NFL Schedule 2011: Green Bay Packers & Each Team's Biggest Game
The 2011 NFL schedule teases plenty of great matchups full of intriguing story lines. Havoc created by the craziness of free agency has made several NFL regular season games much more interesting to watch than they normally would be.
From the Carolina Panthers to the Green Bay Packers, there are contests awaiting each team that are worth the casual NFL fan's attention.
With the season rapidly approaching, here's a look at the the most interesting game on every NFL squad's 2011 schedule.
Arizona Cardinals: Week 10 @ Philadelphia Eagles
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Ten weeks into the NFL season, the Arizona Cardinals travel to Philadelphia to face off against the Eagles.
On the surface, there doesn't seem to be much there in this game. After all, the Cardinals are coming off a very poor 2010 campaign, and the Eagles don't have any historic ties to Arizona.
However, with the offseason acquisition of Philadelphia's backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, the Arizona Cardinals instantly tied themselves to the team from back east.
More than that, Kolb will likely be out to prove to Andy Reid and the rest of the Eagles organization that they made a mistake by letting him go.
The Cardinals could be a surprise team in 2011, and with all the hype surrounding the new-look Philadelphia Eagles, this game is likely to be an exciting one.
Atlanta Falcons: Week 16 @ New Orleans Saints
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The Atlanta Falcons will battle it out with the New Orleans Saints in the second to last week of the season in a game that could determine the winner of the NFC South.
Last season the Falcons split the season series with both games coming down to the wire.
In the first matchup, the game went to overtime, finishing with a 27-24 victory for Atlanta. The second game provided much of the same excitement, but the Falcons lost the game by a field goal.
Both teams figure to be good once again in 2011, and with the game taking place so late in the season, there could be a division title on the line.
Baltimore Ravens: Week 9 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
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There might not be any in-division rivalry as intense as the one between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Every year when the two AFC North foes meet, it's a guaranteed slugfest that typically ends in a close game.
Last year saw two extremely close games, as the season series was split with the Ravens winning the first matchup by three points and the Steelers taking the second 13-10.
The Ravens were also sent home by Pittsburgh in the second round of the playoffs, which added more fuel to the already tense rivalry.
We know that the Baltimore Ravens will play the Steelers at least twice this season, but the second matchup in Pittsburgh will likely be crucial for bragging rights as well as playoff position.
Buffalo Bills: Week 9 vs. New York Jets
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The Buffalo Bills have done well this offseason and seem to have taken a substantial step toward becoming a contender in the ultra competitive AFC East.
Picking up Nick Barnett and Brad Smith was significant for the Bills, specifically the addition of Smith.
Not only will Smith make the Bills better, but his leaving the Jets makes them a tad bit worse.
The Week 9 matchup against New York will be the first opportunity for Smith to show the Jets they made a mistake by letting him go and the second opportunity for the Bills to prove they're not the team that finished 4-12 last season.
Carolina Panthers: Week 3 vs. Denver Broncos
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The Carolina Panthers are coming off one of the worst performances in team history, winning only two games the entire 2010 season.
However, that record earned them the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, which they used to pick up last season's Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton.
Despite the lack of preparation Newton has had with his new team, he will be the Panthers' starting quarterback when the season starts in September.
The Broncos quarterback situation is still somewhat in question; although Kyle Orton seems to be miles ahead in terms of who will win the right to be opening day starter, there is still a chance that Tim Tebow could be starting Week 3 when they travel to Carolina.
If that's the case, one of the story lines in the game could be the facing off of two former Heisman winners who played in the SEC.
If the game is anywhere near as intense as the conference games in the SEC are, it will be a good one.
Chicago Bears: Week 16 @ Green Pay Packers
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The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packer's rivalry is well known and one of the most historic in the history of the NFL.
Green Bay ran through Chicago in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, ending the Bears' season. One of the main headlines in that game was Jay Cutler's early exit, which was met with much speculation and accusations.
Last season the Bears won the division but would have gladly traded that title for the trophy that was handed to the Packers at the end of the football season.
The Week 16 matchup will undoubtedly have division title implications and will be the second edition of the Bears' quest to avenge last season's playoff loss.
Cincinnati Bengals: Week 3 vs. San Francisco 49ers
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Neither the San Francisco 49ers nor the Cincinnati Bengals are expected to contend for their division or earn a playoff spot this season.
However, when the 49ers face off against the Bengals, there could actually be something on the line for both teams—the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Both teams won less than half of their games last season but are "contenders" for the worst record in the league this season.
