2013 NFL Schedule: Highlighting the 25 Biggest Games of the Year

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterApril 19, 2013

2013 NFL Schedule: Highlighting the 25 Biggest Games of the Year

0 of 25

    The NFL has released the 2013 schedule, and fans everywhere will madly circle dates on their calendar, save for single-game tickets and poke around on travel websites for sweet package deals around that killer road game.

    No fan can possibly see every huge game, though, and the NFL was made for massive prime-time matchups.

    Although some recent seasons have had a slate of snoozers in the very best time slots, this season shapes up to have some of the juiciest national prime-time matchups in memory.

    Which are the biggest? Which are the best? Which have the most intriguing storylines, have the most at stake or will be the most competitive?

    Don't go flipping through a schedule and a calendar—just read and enjoy. Bleacher Report has already circled the 25 biggest games of the 2013 NFL season for you.

No. 25: Week 17, Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

1 of 25

    The Week 17 matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers will be big.

    It won't just be due to the divisional rivalry. The Panthers could still be alive for the playoffs, and the Falcons should be gunning for a bye and possibly home-field advantage.

    Whether Cam Newton can go into Atlanta and win a must-win game will be a big test of his development.

No. 24: Week 9, Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

2 of 25

    The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 8-8 last season, and they're unlikely to do much better this season. By the time their Week 9 contest in Gillette Stadium rolls around, they're likely to be fighting for their playoff lives.

    Meanwhile, the Patriots will need every victory they can get in the jam-packed AFC. A home loss to the Steelers could be disastrous for their seeding picture.

No. 23: Week 12, San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins

3 of 25

    Week 12's Monday Night Football contest will be one of the better MNF matchups of the season. Not only will two playoff teams battle to get back to the postseason, but it'll be a head-to-head matchup of two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL.

    Will it be a zone-read showdown between Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick? Will both quarterbacks go to the air rather than keep it on the ground? What about the running backs, Alfred Morris and Frank Gore?

    Watching how these two teams choose to attack each other—and which one ends up being more effective—will be fascinating.

No. 22: Week 6, New York Giants at Chicago Bears

4 of 25

    Thursday Night Football hasn't always had the greatest matchups, but a few juicy ones are on the schedule this season.

    Week 6's contest, featuring the New York Giants on the road at Soldier Field, will be huge for both the Giants and the host Chicago Bears. Not only will both teams fight to keep ahead of stacked divisions, but they will feature great passing attacks and hard-nosed defenses.

    The only thing better than a good, old-fashioned quarterback duel is a good, old-fashioned donnybrook.

No. 21: Week 15, Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys

5 of 25

    Week 15 is one of the most critical weeks of the season. Unfortunately, none of the prime-time matchups that week will have much in the way of playoff implications this season.

    The 4:25 p.m. ET game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, though, should definitely move the needle. Of course, the Packers will try to keep out in front of the NFC North, and traveling to take on the Cowboys in "Jerryworld" is not the easiest win to pick up.

    The Cowboys will need to pull out all the stops against the Packers but could claw their way back into the playoff hunt with a huge home victory here.

No. 20: Week 13, Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

6 of 25

    The NFL Network would like you to believe that the juiciest matchup on Thanksgiving will be the one between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    While that game is always a great one to watch, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, it should be apparent that the loser of that game will be out of the postseason running—and the winner might be too.

    The first game, though, will be a replay of the infamous "Suh stomp" game of 2011, as the Detroit Lions host the Green Bay Packers. Given the divisional-record implications of this one, it should be crucial. Given the bad blood, it should be amazing.

No. 19: Week 9, Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans

7 of 25

    This Sunday Night Football contest has all the earmarks of a classic: two teams with great passing games, two teams with lots to play for and two teams in the same division.

    Better yet, this matchup between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts will come right at the season's tipping point, when the pretenders still hang around and the contenders haven't quite stepped clear of the pack yet.

    Whether the Colts can do anything close to what they did last season will be decided at this point in the schedule, and whether the Texans can shake off their shaky playoff performances from last season will be determined at this point too.

