Top 10 Thursdays – Top 10 Games to Watch This Season
August 22, 2013 in NFL Preview
Every year, there are a total of 256 regular season games played in the NFL. When you take a look at the comprehensive 17-week NFL schedule prior to the start of the season, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of the games don’t have much hype or intrigue associated with them. Those are games that are of interest mainly to just the fans of the two teams that are facing off. Well that, and all fantasy team owners!
But, every year as the season approaches, fans everywhere will look at the schedule and pinpoint certain games that are just must see. So we thought we’d get into the act and take a shot at identifying the Top 10 games you just have to watch this season.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why particular games will have widespread appeal. Sometimes, the game has the potential to be critically important to a playoff race or it may be a game involving two perennially successful franchises. Often, these are games that have an interesting storyline such as an intriguing quarterback faceoff or a rematch aspect. Even the location of a particular game can be the ingredient that adds flavor to a matchup. Whatever the reason, the real football fan doesn’t need a network promo to tell them that it’s a game they can’t miss.
After beginning the effort to develop this Top 10 list, we quickly realized that there were a lot of great games to consider. Indeed, our initial cut yielded 35 candidates. Whittling it down to just 10 games was not easy. In doing so, we had to leave some great possibilities off the list. Notable games that didn’t make the cut included: Steelers @ Patriots; Seahawks @ Falcons; Packers @ Bears; Patriots @ Falcons; and Texans @ Colts.
As might be expected, several teams appear multiple times on our list and overall, only twelve different teams are involved. Interestingly, the Broncos appear in half of the games that we selected. While you might think that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the reason for that, you will see that other factors came into play.
But enough discussion – let’s get on to the list! Let us know where you think we missed the boat.
There are three things going for this game. First, unlike previous seasons, the defending Super Bowl Champions have to play the Thursday night, season “Kickoff” game on the road – the result of a scheduling conflict with the Orioles. Second, this is a rematch of last January’s Divisional Playoff game where a long TD pass by Joe Flacco with under a minute to play tied the game, and the Ravens went on to win it in overtime. If not for the pitiful failure of Denver defensive back Rahim Moore to come up with a sure interception on that Flacco pass, it’s quite possible that the home team in this matchup actually would be the defending Super Bowl champ!
Finally, it’s the season “Kickoff” game – and aren’t we all ready for some football?
Week 1 – Thursday, September 5 @ 8:30 ET
# 9 – Redskins @ Broncos – “Shanny Goes Home”
What makes this one intriguing, is Redskins’ coach Mike Shanahan making his return to Denver, where he made his mark as a head coach. During Shanahan’s 14 seasons in Denver, he led the Broncos to a 138-86 record, resulting in 7 playoff appearances, 3 Division crowns and 2 Super Bowl titles. Shanahan, who still maintains a home in the Denver suburbs (well, it’s actually a 35,000 square foot mansion), was fired by Denver after the 2008 season, when the Broncos blew a 3-game division lead in the last 3 weeks of the season. This could be a matchup of potential playoff contenders in their respective conferences, but that will not be the primary hype surrounding this midseason contest.
Week 8 – Sunday, October 27 @ 4:25 ET
This one is another return of sorts. New Chiefs head coach, Andy Reid, leads a team that tied for the worst record in the NFL last year (2-14) into Philadelphia for a Week 3 faceoff with the Eagles, the team he coached for the previous 14 seasons. Reid led the Eagles to a 130-93-1 regular season record and 9 playoff appearances. During his time in Philadelphia, the Eagles won 7 Division titles and one Conference Championship.
However, because they never won the big one during his tenure there, Philadelphia fans never fully appreciated Reid. So it will be interesting to see how the Eagles fans react to Reid’s return. Well … not really. We pretty much have a feel for what type of reception Philly fans will give him! But, the drama over Reid coming to town aside, this early season game will give us a good opportunity to see if Reid can work some magic with the Chiefs and if Chip Kelly’s much-talked about, up-tempo offense is legit.
