The 2011 NFL season is just weeks away, and fans are gearing up for one of the best seasons ever.
From the fast-paced and exciting free agency period to preseason, fans are waiting to see which teams will separate themselves from the rest of the competition, and make the playoffs.
But the regular season is a long and winding road, full of surprises and disappointments. Each tough game could have a huge impact on the teams who make the postseason, and every play or drive could decide a franchise's fate.
Here are the 10 games in the 2011 schedule that have the biggest playoff implications.
The Colts and Patriots have formed an intense rivalry in recent years, as they both possess future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, who together have garnered six MVP awards. Indianapolis has elite receiving weapons such as Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark, as well as defensive playmakers such as Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
New England claims young offensive talents such as Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as well as elite defensive talents such as Vince Wilfork, Jared Mayo and Devin McCourty.
The Colts and Patriots have met each other in the postseason numerous times in the last decade, and they seem destined to slug it out again. The Week 13 meeting between Manning and Brady could have serious playoff implications, and could possibly decide home field advantage throughout the 2011 AFC playoffs.
The New England Patriots and New York Jets have formed one of the most intense rivalries in the NFL in recent years. Since Rex Ryan's arrival in Gotham in 2009, the two AFC East rivals have split their regular season battles, while competing in a terrific playoff game in 2010, eventually won by the Jets, 28-21.
New York possesses offensive weapons Shonn Greene, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller to help develop young quarterback Mark Sanchez. Gang Green also boasts one of the most feared defenses in all of football, as they consistently rank as one of the top units in the NFL.
The Patriots potent offense mixes perfectly with the Jets hard-hitting defenses to create intense and close scoring games between the two franchises. The rivalry has been a media sensation in recent years, and the Week 10 battle will be highly anticipated.
The game could decide the fate of the AFC East, and could determine seeding in the AFC playoffs.
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have formed one of the greatest rivalries in NFL history over the last decade. The squads are known for their unbelievable defensive units, with their hard hits and intensity.
The games played between the two AFC North rivals often goes down to wire, and they are some of the most entertaining games of the NFL season. The two divisional powerhouses possess strong offensive units, to go along with their stellar defenses.
They will slug it out in Week 9, and the game will likely determine which team has the right to call themselves the 2011 AFC North champions.
The Indianapolis Colts have dominated the AFC South for the last decade, but in recent years, the Houston Texans have emerged as stiff competition for division supremacy.
The Texans have arguably the most potent offense in all of football, as they have an elite quarterback in Matt Schaub, an elite running back in Arian Foster and the best wide receiver in the NFL in Andre Johnson.
The Houston defense can struggle at times, but the addition of star cornerback Johnathan Joseph could finally put the franchise over the top.
The Colts and the Texans have had some great battles in recent years, and the Week 16 meeting could be one of the best ever, and it should determine who wins the division in 2011.
The Chargers dominated the division for much of the last decade, but the Chiefs exploded onto the scene last season, as they went from 4-12 to 10-6 in one season to claim the AFC West division title.
San Diego boast a terrific offense, led by elite quarterback Philip Rivers, Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates and star wideout Vincent Jackson.
The Chiefs also own a talented offense, led by one of the best ground games in football. Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are elite at their respected positions, and Matt Cassel has unlimited potential at quarterback.
San Diego and Kansas City will meet in a colossal game midway through the 2011 season, and the game could have serious playoff implications in the AFC West.
The Falcons possess a dominating offense, led by young quarterback stud Matt Ryan. Among their offensive weapons is powerful running back Michael Turner, elite receiver Roddy White and star rookie wideout Julio Jones.
Atlanta is coming off a division title in 2010, and they have emerged as Super Bowl contenders for years to come.
Two years removed from a Super Bowl title, the Saints are still recognized as one of the best teams in the NFL. Elite quarterback Drew Brees leads one of the most potent offenses in football, as they boast high-end wide receivers, as well as a steady ground game.
New Orleans also has outstanding playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, and they can often decide a game with one huge play.
These two NFC South powerhouses will be fighting it out for the divisional title, and this game late in the season, could decide the division champion, as well as seeding in the NFC playoffs.
Philadelphia formed a "Dream Team" in free agency, as they picked up defensive superstars Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, along with other offensive talents.
The Eagles seem destined for a Lombardi Trophy, but the Giants will make stiff competition for the Super Bowl favorites. New York claims a terrific ground attack and elite passing weapons, to go with a fabulous defense.
The two rivals will slug it out in Week 11, and the game could have serious playoff implications, with the fate of the NFC East on the line.
The Packers are fresh off a Super Bowl title, and the franchise is on top of the football world. Led by elite QB Aaron Rodgers and a stingy defensive front, Green Bay comes into the 2011 season favorites once again.
Chicago also boasts a feared defensive unit, but it's 2011 season rests on the ability of the offense to put up points. The Week 16 battle between the NFC North arch rivals could determine which team claims the storied division this season.
Seattle did have a successful free-agency period, though, as they re-signed important players from the year before, while also claiming star wide receiver Sidney Rice.
The Cardinals finally fixed their quarterback problem, as the franchise agreed to a long-term contract with Kevin Kolb. The combination of Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald could be deadly for opposing defenses.
The Week 17 meeting between the two divisional rivals could determine the fate of the NFC West.
After an amazing free-agency period, the pressure is on the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East with relative ease, but the Dallas Cowboys have the talent to derail the "Dream Team's" quest for a first Eagles Super Bowl title.
Dallas has a terrific offense, led by star quarterback Tony Romo, and a terrific receiving corp that includes Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten. The Cowboys defense also boasts a talented defensive unit, led by All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
If Big D can put it all together in 2011, they could upstage the Eagles, and make the Week 16 meeting between the two franchises a classic battle with serious playoff implications.