2015 NFL Schedule: The Biggest Highlights of This Year's Schedule

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterApril 22, 2015

2015 NFL Schedule: The Biggest Highlights of This Year's Schedule

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    We're hopeless.

    The NFL can and will make a must-see event out of anything, and we just keep coming back. Sure, we knew which teams were playing which months ago. We knew which teams were home and away. We knew which teams were in London, and we knew at least two of the teams playing on Thanksgiving.

    But exactly when and where the 256 NFL regular-season games of 2015 would be played was still unknown, even after rumors and leaks started hitting the Internet.

    Just a few minutes before the gala NFL Network schedule rundown show, with remote crews around the country, live audiences and pre-taped segments and all that jazz, the complete schedule went live at NFL.com.

    Now we know all the prime-time games, all the Thursday games, all the bye weeks and all the weird travel schedules—but what dates should we circle on our calendar? What matchups will we spend all summer looking forward to?

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    When: Week 1, Thursday, Sept. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET

    TV: Sunday Night Football on Thursday Night, NBC 

    The 2015 regular-season slate kicks off with an excellent matchup. The Patriots, of course, are coming off a Super Bowl championship, while the Steelers clawed their way to the top of the toughest division in football— only to get thrown out of the playoffs by the rival Baltimore Ravens.

    The last time these two teams met was in 2013, when a barnburner became a blowout. Tied at 24 late in the third quarter, the Patriots kicked a field goal to enter the fourth with a three-point lead. Then, they hung an incredible 28 points on the Steelers in the final period en route to a 55-31 win.

    One game with conference-seed tiebreaker implications could mean a world of difference at the end of the season for either of these title contenders.

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    When: Week 2, Sunday, Sep. 20, 4:25 p.m. ET

    TV: Fox

    In 2014, this fixture was the decisive one in the NFC East. After the Eagles stole one from the Cowboys in north Texas, the Cowboys came up to Lincoln Financial Field and stole one right back. Thanks in part to tailback DeMarco Murray's two touchdowns and 31-carry workload, the Cowboys topped the Eagles, 38-27, and went on to finish two games ahead of the Eagles in the division.

    Murray was the centerpiece acquisition of a headline-making offseason in Philly, and the Eagles will have their chance to get revenge—and establish divisional dominance—very, very early. The loser of this game may be looking up from the bottom of a two-game deficit at the winner.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

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    When: Week 2, Sunday, Sep. 20, 8:30 p.m. ET

    TV: Sunday Night Football, NBC

    We won't have to wait long for the rematch of one of the most extraordinary NFC Championship Games ever played. The Packers went into CenturyLink Field and did almost everything right against the defending-champ Seahawks last season, holding a 92.7 percent win probability with just over three minutes left in the game, per Pro Football Reference.

    Poor game management from Packers head coach Mike McCarthy early in the contest, and a three-phase collapse late in the game, set up a stunning overtime victory that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons.

    In Week 2's Sunday Night Football, it'll be the Packers' turn to play host.

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (London)

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    When: Week 4, Sunday, Oct. 4, 9:30 a.m. ET

    TV: CBS

    Set your alarms.

    For the first-ever divisional game played in London, the NFL has put the contest in a time slot better suited to garner English eyeballs than American ones.

    The Dolphins gave up this divisional home game to, presumably, curry favor with the league when it comes time to award future Super Bowls. It didn't look like a particularly compelling matchup when it was announced; the Jets were en route to a disastrous finish and the Dolphins were bound for yet another mediocre season.

    After free agency, though, this game has plenty of mojo. The Dolphins added All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and the Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis—not to mention former Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall.

    This early London game could actually be worth getting up for.

New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    When: Week 5, Sunday, Oct. 11, 4:25 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

    The Patriots and Cowboys both defied the disbelievers in 2014: The Patriots made an incredible U-turn after a mediocre 2-2 start, and the Cowboys never faltered on their way to finishing four games over .500. The Patriots kept going all the way up the mountain, though, while the Cowboys planted their flag at the divisional round of the playoffs.

    For 2015 the Cowboys have gone all-out, adding players like pass-rusher Greg Hardy in a bid to win it all. Meanwhile, the world-champion Patriots had to let Revis walk. This game isn't just a chance for the Cowboys to prove they can knock off the NFL's best. It's also a shot for the Patriots to prove they're still kings of the castle.

