NFL Schedule 2011: The 20 Must-See Games of the 2011 Season
Although the current NFL lockout threatens to delay or even wipe out the entire 2011 season, the NFL has still released its schedule.
Like last year, the league has scheduled the majority of its divisional games in the later weeks. In fact, all 16 games in Week 17 (and 10 in Week 16) feature a divisional matchup.
Over the next 20 slides I will present a look at the 20 best NFL games of the 2011 season, in chronological order.
Week 2: Philadelphia at Atlanta, Sunday, September 18, 8:20 pm
This game is highlighted by one thing: Quarterback Michael Vick returns to Atlanta as a starter for the first time since he left the team following the 2006 season.
Yes, the Eagles did play at Atlanta late in the 2009 season, and Vick contributed two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), but he didn't start and he really didn't have any impact on the game.
He missed the Eagles game against the Falcons in 2010, which was played in Philadelphia.
Falcons 27, Eagles 17
Week 3: Pittsburgh at Indianapolis, Sunday, September 25, 8:20 pm
One of the best rivalries in the AFC is renewed as old foes face each other on Sunday Night Football in the season's third week.
They haven't played since 2008, when the Colts beat the Steelers 24-20. Look for Roethlisberger and Manning to make this game a shootout.
Steelers 34, Colts 31
Week 4: NY Jets at Baltimore, Sunday, October 2, 8:20 pm
With two of the NFL's best defenses playing, the winner of this game could score as few as 13 points.
Ravens 13, Jets 10
Week 5: Green Bay at Atlanta, Sunday, October 9, 8:20 pm
The Falcons finished 2010 with the best record in the NFC yet they were humiliated at home in the divisional round of the playoffs by the sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers.
This one is purely a revenge game for the Falcons and, once again, they're at home.
The winner of this game could easily be the best team in the NFC.
Packers 38, Falcons 20
Week 7: Indianapolis at New Orleans, Sunday, October 23, 8:20 pm
But at least he'll get the opportunity to play the Saints again, even if it's only a regular season game.
Colts at Saints on Sunday Night Football? Expect a top five TV rating for the season.
Saints 27, Colts 23
Week 8: New England at Pittsburgh, Sunday, October 30, 8:20 pm
Talk about two teams that have all the respect in the world for each other. The Patriots defeated the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the 2001 and 2004 AFC championship game.
Steelers-Patriots games have become a classic. Last year, the Patriots won easily, 39-26.
This game is in Pittsburgh, which should help the Steelers. Then again, they played in Pittsburgh last year.
Patriots 17, Steelers 14
Week 9: NY Giants at New England, Sunday, November 6, 4:15 pm
This one is a rematch of one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played. Thankfully for the Patriots, they don't have to face David Tyree again; he's out of the league.
Bill Belichick hasn't forgotten, and never will forget, the embarrassing loss in Super Bowl XLII that ultimately ruined his team's perfect season.
I wouldn't be surprised if he ran up the score in this one as much as humanly possible—that is, if the Patriots win.
Patriots 45, Giants 17
Week 9: Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Sunday, November 6, 8:20 pm
The NFL's best rivalry features the Ravens traveling to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night battle that will likely become a classic.
The Ravens usually win one against the Steelers in the regular season. They've just got to figure out how to get it done in the postseason.
As always, this game will feature hard hitting that will knock your socks off.
Steelers 16, Ravens 13 OT
Week 10: New England at NY Jets, Sunday, November 13, 8:20 pm
The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is probably the best in the NFL...for now.
Ryan led the Jets to an upset victory over Belichick's Patriots in the AFC divisional playoffs last season, in what he called the second biggest game in franchise history.
Belichick wants revenge. And he'll get it.
Patriots 24, Jets 6
Week 11: Philadelphia at NY Giants, Sunday, November 20, 8:20 pm
The last time these two teams met, the Eagles used a historic comeback, topped by the only walkoff punt return touchdown in NFL history, to stun the Giants and take sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
The victory was the sixth in a row for the Eagles over the Giants, which included an upset victory in the 2008 divisional playoffs.
