The NFL season has been restored and with the 2011 season right around the corner, there are plenty of games that fans are looking forward to.
With everything that went down last season, and even this past week in free agency, there are plenty of teams in contention for the postseason and the Super Bowl. However, year after year, it seems that it is the same teams we are talking about over and over again.
The NFL schedule is one that allows NFC and AFC teams to play each other four times a year, which allows us to see some Super Bowl previews.
Here are 10 of those games that are on the grid for 2011.
Just before you start, this list is in order of when it will take place, not in order of likelihood.
The Colts are looking to host and be a part of Super Bowl XLVI so that motivation could be enough to get them there.
Another motivator is that Peyton Manning is getting older and the Colts don't have much time left to get to another Super Bowl in the Manning era. The Colts got plenty of coverage for Manning at the draft so he can stay in he pocket and make decisions more comfortably.
Tampa Bay had an excellent draft and are looking to overtake the Falcons and Saints for a playoff position. Da'Quan Bowers may be a blessing in disguise and is an underestimated rookie coming into the NFL. The Bucs finished 10-6 a year ago and could make the Super Bowl through a wild-card position.
How can you argue the Steelers are not a Super Bowl caliber team? They did make it last season and that was after Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games. They have the chance to make it again if they utilize Rashad Mendenhall once again.
The Cardinals were Super Bowl worthy with Kurt Warner at QB. I am not saying Kevin Kolb is as skilled as Warner but remember that the Cards have Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best wide receivers in the game.
They may have lost Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie but Patrick Peterson is a highly touted prospect who can fill in quite nicely. They even got safety Kerry Rhodes from the Jets via trade.
Combined, this is a stretch of a prediction but who's to say the Cards and Steelers won't meet in the Super Bowl?
They did in 2008 and that was a classic.
Yes, I have a hunch that Kevin Kolb will bring the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in his first year. Sure, he isn't a proven QB in the playoffs, but he has great potential. He performed well when he needed to in Philadelphia and anything is possible with Larry Fitzgerald catching balls. Todd Heap was also a great addition for the Cards' tight end position.
The loss of Tim Hightower may hurt them but remember: Overall, they play in the NFC West. Remember how atrocious that division was a year ago? Imagine a Cards team that could go on a run, squeak in the playoffs at 9-7 and wipe out everyone in front of them.
The Ravens come into 2011 with something to prove to the Steelers. If the Ravens can get past Pittsburgh, the sky is the limit. Their defense has been solid since the Stone Age and their offensive system can put down plenty of foes.
The Ravens' drafting of Jimmy Smith might be what the back end needs to complement Ed Reed at safety.
This is the first of three slides of Week 9 matchups that have Super Bowl potential. Is it a coincidence?
It's the weekend after Halloween and could be the start of a home stretch for most teams as we start seeing the playoff picture take shape. By this time, some teams will have ran away with a division, have a two-team battle for a division and some of the lower-end teams will have fallen far enough to call it a season.
San Diego could be a team to watch this year for a number of reasons. The first is that Philip Rivers is an excellent, underrated QB for a team that is lost in the shuffle of the AFC. Secondly, the team they have to beat in their division is Kansas City. Kansas City had an easy schedule last season and they waltzed to a division title. Now, they have a tough schedule, facing division champions and the fact that this year the AFC West must face the entire AFC East means it'll be tough to manage.
San Diego will likely win the division and if Rivers has a couple good games in the playoffs, a Super Bowl berth is attainable.
The Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions—enough said. Here is some more proof: They have relatively the same makeup as the group that won the Super Bowl in February and the fact that they spent part of the season without Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers just shows that this team is deep. Deep teams tend to go far in the NFL and the Packers are no different.
They have some work to do as many teams in the NFC have improved but the Packers were considered favourites to repeat the second Mike McCarthy touched the Vince Lombardi Trophy and it isn't a stretch to suggest that some experts are still thinking that way.
Just like I said in the first slide, the Colts are hosting the Super Bowl, they have little time with Manning and they shored up the pocket protection. They locked up Joseph Addai and Adam Vinatieri, two of the most important pieces in Indy so yes, the Colts have the potential to get to...Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.
No team has hosted and played in a Super Bowl but if one team has the chance to do so, it's Indianapolis.