Arizona Cardinals at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    When: Week 6, Sunday, Oct. 18, 1 p.m. ET

    TV: Fox

    A few things have happened since 2011, when the Pittsburgh Steelers pushed offensive coordinator Bruce Arians out of his job.

    Arians landed with the Indianapolis Colts, took over as interim head coach when skipper Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer, led the team to a 9-3 record, coached rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to the Pro Bowl, was named NFL Coach of the Year, turned the hapless Cardinals into one of the NFL's toughest teams and was named NFL Coach of the Year again.

    For the first time, he'll face the Steelers.

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    When: Week 7, Thursday, Oct. 22, 8:25 p.m. ET

    TV: Thursday Night Football, CBS and NFL Network 

    If the departures of Jim Harbaugh, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and Chris Borland have gutted the 49ers' ability to play winning football, we'll likely have an inkling of it before the middle of October.

    Even if the 49ers are struggling for wins by the time this one rolls around—and four of their first six opponents were playoff teams in 2014—we'll find out if they have any fight left in them when they host the Seattle Seahawks. In one of the NFL's most heated, bitter rivalries of the past few seasons, it could be rookie head coach Jim Tomsula's first statement game.

    The winner might not be the de facto favorite to win it all, but if the 49ers can defend Levi's Stadium here, they'll get a big boost going into the back half of their schedule.

New York Jets at New England Patriots

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    When: Week 7, Sunday, Oct. 25, 1 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS 

    He's back.

    In the latest twist in the long-running, hate-filled saga between the Patriots and Jets, Revis has again crossed battle lines to don Jets green and white.

    The Jets, who've improved themselves as much as any team in the NFL, may not be favorites in this game against the defending Super Bowl champs—but this early in the season, they should have demonstrated they've got a defense as good as anyone.

    It's astounding that this one isn't a prime-time matchup, but it doesn't matter. It's enormous.

Green Bay Packers at Denver Broncos

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    When: Week 8, Sunday, Nov. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET

    TV: Sunday Night Football, NBC

    The NFL knows its audience. We want to see the league's best teams, and the league's best quarterbacks, facing off at every opportunity.

    So how can this only be Aaron Rodgers' second time playing against Peyton Manning?

    It's true: Rodgers only faced Manning's Colts once, per Pro Football Reference, in 2008; Manning was kind enough to throw two pick-sixes to the youngster's defense. The last time the Packers played the Broncos at all was in 2011, before Manning took over. Those Packers were in the middle of a 15-win season, while the Broncos would give Kyle Orton just one more start before putting Tim Tebow in.

    The 49-23 smackdown the Packers laid on the Broncos was predictable, even if Tebow winning one more playoff game than Rodgers that year was not.

    This season's matchup should be an excellent edition of Sunday Night Football.

Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    When: Week 9, Sunday, Nov. 8, 4:25 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

    After the disastrous 2014 divisional-round game that cost Broncos head coach John Fox his job and arguably cost quarterback Peyton Manning $4 million, the Broncos are again on a Super Bowl-win-or-bust mission for 2015.

    Standing in his way will again be Andrew Luck, who replaced Manning in Indianapolis. After knocking off the Broncos, the Colts didn't pose a serious threat to the title-bound Patriots—but after a free-agency period that saw both the Patriots and Broncos lose key contributors, this game will go a long way toward establishing the favorite in the AFC.

Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    When: Week 11, Sunday, Nov. 22, 1 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

    Though the Broncos and Bears both finished the season with bitter disappointment and a head coaching change, these are still two very talented teams. And, oh yes, the Bears hired the Broncos' old head coach, John Fox, and offensive coordinator Adam Gase to get better production out of the Broncos' old quarterback, Jay Cutler.

    There'll be a massive chip on everyone in the Windy City's shoulders when the Broncos come to town in Week 11; despite this not being a prime-time matchup, it's got plenty of storylines to tune in for.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

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    When: Week 12, Sunday, Nov. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET

    TVSunday Night Football, NBC

    It doesn't matter when Manning/Brady Bowl XVII is played. The 17th matchup between the two greatest active quarterbacks (and two of the very best ever) would be massive anytime, anywhere.

    Two seasons after Manning conquered Tom Brady once and for all in the 2013 AFC Championship Game, and one after Brady crowned himself the no-debate best ever in Super Bowl XLIX, these two will again go head-to-head with all of history at stake.