No. 18: Week 12, New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

8 of 25

    Week 12's Thursday Night Football will be one of the best of the bunch. It renews one of the best rivalries of recent years, and the New Orleans Saints will surely nip at the Atlanta Falcons' talons in the NFC South.

    Can the return of Sean Payton push the Saints back onto the winning side of the ledger? Will this game be for the lead in the NFC South division or just to keep the Saints on life support? Will the Falcons stumble out of a first-round bye if they drop this one to their rivals?

    It should be a classic.

No. 17: Week 11, Green Bay Packers at New York Giants

9 of 25

    Last season, this matchup was a shocking rout. The Green Bay Packers likely walked into MetLife Stadium expecting a hard-fought win, and instead they just got whipped.

    The 38-10 final score is indicative of how bad it was; it was 31-10 at halftime. The Packers barely eked out the NFC North division crown last season due to this loss—they won't want to risk it again.

    The Giants will need every home "W" they can get in the packed NFC East, and this one is no exception.

    Oh, I almost forgot to mention: It's the Sunday Night Football game.

No. 16: Week 6, Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys

10 of 25

    There's nothing like a Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys game, and this one should be as good as any of the others.

    The Week 6 matchup means both teams will still have everything to play for, regardless of how their season starts. It's late enough, though, that Robert Griffin III will likely be ready to go, even if he misses some of the earlier games.

    Best of all, this one will be the week's Sunday Night Football matchup. Redskins at Cowboys in prime time? Yes please.

No. 15: Week 16, Denver Broncos at Houston Texans

11 of 25

    The Week 16 game between the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans isn't one of the marquee prime-time matchups. It isn't a divisional game. It isn't even a classic rivalry.

    Instead, it is a matchup of two great AFC teams that fell short of expectations in the playoffs and will stop at nothing to get in position for another deep run. With only one more game left to play, even if both clubs have clinched their division, every starter will start—and go the distance.

No. 14: Week 9, Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

12 of 25

    The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will, once again, be considered the dual favorites for the NFC North crown. The two teams will likely be neck-and-neck all season long, trying to shake off the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings' attempts to claw them back to the pack.

    The Week 9 matchup at Lambeau Field, though, will have massive implications for both teams' division title hopes, playoff seeding outlook and even playoff picture hopes. With overall record, division record and title race at play, this Monday Night Football matchup will be for the highest possible stakes.

No. 13: Week 10, Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints

13 of 25

    By Week 10, both the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys should still be hanging on in their division races and fighting for their playoff lives.

    This Sunday Night Football matchup sends the Cowboys to the Superdome, where the winner will be more likely to stay in the race—and the loser more likely to be home for the holidays.

No. 12: Week 4, New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons

14 of 25

    The New England Patriots going south to face the Atlanta Falcons will be a real treat. Not only will two of the perennial contenders from each division face off in a possible Super Bowl preview, it'll be a great test of the Falcons' new-look pass rush and running attack.

    The New England Patriots have been the yardstick other teams measure themselves by for more than a decade. If the Falcons can ride Steven Jackson to victory in this Sunday Night Football contest, they'll be sure to go far again this postseason.

No. 11: Week 7, Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

15 of 25

    No NFL fan will be able to hide from the storylines in this one. The Denver Broncos will travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts—and Peyton Manning will return to his old stomping grounds, Lucas Oil Stadium, to take on the team with which he was synonymous.

    He'll also be in an actual football game against the man who replaced him, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and the winning team will get a big boost to its postseason hopes.

    I'd suggest circling your calendar for this Sunday Night Football matchup, but the fine folks at NBC likely won't let you forget about this one.

No. 11: Week 12, Denver Broncos at New England Patriots

16 of 25

    Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.

    One of the greatest quarterback rivalries of all time will be renewed—God forbid, possibly for the last time.

    When the Denver Broncos go to the New England Patriots for Sunday Night Football, the implications won't just be about the careers of two of the best quarterbacks ever to play, but the playoff picture and bye probabilities for both franchises.

No. 9: Week 2, Denver Broncos at New York Giants

17 of 25

    As huge as late-season games can be, early-season matchups can be every bit as big—maybe even bigger. Getting off to a hot start means everything to NFL franchises. Even an 0-2 start can be a hole some teams don't recover from.