The San Francisco 49ers' future looks a little better, but with a rookie coach they likely won't be anywhere close to being in playoff contention—not even by the NFC West's standards.
Ironically, the loser of this matchup could be the winner in the long run.
Cleveland Browns: Week 15 @ Arizona Cardinals
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The matchup pitting the Cleveland Browns against the Arizona Cardinals may not be a game between two great teams or the homecoming of a recent free-agent acquisition, but there is a story line—even if it is a little cheesy.
The Madden video game franchise is one of the most popular and lucrative franchises out there. It seems like every year the new edition of Madden NFL outsells the last.
Over the last decade, the player pictured on the cover of the video game has been one of the best in the NFL, which was definitely the case when Browns running back Peyton Hillis was selected to be on the cover.
But the Week 15 game will feature not one Madden cover boy, but two.
The Arizona Cardinals' star wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, was on the cover of the 2010 edition, which means that this matchup could be played for Madden supremacy.
Dallas Cowboys: Week 8 @ Philadelphia Eagles
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The NFC East showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys doesn't need added hype in order to draw viewers' attention, but when new Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan made some controversial comments after a practice, that's exactly what happened.
The Philadelphia Eagles had a "field day" during this year's offseason, signing and trading for several key players, including Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Dallas has made some of its own moves as well, including its most publicized move to hire Ryan as its defensive coordinator.
The Ryan brothers are known for their guarantees, rants and complaints, and the Cowboys' Ryan continued that trend when he said, "I don't know if we win the all-hype team, that might have gone to someone else, but we're going to beat their ass when we play them."
Plenty of people and media members are expecting the Cowboys to be contenders this season, so the game played in Week 8 at Philadelphia will not only carry the weight of the controversy in the media, but also the high hopes of two playoff-caliber teams.
Denver Broncos: Week 14 vs. Chicago Bears
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Don't think the Denver Broncos have forgotten about Jay Cutler's somewhat bitter move to the Chicago Bears.
Cutler left the Broncos a couple years ago, but when the Bears come to Denver in Week 14, it will be the first time the quarterback has faced off against his old team.
Not only that, but the game will be played in Denver, which will likely merit Cutler some "boos" from Broncos fans.
Since Cutler's exit, the Broncos have struggled at the quarterback position—although Kyle Orton had a pretty good first half last season—so the bad blood might be even more concentrated on Cutler in their late-season matchup.
Detroit Lions: Week 12 vs. Green Bay Packers
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The Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers will face off in Week 12 for a Thanksgiving matchup that could be more exciting than it has been in the past.
It's been years since the Detroit Lions have been a competitive team, but with two straight great drafting years, picking up both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, among others, the Lions have the chance to make some noise this season.
The Thanksgiving matchup against the Packers will give the Lions a great opportunity to see how they measure up against the NFL's best and if they are ready to make a run at the Super Bowl.
Green Bay Packers: Week 5 @ Atlanta Falcons
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In a rematch of last season's divisional playoff matchup, the Green Bay Packers will face off against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 of the NFL season.
The last time these two teams met, the Packers were on their way to a Super Bowl victory, and the Falcons didn't provide much of a hurdle, losing 48-21.
However, the Falcons remain one of the most talented teams in the NFC, and with the addition of Julio Jones, they'll likely be even better this season.
Green Bay is primed for another Super Bowl run, and the Falcons will be one of the biggest tests on the way back to its ultimate goal.
Houston Texans: Week 1 vs. Indianapolis Colts
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For some time now, the Houston Texans have been said to be on the verge of winning the AFC South, only to be outdone by the Indianapolis Colts.
The Texans have made some quiet, yet significant, offseason signings, picking up Danieal Manning and Jonathan Joseph. However, not only will Houston be featuring a couple new defensive players, but a new defensive coordinator as well.
Wade Phillips was hired in January and will be entering his first season at his new job with plenty of expectations in front of him.
If Houston is going to make people believe that it is truly ready to be one of the contenders in the AFC, it will need to show it can compete and beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1.
Indianapolis Colts: Week 13 @ New England Patriots
For a long time, the Indianapolis Colts played second fiddle to the New England Patriots, and it wasn't until Peyton Manning was able to beat Tom Brady in the playoffs that a rivalry was born between these two teams.
Ever since that victory, the Colts and Patriots have played several great games that have always left viewers wanting more.
In fact, there have been several games in which the winner of this matchup has been the AFC favorite.
For the Colts, the 2011 matchup in New England will not only be one of the most exciting games of the year, but could also be very important for playoff position and bragging rights.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Week 7 vs. Baltimore Ravens
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There are a lot of similarities between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Both teams are known for their defense, both have an offense centered on the running game and both have mobile quarterbacks that are known for their efficiency rather than their numbers.