    Of course, history will truly remember these two as giants of the game no matter how this single contest goes, but the hype will be inescapable anyway. Even without the quarterback-duel mania, though, this is a game between two teams that have been duking it out at the top of the AFC heap for years—and this season shouldn't be much different.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    When: Week 12, Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving), 8:30 p.m. ET

    TV: Sunday Night Football on Thursday Night, NBC

    According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, not only are the Packers going to host the Bears on Thanksgiving—renewing the league's most played rivalry on a day often revolving around the NFC North—something even more special will happen: The Packers will retire Brett Favre's number.

    Favre, who will become eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2016, has needed to mend fences with the Packers for some time. For all the ugly, ungainly things about his departure from the team and, later, the NFL, Favre's career should be celebrated in Green Bay.

    Not only is this the right thing to do, it's the right time to do it—and we'll all be watching.

New York Jets at New York Giants

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Where: Week 13, Sunday, Dec. 6, 1 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

    For only the second time since MetLife Stadium opened, the Jets and Giants will play each other in a game that counts.

    The first go-round, a Christmas Eve matchup in 2011 that featured a 99-yard touchdown from Victor Cruz and a whopping 59 pass attempts from then-Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, was a 29-14 Giants win that wasn't even that close.

    That game proved to be the difference between the 9-7 Giants and 8-8 Jets that year—except, of course, the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl, and the Jets missed the playoffs entirely. This season, a rejuvenated Giants passing attack will face the most dramatically overhauled position group in the NFL (Jets secondary).

    Darrelle Revis vs. Odell Beckham Jr.? Can't wait.

Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    When: Week 13, Sunday, Dec. 6, 4:25 p.m. ET

    TV: Fox

    It means a little more when the reigning Super Bowl champions face just about anybody. But this is the first regular-season tilt between the best head coach in football, Bill Belichick, and the man trying to take that title away from him, Chip Kelly.

    With the drama of Kelly's offseason moves (trading LeSean McCoy, signing DeMarco Murray), not to mention the homecoming of Tim Tebow, this game would be one to watch anyway. But coming this late in the season, this cross-conference matchup will likely still have playoff implications for both teams.

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    When: Week 13, Sunday, Dec. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET

    TV: Sunday Night Football, NBC

    In one of the most memorable games of 2014, Ben Roethlisberger hung an unbelievable six touchdowns, and the Steelers 51 points, on the Indianapolis Colts.

    The Colts got a measure of revenge by living well; they progressed to the AFC Championship Game, while the Steelers lost in the first round. In addition, the Colts have a chance to come back to the scene of the crime and pay back Roethlisberger directly.

    This time, should all go as planned, they'll have the services of Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis, who missed the implosion against the Steelers.

Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    When: Week 14, Sunday, Dec. 13, 8:30 p.m. ET

    TVSunday Night Football, NBC

    Before Pete Carroll's Seahawks were back-to-back NFC champions, they were an anonymous West Coast outfit scrapping to get to .500 on the strength of their no-name defense.

    Back in 2011, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and Co. mustered just enough offense to improve to 3-6 at the expense of the Baltimore Ravens—one of just four losses Baltimore would suffer all year. CenturyLink Field was already a fortress for the Seattle Sounders of MLS, but the AFC title-game-bound Ravens got an early taste of how tough the Seahawks would soon play in the same park.

    Though the Ravens and Seahawks would go on to rack up four conference championship game appearances, three Super Bowl berths and two titles between them in the four ensuing postseasons, the teams haven't met since.

    This cross-conference battle between two of the league's preeminent defenses and quarterbacks should be circled on any NFL fan's calendar.

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    When: Week 15, Sunday, Dec. 20, 1 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

    It's sad to see a franchise icon like Andre Johnson not have the ability to finish his career where he started.

    It's rare to see such an icon leave for a divisional rival.

    Yet that's exactly what happened when the Colts added Johnson, whose long history of struggling to overcome double-teams and awful quarterback play is finally over. Together with Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and others, can Johnson help the Colts again keep J.J. Watt and the Texans out of the playoffs?

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    When: Week 16, Sunday, Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET

    TV: Sunday Night Football, NBC

    After a split 2014 regular-season series between the two helped certify the Steelers as AFC North champions, the Ravens waltzed into Heinz Field and laid a 30-17 loss on the No. 3-seeded Steelers in the playoffs. This rivalry didn't need any extra heat, but football fans everywhere will take it!

    Though the two teams will meet on Thursday Night Football in Week 4, this late-season match will all but certainly have massive implications for the division race, wild-card race, seeding and AFC playoff picture.