    So when the Denver Broncos take on the Giants in New York in this late afternoon game, a lot will be at stake.

    Oh, and I guess both quarterbacks are brothers or something?

No. 8: Week 1, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins

18 of 25

    The whole NFL world has this game circled. For years, football fans of all stripes have wondered if Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly would be able to make his Oregonian zone-read offensive magic work in the NFL.

    His first test will come against one of the legends of the NFL, Mike Shanahan, and another team running the zone read: Shanahan's Washington Redskins.

    This game is huge for another reason, too: It'll either be the sophomore debut—or not—of injured 2012 phenomenon Robert Griffin III.

No. 7: Week 2, San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

19 of 25

    They say the best revenge is "living well."

    I say the best revenge is hosting your division rivals, who edged you out for the division crown last season by half a game and who you beat 42-13 on Sunday Night Football, in Week 2.

    Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks will have absolutely no problem getting up for this game. They'll know that beating the San Francisco 49ers is crucial to winning the division crown, getting that first-round bye and setting themselves up for the Super Bowl they aim for.

No. 6: Week 3, Kansas City Chiefs at Philadelphia Eagles

20 of 25

    Few coaches in the NFL are as synonymous with a team as Andy Reid is with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    The interesting thing is, he's now the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Reid won't get a lot of time to retool his Chiefs before he returns to Lincoln Financial Field. Will the crowd cheer him or boo him? Will his replacement, Chip Kelly, school him with many of Reid's old players?

    Or will Reid prove himself the master and Kelly the student on Thursday Night Football in front of a prime-time Philadelphia crowd?

No. 5: Week 1, Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

21 of 25

    Few playoff losses have been as painful and humiliating as the one the Green Bay Packers suffered at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers last season.

    In 60 minutes, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick proved that the zone read could work in the NFL, the 49ers were for real and the Packers defense were 11 emperors with no clothes.

    We won't have to wait long to see if Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers figured out how to stop Kaepernick in the offseason. In fact, we won't have to wait at all. The Packers open their season in Candlestick Park.

No. 4: Week 14, Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

22 of 25

    The reverse fixture of the massive Week 2 matchup sends the Seattle Seahawks to Candlestick. These two teams will surely be neck-and-neck. With just a handful of games left in the season, this one could determine the division, the first-round bye and maybe even home-field advantage.

    It's currently scheduled as the 4:25 p.m. ET game, but don't be surprised if this one gets snapped up by NBC for Sunday Night Football.

No. 3: Week 1, Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

23 of 25

    Look at the picture. Doesn't it say a thousand words?

    The rematch of last season's unbelievable divisional-round barn burner between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos has the potential to be just as legendary. The Broncos used the free-agency period to get significantly better, while the Ravens lost a lot of veteran leadership and young talent.

    With this being the kickoff game of the entire season, the pain of the loss will be fresh in the minds of Broncos fans, and Denver will likely be incredible in prime time. An automatic must-watch because of the schedule and time slot, this game has classic storylines and implications to boot.

No. 2: Week 17, Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

24 of 25

    Of course, the NFL saved this game for Week 17.

    The NFC North has been hair-splittingly tight season after season, and the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have, more often than not, been the two teams hairs are split between.

    It figures to be more of the same this season, as this could be a winner-take-all match for the playoffs, a division crown and maybe a first-round bye.

    The game features no love lost between these teams, everything to play for and all of it in Soldier Field in late December. Sometimes Week 17 games are snoozers, but this one will be anything but.

No. 1: Week 16, Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers

25 of 25

    What's the No. 1 regular-season matchup of 2013? Why, the Week 16 rematch of the 2012 NFC Championship Game, of course.

    As tremendous as that game was, this one could be even better. Depending on how it plays out, it could even set up a re-rematch in the 2013 NFC Championship Game.

    Both the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons have their sights set on representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. The winner of this game could secure its berth as a division champ, with a first-round bye and home-field advantage...

    ...and the loser could secure its fate as not that.

    If you watch only one Monday Night Football game this season, it should be this one.