There is always an added sense of excitement for prime-time showdowns under the lights, and football fans won’t have to wait long for a compelling clash. The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will square off in a Super Bowl rematch to kick off the season in Week 1 on Sept. 8.
Here is a look at the full slate of night games, courtesy of NFL.com, as well as some predictions for a couple of the more intriguing contests pigskin fans can look forward to during a long offseason.
|2016 NFL Prime-Time Schedule|
|Week 1||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Sept. 8||Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Sunday, Sept. 11||New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Sept. 12||Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington||7:10 p.m.||ESPN|
|Monday, Sept. 12||Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers||10:20 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 2||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Sept. 15||New York Jets at Buffalo Bills||8:25 p.m.||CBS, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Sept. 18||Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Sept. 19||Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 3||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Sept. 22||Houston Texans at New England Patriots||8:25 p.m.||CBS, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Sept. 25||Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Sept. 26||Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 4||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Sept. 29||Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|Sunday, Oct. 2||Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Oct. 3||New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 5||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Oct. 6||Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers||8:25 p.m.||CBS, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Oct. 9||New York Giants at Green Bay Packers||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Oct. 10||Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 6||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Oct. 13||Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers||8:25 p.m.||CBS, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Oct. 16||Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Oct. 17||New York Jets at Arizona Cardinals||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 7||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Oct. 20||Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers||8:25 p.m.||CBS, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Oct. 23||Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Oct. 24||Houston Texans at Denver Broncos||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 8||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Oct. 27||Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|Sunday, Oct. 30||Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Oct. 31||Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 9||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Nov. 3||Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|Sunday, Nov. 6||Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Nov. 7||Buffalo Bills at Seattle Seahawks||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 10||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Nov. 10||Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|Sunday, Nov. 13||Seattle Seahawks at New England Patriots||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Nov. 14||Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 11||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Nov. 17||New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers||8:25 p.m.||NBC, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Nov. 20||Green Bay Packers at Washington||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Nov. 21||Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 12||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Nov. 24||Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Sunday, Nov. 27||New England Patriots at New York Jets||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Nov. 28||Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 13||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Dec. 1||Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings||8:25 p.m.||NBC, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Dec. 4||Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Dec. 5||Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 14||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Dec. 8||Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs||8:25 p.m.||NBC, NFL Network|
|Sunday, Dec. 11||Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Dec. 12||Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 15||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Dec. 15||Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks||8:25 p.m.||NBC, NFL Network|
|Saturday, Dec. 17||Miami Dolphins at New York Jets||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|Sunday, Dec. 18||Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Dec. 19||Carolina Panthers at Washington||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 16||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thursday, Dec. 22||New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles||8:25 p.m.||NBC, NFL Network|
|Saturday, Dec. 24||Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|Sunday, Dec. 25||Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Monday, Dec. 26||Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
Intriguing Prime-Time Showdowns
Week 1: Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos
The NFL made history with its schedule release on Thursday thanks to this matchup.
According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, this will be the first time the NFL opener is a Super Bowl rematch, even though the defending champion has appeared in the game in recent years.
The Panthers will likely be coming off a long offseason where all they thought about was their failure to bring home the Lombardi Trophy, and this will be the perfect chance to exact some revenge and put the Super Bowl behind them. What’s more, there will probably be some type of pregame celebration for the champion Broncos before kickoff, which can serve as even more motivation for Carolina.
Denver handled the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, 24-10, thanks largely to an impressive defensive effort that kept MVP Cam Newton in check. Von Miller was named the game’s MVP after he notched 2.5 sacks, two of which led to touchdowns on the other side.
However, that defense will look different in the season opener after Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson left in free agency.
That could be a problem, especially since Carolina brings back Newton, tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart, among others. The Panthers will also have the services of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin after he missed the 2015 campaign because of injury. Benjamin racked up 1,008 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches in his rookie season and gives Newton a No. 1 option outside.
Despite the turnover on defense for Denver and the return of a strong Panthers offense, the most intriguing question about the season opener will be who is under center for the Broncos after Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler left in free agency.
John Clayton of ESPN.com ran down Denver’s various options, even though it did trade a conditional pick for Mark Sanchez. Clayton noted Broncos general manager John Elway targeted Colin Kaepernick but wanted the San Francisco 49ers signal-caller to take a pay cut if Denver traded for him. Thus far, Kaepernick has not agreed.
The Broncos could also draft a quarterback, such as Memphis' Paxton Lynch or Michigan State's Connor Cook, or trade for someone sitting behind an established starter on a depth chart, such as AJ McCarron in Cincinnati or Mike Glennon in Tampa Bay.
Clayton suggested Denver could also remain patient with Kaepernick: “Still, Elway would be wise to wait until after the draft. Kaepernick might agree to a trade and pay cut if the 49ers decide to use the No. 7 pick on a quarterback.”
Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Broncos, one of these teams will be taking an early loss after both set the tone for their Super Bowl appearances right out of the gates in 2015. Denver started 7-0, while the Panthers were an impeccable 14-0.
That won’t be the case in 2016, as the Broncos will have to figure out a way to bounce back from a Week 1 loss. Between the continuity on Carolina’s offense, the return of Benjamin and the revenge factor, a motivated Panthers team will start the season 1-0 with a road victory at Mile High over the Broncos.
Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
There will likely be plenty at stake when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Cincinnati Bengals during Week 15, including postseason positioning.
The Bengals made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, while the Steelers were in the postseason the last two years and four of the last six. The Steelers also reached the Super Bowl during the 2010 campaign.
It is a safe bet these two teams will be factors in the playoff race again, and this is a late-season showdown. A head-to-head victory would go a long way toward helping one of these squads position itself for the playoffs and potentially a division crown and a first-round bye.
Considering the Bengals have lost in the Wild Card Round the last five seasons (and six of the last seven years), they would probably love a first-round bye.
There will also be star power all over the field with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wideout Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, among others, for the Steelers and QB Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green and others for the Bengals.
While the presence of superstar offensive playmakers and potential playoff implications are enough to generate interest in this contest, casual fans will tune in for another reason.
The Bengals and Steelers are heated rivals, and the hatred seemed to peak during last season’s postseason matchup. The Steelers were trailing late in the game (and Roethlisberger was having difficulty throwing downfield with an injured shoulder), but two personal fouls on Cincinnati’s defense put Pittsburgh into position to hit the game-winning field goal.
Vontaze Burfict hit a defenseless Brown high over the middle for the first personal foul, and Adam Jones picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct for the second one. Jones seemed to be egged on by Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter, who was on the field, as he picked up his penalty.
Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth was candid when talking about the Steelers, per Coley Harvey of ESPN.com:
From our side, we expect more of ourselves and more from the guys in our group that we want to handle that the right way. But from their side, that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of lack of respect and of lack of discipline over there as well.
I respect the Steelers and Coach Tomlin, but Joey Porter I don't respect. No class. ... His unprofessionalism is ridiculous.
The stage is set for another heated battle.