This offseason, Jacksonville became even more similar to the Ravens when it signed Baltimore safety Dawan Landry.
The addition makes the Jaguars significantly better and was a significant loss for the Ravens.
In Week 7, Landry will get the chance to play against his old teammates when the Ravens come to Jacksonville to challenge a team that has been a step away from making a playoff run for the last few seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs: Week 7 @ Oakland Raiders
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The Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders had an interesting dynamic last season.
Despite the Raiders finishing a perfect 6-0 in the AFC West, the Chiefs came away with the division title and a playoff spot.
This year, the Chiefs will be playing an entire season without their offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, and their play last year suffered visibly after he announced he would leave at season's end.
The Raiders have lost one of their best players to free agency in Nnamdi Asomugha, as well as one of their best pass catchers in Zach Miller.
It's clear that each team will need to overcome some sort of adversity in 2011, but whoever wins the Week 7 game will make a big step toward winning the division.
Miami Dolphins: Week 14 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
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Both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins entered this offseason with the desire to make some moves and fill some needs.
So far the Eagles have gone above and beyond the expectations they had for the offseason, while the Dolphins are still hoping to make some noise before the season starts.
One of the most recent additions for the Philadelphia Eagles was the signing of former Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown.
Brown, who had been the running back, receiver and even part-time quarterback for the Dolphins the past few seasons, will now be playing for a team that many feel will win the Super Bowl.
Reggie Bush will be joining the Dolphins this season, but Brown's reunion in Miami will no doubt make this game an interesting one to watch.
Minnesota Vikings: Week 16 @ Washington Redskins
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The matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins in Week 16 will not be void of controversy.
Donovan McNabb's time in Washington was time that he would like to forget.
The disagreements between McNabb and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan were well documented, and the two don't seem to be on good terms now either.
As the new quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, McNabb would surely love to prove his competency to his old coach, as well as beat the team that let him go.
New England Patriots: Week 10 @ New York Jets
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As long as Rex Ryan is the coach of the New York Jets, every time they meet with the New England Patriots it's guaranteed to be a good game.
For about a decade or so the New England Patriots ruled the AFC East, but recently the New York Jets have reached the elite level of the Patriots and may now even be considered favorites.
These games are great to watch not only because both teams are Super Bowl contenders, but also because of the subplots involved.
Already this year's game will fueled by Ryan's most recent comment, which called for other teams to beat the Patriots.
New England would love to use its Week 10 matchup to shut up the Jets coach, as well as secure its position as the best team in the AFC East.
New Orleans Saints: Week 7 vs. Indianapolis Colts
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Week 7 of the NFL season will provide the first rematch of Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts.
The last time these two teams met, the game ended in a Super Bowl victory for the Cinderella story New Orleans Saints and a crushing loss for Peyton Manning and the Colts.
While this year's regular season matchup cannot change the result of the Super Bowl, you can bet that the Indianapolis Colts will be playing for a little bit more than just a "W" on the schedule.
Not only will it be a potential revenge game for Indianapolis, but it could also be a preview of the 2011-12 Super Bowl.
New York Giants: Week 3 @ Philadelphia Eagles
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Ever since DeSean Jackson took a punt in for the game-winning touchdown as time expired last season, the New York Giants have been counting the days until their rematch in Week 3 of this season.
The game was one of the most exciting of the 2010 season, and the play that ended it was one of the most exciting of the year.
The new-look Eagles are being projected as one of the NFL's early Super Bowl favorites, but the Giants, who finished with the same record as Philly last season, would love to make a statement in the game.
New York Jets: Week 16 vs. New York Giants
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Probably the most significant addition to the New York Jets roster this offseason was a player who last played for the New York Giants—Plaxico Burress.
Burress, who spent time in prison because of an incident that left a gunshot wound in his leg, was a key member of the New York Giants only a few years ago.
However, after his time in prison, Giants coach Tom Coughlin decided to pass on his former star's services, which allowed the other New York team to sign the receiver.
While Burress seems to be more thankful for the opportunity to play than bitter toward the Giants, the Week 16 matchup will definitely have more emotion than any other game.
Oakland Raiders: Week 17 vs. San Diego Chargers
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The Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers have had their share of grudge matches in the past, and their matchup this season won't be any different.
Oakland is already working toward reloading after the exodus that occurred this offseason—with both Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller gone—and it figures to be competitive in the AFC West once again.
San Diego too had its fair share of offseason losses, including the exit of running back Darren Sproles.
