By Andrew Kahn
If you don’t like baseball, perhaps you’ve taken a brief hiatus from sports. But with training camps now open, it means football is nearing closer. There are plenty of matchups to get excited about, as evidenced by the games not featured here, such as the Ravens’ season-opening trip to Denver, site of their improbable playoff victory last season. Andy Reid will return to Philadelphia in Week 3. The Giants go to Green Bay in Week 11. Here are 10 other games that should be as exciting on the field as they are intriguing on paper.
1. Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, Week 1
The 49ers, quarterbacked by Alex Smith at the time, opened last season with a win at Lambeau Field and, once Colin Kaepernick took over, crushed the Packers in the playoffs. This will be a huge statement game right out the gate to see which team is better positioned to claim NFC supremacy.
2. Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints, Week 1
This will be Sean Payton’s first game back from his suspension, and he better not be rusty leading his team against a talented Atlanta squad that came up just short of reaching the Super Bowl last year. Given the recent history between these two teams, both this and their Week 12 game figure to be close and entertaining.
The Manning brothers square off for the third time in their professional careers; Peyton is 2-0 against his younger brother, with both matchups coming when Peyton was in Indianapolis. Could the third time be the charm for Eli and the Giants, who have missed the playoffs three of the last four years but haven’t had a losing season since 2004?
This is still a big rivalry in the AFC East, even if it has been lopsided in recent years. Without knowing how the first six weeks will play out, it’s still safe to assume this matchup will have plenty of drama. Will Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith be the quarterback for the Jets? For the Pats, will it be Tom Brady or Tim Tebow? I’m kidding, but you know Tebow is itching to see the field in any capacity against the team that embarrassed him.
5. Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts, Week 7
It will be an emotional Sunday night in Indy as Peyton Manning comes back to face the franchise he led for 14 seasons. Fans will undoubtedly shower their former star with love, but not forget they have their own stud quarterback in Andrew Luck. Many feel the Colts overachieved (or were flat out lucky) last year and it will be interesting to see if they can build on last year’s playoff appearance.
How could I leave off Brady vs. Manning on a Sunday night? This matchup between the top two quarterbacks of this era is spiced up by Wes Welker’s move from New England to Denver. Still among the AFC’s favorites to reach the Super Bowl, the window may be closing for both teams giving the age of their quarterbacks (Manning is 37; Brady will be 36 two weeks into training camp).
This Monday night matchup will draw a lot of eyeballs if Robert Griffin III is healthy and playing well. The thought of RG3 going score for score against Kaepernick and the 49ers is enough to get football fans through the rest of the summer.
Both of these matchups between two of the Super Bowl favorites should be highly entertaining. Both teams have some new faces and quarterbacks who broke out in a major way last season. Oh, and you may have heard that the coaches don’t care for each other.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers, Week 16
Since these two iconic franchises met in the 2011 Super Bowl, they have one playoff win between them. Such is the nature of the NFL. Both teams are looking to show they still belong in the Super Bowl discussion, and this could be a great barometer late in the year.
This late-season Sunday night matchup could determine the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots won in Baltimore in the regular season last year before the Ravens returned the favor in New England in the AFC Championship Game.
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Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.