This game marks the fifth straight year the Eagles have played the Giants on prime-time football.
Giants 38, Eagles 14
Week 12: New England at Philadelphia, Sunday, November 27, 4:15 pm
The Eagles have never beaten Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They've come close—losing by three points in Super Bowl XXXIX, and by three points when backup quarterback AJ Feeley and the Eagles took on the eventual 16-0 New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football.
The Eagles would like to win for revenge, sure—but realistically, none of the key Eagles players from the 2004 team are still around.
Regardless, this game will feature two of the better teams in the league and two of the more explosive offenses.
Patriots 34, Eagles 13
Week 13: Indianapolis at New England, Sunday, December 4, 8:20 pm
This is the best non-divisional rivalry in the NFL. It's lost a little of its luster from the previous years but it's still a phenomenal game.
The Patriots beat the Colts 31-28 last year, avenging the famous 35-34 loss in 2009 when Belichick and the Patriots went for 4th and 2 from deep in their own territory in the final two minutes.
The winner of this game could easily be the best team in the NFL.
Patriots 34, Colts 31
Week 14: NY Giants at Dallas, Sunday, December 11, 8:20 pm
This is the first of two meetings between the two teams.
The winner of this game could easily take the lead in the NFC East division race, or in the NFC wild-card race.
That is, if the Giants haven't collapsed yet. And if the Cowboys don't start off 1-7 again.
Giants 28, Cowboys 24
Week 14: St Louis at Seattle, Monday, December 12, 8:30 pm
These two teams squared off in Week 17 on prime-time football last year to determine the (pathetic) NFC West champion.
The Seahawks won and became the first sub-.500 division winner in league history.
Look for a more experienced Bradford and the Rams to extract revenge—unless the Seahawks fans take over the game.
Rams 24, Seahawks 13
Week 16: NY Giants at NY Jets, Saturday, December 24, 1:00 pm
The Jets gave Eli Manning a pretty impressive bloody gash last season. Thankfully, it was just preseason.
But don't think they won't aim to do it again in the regular season, with a potential playoff spot on the line for both teams.
The winner of this game earns bragging rights in the state of New York—unless Buffalo goes 14-2.
Jets 17, Giants 14
Week 16: Philadelphia at Dallas, Saturday, December 24, 4:15 pm
These two teams played each other in the season finale for three straight seasons. The Eagles won 44-6 in 2008, lost 24-0 in 2009, and, well, they rested their starters in 2010 so it became irrelevant.
Perhaps that's why the league chose to make this game a Week 16 matchup, so neither team will be able to rest their starters.
The winner of this game could easily take the division title.
Cowboys 38, Eagles 34
Week 16: Chicago at Green Bay, Sunday, December 25, 8:20 pm
They should have talked about how dominant the Packers are, and will be, for the next few seasons.
The Bears could still be in the hunt, but the Packers will likely be fighting for home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Packers 27, Bears 13
Week 16: Atlanta at New Orleans, Monday, December 26, 8:20 pm
The Falcons seized control of the NFC South last season. The Saints had it in 2009. The Falcons had it in 2008.
This game could easily decide who wins the division in 2011.
Saints 35, Falcons 24
Week 17: Tampa Bay at Atlanta, Sunday, January 1, 1:00 pm
The Buccaneers were the youngest team in the NFL last season. They were also the biggest surprise, winning 10 games and almost reaching the postseason.
In 2011, they'll look to prove that their success in 2010 wasn't a fluke.
Their season finale against the Falcons could easily have playoff implications for one or both teams.
Falcons 17, Buccaneers 13
Week 17: Oakland at San Diego, Sunday, January 1, 1:00 P.M.
They host the Raiders, who finished 8-8 last year for their best season since 2003, in the season finale.
This could decide the division race or a playoff berth for one or both teams.
Chargers 27, Raiders 14