Week 3 – Thursday, September 19 @ 8:25 ET
# 7 – Broncos @ Giants – “The Manning Bowl”
There’s no question that a game pitting the Manning brothers against each other would be one that makes this list. The added intrigue here is that it could be the last time they faceoff, unless Eli somehow ends up in the AFC West in the next couple of years! With the NFL’s rotating scheduling format where teams in opposite conferences only play each other once every four years, there’s a distinct possibility that Peyton may no longer be playing by the time the 2017 season rolls around. The brothers have met twice in the past, with Peyton’s Colts besting Eli’s Giants both times. But then again, Eli holds the edge in Super Bowl rings 2-1, so you got to figure that Eli is okay with losing to big brother when going head-to-head. Since this game comes very early in the season, there probably won’t be any other really critical factors associated with this game.
Leading up to the game, you know there will be the endless blathering about the matchup and countless interviews with each guy where they really won’t say anything. Then during the game there will be more blathering and numerous shots of the Manning parents sitting in the owner’s suite, with the requisite speculation about which son each parent is rooting for. You know the drill – and you’ll watch anyway!
Week 2 – Sunday, September 15 @ 4:25 ET
This one should be the best of the three Thanksgiving Day games. It involves a heated rivalry where there is an intense hatred of the other team. And that’s just the fans! In fact, you would be hard pressed to find fans of either team who would even have anything nice to say about the other team’s city – just on principle. Truth is, neither team actually really likes each other. As a result of this passionate, fan frenzy and on-field intensity, these prime time Steelers/Ravens matchups have provided us with some real entertainment in recent years.
There are some question marks with each team going into the season. Can each of them fill some major holes in their respective lineups resulting from off-season moves and significant injuries? Can the Steelers rebound from their disappointing 2012 season where they lost 5 of their last 7 games? Can the Ravens find the inspiration to be that team that captures back-to-back Lombardi Trophies? The answer to these questions should start to come into focus by Thanksgiving Night. If both teams are getting it together, this one could be a real barnburner.
Week 13 – Thursday, November 28 @ 8:30 ET
# 5 – Seahawks @ 49ers – “NFC West Showdown”
This Week 14 game could have enormous playoff implications and could go a long way in determining who will win the NFC West Division crown. The teams split their two matchups last season, each getting a win on their home field. If it wasn’t for a frantic drive by the Falcons in the waning moments of a Divisional playoff game, culminated by a Matt Bryant 49 yard field goal, these two teams would have met for a third time in the NFC Conference Championship game. A budding rivalry between these two teams seems to be springing up, and it has all the signs of one that will be around for a while.
In addition to the effect that this game could have on the playoff picture, it also offers the chance to be entertained by two of the brightest young quarterback stars in the NFL. The 49ers Colin Kaepernick, entering his third season in the league, and second-year guy, Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, are both dual-threat quarterbacks that bring their own unique style of play to the game. Kaepernick works more out of the Pistol and Read-Option schemes and, although the Seahawks implemented the Read-Option more and more as the season progressed last year, Wilson is more of a pocket passer who has an uncanny ability to scramble out of trouble and keep the chains moving. No matter how you slice it though, both guys are just flat out exciting to watch. It will be interesting to see how they fare playing against two of the league’s toughest defenses in this game.
Week 14 – Sunday, December 8 @ 4:25 ET
No matter how many times it occurs, it’s hard to get tired of seeing a Manning/Brady faceoff. The fact that Peyton has moved on to another team matters little. Here you get the chance to see two of the greatest quarterbacks to EVER play the game.
The outcome of these showdowns has been decidedly in Tom’s favor. He is 9-4 going head-to-head with Peyton, including 2-1 in the postseason – with each getting a win in an AFC Conference Championship game.
This late season game has the potential to be a classic. A Sunday night game in Foxboro in late November with the weather likely to be a factor – could there be a better backdrop for this one? Well, perhaps a Sunday night game at Mile High in late November with weather likely to be a factor?? Of course, this game has playoff implications written all over it and could conceivably convey home field advantage to the winner if they should face off again in the playoffs as champions of their respective divisions.
Regardless of the circumstances, there probably won’t be too many more chances to see a Manning vs. Brady shootout. So let’s savor this one!