Still, both teams figure to be right in the thick of the race for the division title, and the Week 17 game in Oakland could be one that decides the winner.
Philadelphia Eagles: Week 12 vs. New England Patriots
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The Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots are coming into the 2011 NFL season as two of the favorites to make an appearance in the Super Bowl.
Not only are these teams two of the most talented in the NFL, but they are also the teams that have made the biggest noise this offseason.
New England added loudmouthed receiver Chad Ochocinco and troubled defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, while the Eagles picked up Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
In addition to the free-agent signings, Michael Vick and Tom Brady are two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and there is already talk about them being in the mix for this season's MVP.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 1 @ Baltimore Ravens
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There may not be another rivalry in the NFL today that is as intense as the one between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.
For NFL fans, what better way to kick off the season than to be witness to this great matchup in Week 1?
The two squads do not like each other, and if that weren't enough, both will be entering the season as motivated as ever.
The Steelers' 2010-11 campaign ended with a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss, while the Ravens finished last season with a defeat at the hands of the very same Pittsburgh team they will be playing Week 1 of 2011.
I can't see this game being a dud.
San Diego Chargers: Week 2 @ New England Patriots
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It seems every year that the San Diego Chargers are the worst best team in the NFL, while the New England Patriots make much of admittedly less talent.
Last season the San Diego Chargers went most of the season with the No. 1-ranked offense and defense yet failed to make the playoffs.
Making the playoffs and then performing well has been a proverbial problem for the Chargers, but as always, this season's version of the team is good enough to make a run.
Chargers fans will find out real quick if their team is a contender or a pretender when they face the New England Patriots in the second week of the season.
San Francisco 49ers: Week 12 @ Baltimore Ravens
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The good people of the NFL gave the fans another great Thanksgiving game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.
Regardless of whether the game is competitive or not, the real reason to watch will be to see Jim Harbaugh face off against his brother John Harbaugh for the first time in their NFL careers.
Jim Harbaugh, who is entering his first year as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is coming off great success at the college level with the Stanford Cardinal and would love nothing more than to beat his brother in their first matchup.
Although the older Harbaugh probably has the better team, anything can happen in this year's initiation of the Harbaugh sibling rivalry.
Seattle Seahawks: Week 11 @ St. Louis Rams
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As odd and rare as last year's NFC West battle for the division was between the sub-.500 Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, it could happen again in 2011.
The NFC West is undoubtedly the weakest division in the NFL, and it doesn't seem like any team wants to do anything to take control of it.
Seattle and St. Louis will likely be the two favorites again this season—even though Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals will probably be competitive as well—making this matchup in Week 11 as important as it gets.
Last season Seattle got the best of the Rams in their final matchup and earned a playoff berth despite being 7-9, but who knows what could happen this year?
St. Louis Rams: Week 1 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
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The St. Louis Rams may have picked up one of the best players that the Philadelphia Eagles let go this offseason in Quintin Mikell.
The Philadelphia Eagles' highly publicized offseason acquisitions have largely overshadowed the players the Eagles lost.
Along with Kevin Kolb, Quintin Mikell is easily one of the best players to leave the Eagles. In fact, he is considered by many to be one of the top safeties in the NFL.
The Rams were able to sign the free agent and will hope to beat his former team in a reunion game featuring two of the NFL's youngest teams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 17 @ Atlanta Falcons
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have quickly become one of the top contenders in the NFC South along with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
In fact, if not for two losses to division winner Atlanta, the Bucs could have found themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
This year, young quarterback Josh Freeman will enter the season with another year of experience under his belt, which should allow him to perform even better than he did a season ago.
The Falcons are the reigning kings of the division but will likely need to hold off the Bucs in Week 17 if they hope to repeat.
Tennessee Titans: Week 17 @ Houston Texans
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What better way to finish the season than by bringing the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans back to the scene of the infamous on-the-field fight between Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan?
The Titans are a different team than they were in their matchup with the Texans last season, but Finnegan is still on the roster, and he will likely still cover Johnson.
Houston could be in the hunt for a playoff position at the time of this game, so don't expect another fight, but there will be a healthy amount of unspoken tension between the two teams when they face off in Week 17.
Washington Redskins: Week 16 vs. Minnesota Vikings
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The only repeat game on this list features the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings.
I'll reiterate why this game is so intriguing:
* Brett Favre is gone.
* Donovan McNabb left Washington with bad blood.
* Mike Shanahan is still the Redskins coach.
* The game is being played in Washington.
Neither team is expected to be very good, and each coach might be on the hot seat, but this matchup will draw the attention of NFL fans across America.