The Atlanta Falcons were the shocker of 2010. Matt Ryan threw 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions en route to leading the Falcons to an NFC East title and a 13-3 record.
They lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the playoffs but for a team that succeeded immensely in 2010, could they learn from their early playoff exit and go to Super Bowl XLVI?
I just got a chill...
The Patriots are looked at as one of the favourites to win it all year after year. They have excellent coaching in Bill Belichick and they use the draft better than anyone in the NFL, bar none. The dominance displayed by Tom Brady at the end of the season alone is something you can't match. It was why he was voted NFL MVP and with key additions to the front line during the draft, combined with the trades for Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, the Pats could be as good as they were in 2007.
Speaking of 2007, the Giants were the underdogs against the Pats in the two games they played against one another in 2007. This will be the first time these two teams face off in a meaningful game since Super Bowl XLII and could serve as a preview to Super Bowl XLVI if the stars align once again.
The Giants missed the playoffs last season, but were 10-6. This could serve as a motivator to do big things in 2011. They will have to fight off the Eagles but if they don't, they could try qualifying through a wild-card spot. It worked for them in 2007.
Anyway, Super Bowl XLII was one of the lowest-scoring games in history but the excitement was still in the building. Could we see it again?
This will be an intriguing matchup to say the least. A showdown between Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler could be a prelude to bigger things.
As stated earlier, the Chargers are a team to watch but their schedule will be a tough one. They have to face New England, New York Jets, Green Bay and of course, Chicago.
The Bears could have made the Super Bowl last year but fell short after Cutler pulled out of the game due to injury.
Now that he is back, the Bears are looking to get back to he NFC Championship and win this time. They made strides to make this happen, signing wide receiver Roy Williams and Marion Barber from Dallas.
I can live with a San Diego/Chicago Super Bowl, but I'd rather see the next slide.
Out of all the games on this list, this slide seems the most realistic. Both teams are perennial favourites to make it to the Super Bowl and a Tom Brady vs. Michael Vick matchup would be awesome. Brady is a pass-first QB and Vick is one of the best scramble QBs in the league.
Philadelphia's additions at cornerback will force Brady to be more calculative on who he passes to. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha and possibly former Patriot Asante Samuel will form a fierce tandem in the defensive backfield for the Eagles.
These two teams can win each of their conferences and be the first No. 1 vs. No. 1 to compete in the Super Bowl since Indianapolis and New Orleans qualified in 2009.
It would also be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004, the last time the Patriots were Super Bowl champions.
Both of these teams have good claims to be the AFC and NFC representatives in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
The Jets lost the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row and are back, hoping that the third time is the charm.
The Eagles know all about heartache, having lost the NFC Championship in three consecutive years (2001-2003), before advancing to the Super Bowl in 2004.
The Jets have a similar lineup to last year, having their offensive weapons intact. Santonio Holmes was re-signed, which was huge. They chose not to sign Braylon Edwards and brought in Plaxico Burress. Together, Holmes and Burress represent the receivers of Super Bowl-winning touchdowns in consecutive years. Holmes won his Super Bowl MVP that night as well.
The defense has been the coup de grace for many years so the Jets could make their first Super Bowl appearance since 1968.
The Eagles have quickly become a force in the NFC, with their offseason acquisitions of Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The offense, led by Michael Vick, was tough to beat near the end of the 2010 season and will be in tough in the NFC.
These two teams will face each other late in the season so this will be a game that could define their playoff positioning but is a legitimate preview.
Two teams that share a stadium may have to share the spotlight heading into Super Bowl XLVI. The Jets and Giants have both become football juggernauts in the last few years. The Jets keep on battling with their play and their mouths and the Giants have been taken seriously since their upset Super Bowl win in 2007.
This will also mark the former Giant Plaxico Burress' return to the Meadowlands...for the Jets...against the Giants.
In a Super Bowl situation, picture an all New York matchup. Imagine a city divided for two weeks. They have the power to do so and as a Week 16 game, it will showcase what they have to offer...or they will rest their starters if they are in position to, leaving all of us to wonder what could happen if both teams are playing their hearts out.
Who will make the Super Bowl? Will it be any of these matchups or will it be two teams that don't play each other in the 2011 regular season? What do you think?