Despite the current lockout, the NFL decided to still release the 2011 regular season schedule on Tuesday for all 32 teams. Here’s a look at 10 must-watch games NFL fans won’t want to miss during the 2011 regular season.
10. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots–Week 11
Matt Cassel emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in his second full season as the starter in Kansas City–helping the Chiefs make a surprise run to win the AFC West. Not only will he look to help Kansas City earn their second-straight division title for the first time since the mid 90′s, but Cassel will return to Foxboro–where his career took off in 2008–in Week 11 for the first time with his new team.
9. Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons–Week 2
When Michael Vick made his first trip back to Atlanta as a member of the Eagles in 2009, he managed to find the end zone twice–once through the air and once on the ground. The main difference this time around–Vick will actually be the starter as opposed to just coming in every once in a while. Both the Falcons and Eagles were considered two of the top teams in the NFC last season and it should be the same story in 2011.
8. Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots–Week 13
Does this matchup really need an explanation? Manning vs. Brady will go down as one of the greatest quarterback battles of all time and considering the Colts have won two of their last three games at Foxboro–this matchup should be a classic once again.
7. New York Jets vs. Baltimore Ravens–Week 4
The Jets and Ravens provided fans with a great start to the 2010 season and both went on to win their first game in the playoffs on the road. Not only are these two teams expected to be strong contenders once again in 2011, but will most likely contain two of the top defenses in the NFL as well. If last year was any indication, expect another intense defensive battle in this key AFC matchup.
6. Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers–Week 1 and Week 9
Over the last three seasons, the Ravens and Steelers have proven to be one of the NFL’s best rivalries–with the last nine matchups (including playoffs) determined by single digits. These two teams will be considered the two favorites in the AFC North once again and considering how last season played out–Baltimore will be hungry for revenge considering they blew second-half leads against Pittsburgh in both losses–including a 14-point lead in the second round of the playoffs.
5. Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Jets–Week 1
Not only will Buddy and Rex be squaring off against one another, but this should be an emotional matchup for the fans of New York considering this day marks the 10th anniversary of September 11. On top of that, this game still provides NFL fans with a great matchup between two teams expected to make a run at the postseason–assuming the Cowboys can bounce back from their disastrous 6-10 finish last season.
4. Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints–Week 10 and Week 16
Nobody expected the Falcons to finish on top of the NFC in 2010–let alone take away the division title from the Saints. The Falcons and Saints split both matchups–which were each decided by three points–last season and will put up a dogfight for the NFC South in 2011. Not only does this matchup contain two of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, but it could easily contain two MVP candidates in Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.
3. Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers–Week 3 and Week 16
In a division that was supposed to be won by the Packers or Vikings, the Bears emerged on top of the NFC North title in 2010 and fell just short of reaching the Super Bowl. One of the greatest rivalries of all time was taken to a higher level last season when these two teams met in the NFC Championship and the fact that the Bears and Packers will play on Christmas Eve means the holiday season will be intense at households in the Chicago and Green Bay area.
2. New York Jets vs. New England Patriots–Week 5 and Week 10
Ever since Rex Ryan took over as head coach for the Jets, this rivalry has been taken to a whole new level over the last two seasons. Tom Brady expressed last season how much he hates the Jets and even Wes Welker took a shot at Ryan before the team’s playoff matchup in January. It’s not easy to get under the skin of the Patriots and the fact that these two teams get to meet twice during the regular season is a treat for all NFL fans.
1. New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers–Week 1
Give the NFL credit for always providing fans with a great game to kickoff the regular season. Not only do fans get to welcome the regular season with an intense matchup between the past two Super Bowl champions, but they get to witness two of the top quarterbacks in the NFL with Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Don’t be surprised if both players combine for over 800 yards passing in this matchup.
Dan Parzych is the Lead NFL Content Editor for RantSports.com/NFL, where he writes and edits NFL content for RantSports.com.