Park. Baltimore holds a 4-3 series advantage after winning four of the last five in the series.
Christmas will come early in New York and divide families. When the Giants and Jets square off on Christmas Eve Day at the New Meadowlands Stadium many fans will be naughty more than nice.
The Giants and Jets will meet in a regular season game for the first time since 2007. In the last three meetings, the teams have combined to average 62 points per game. The Jets defense and the late season matchup should provide a lower scoring game.
The Giants hold 7-4 series edge after winning the last four times. The Jets haven’t won since 1993.