Week 12 – Sunday, November 24 @ 8:30 ET
# 3 – Patriots @ Ravens – “AFC Championship Rematch”
This Week 16 game is actually a rematch of the last two AFC Conference Championship games. The Patriots won it in 2011 before going on to lose again to the Giants in the Super Bowl. In last season’s game at Foxboro, the Patriots had a halftime lead but gave up 21 unanswered points in the 2nd half and lost 28-13. To make matters worse, the Patriots also lost to the Ravens in an early season game at Baltimore last year when they squandered a 30-21 4th quarter lead.
As alluded to above, there are questions about whether the Ravens will be able to fill the significant holes that exist in their receiving corps and on the defensive side of the ball. Likewise, New England’s receiving corps took a major hit with the departures of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, not to mention Rob Gronkowski’s injury. While Gronk is expected to be back and healthy by this point in the season, there has to be some nervousness in New England about how effective he will be considering the injury issue and the changes that have taken place.
Potentially, the importance of this game could be minimized if one or both teams fail to adequately adjust to their changed circumstances. But if they both step up to the challenges, as most people expect them to, then the significance of this game with respect to the AFC playoff picture cannot be overstated. The game is in Baltimore on Sunday night, so the advantage goes to the Ravens. But we don’t recommend betting the farm against Brady.
Week 16 – Sunday, December 22 @ 8:30 ET
#2 – Falcons @ 49ers – “NFC Championship Rematch”
This one is the second of our Week 16 Conference Championship rematches. It’s the Monday Night game and most everyone will be surprised if it doesn’t have significant playoff implications.
The Falcons still have to be kicking themselves over their loss to the 49ers in the Championship game last year. They quickly jumped out to a 17-0 lead and held a 24-14 lead at the half. Many Falcons fans were starting to consider whether they would drive or fly to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. But the Falcons gave up 14 unanswered points in the 2nd half and eliminated their fans’ quandary.
This game will feature two very different offensive approaches. With Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers will run a lot of pistol and read-option schemes. The Falcons on the other hand will rely on Matt Ryan in a more traditional pocket passing scheme. He likely will be throwing often to his elite corps of receivers: Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. But a wild-card in this game, and for the Falcons season for that matter, may be running back Steven Jackson. He came over to the Falcons after a number of very successful seasons with the Rams. If he can stay healthy and be similarly productive, he will bring an added dimension to the Falcons offense that for the most part has been lacking. Just think what a positive impact an effective running game will have on that Falcons passing attack.
There’s a good chance that this game will be a shootout. Given the different offensive styles, the number of playmakers involved, the anticipated effect on the NFC playoff picture and the rematch factor, this could be one of the most entertaining games of the season. What a way to prime us for the final week of the season.
Week 16 – Monday, December 23 @ 8:40 ET
And the # 1 game to watch this season …
Yeah, Peyton again. But it just had to be this one. As a mid-season matchup, this game may be taking place a bit too early to know if it will have a big impact on the AFC playoff hunt. But how can you discount this storyline?
When you think of the Baltimore Colts, you think of Johnny Unitas. When you think of the Indianapolis Colts, there is no question, you think of Peyton Manning. In the 13 seasons he actually played for the Colts, he led them to 11 playoff appearances, 3 Conference Championship games, 2 Conference championships and one Super Bowl title. If ever a player can be considered an “institution” within a franchise, it’s Manning with the Colts. That’s why it was so hard for most fans, Colts or otherwise, to witness his departure from the Colts and his signing with the Broncos.
Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Colts, opened in 2008. It is often referred to as “The House That Manning Built”, owing to the consistent success he helped bring to the Colts, and in doing so, the reputation he built for himself. So, given all this, is it any wonder why Peyton’s return to “his” stadium on the visiting team’s sideline is a big deal?
But if you need something more, consider the fact that Manning will be facing off against his successor, Andrew Luck, who last year actually had a much better rookie season with the Colts than Manning had with them. Luck helped lead the Colts to the playoffs and appears to be on the verge of attaining his own unique stardom.
So, will the cagy, old vet pull off one more stunning performance at Lucas Oil Stadium, one like those that Colts fans became accustomed to seeing? Or will the young phenom be able to stand up to the pressure under the intense spotlight that this game will generate? Will there be more fans in the stands wearing blue & white #12 jerseys or blue & white #18 jerseys? Can’t wait to see – enjoy!
Week 7 – Sunday, October 20 @ 8:30 ET