By Brian Kalchik @RantsportsBrian on April 28, 2014
The 2014 NFL regular season schedule was released last week and plenty of juicy matchups are on deck for another exciting NFL season. From revenge games to classic rivalries, this league schedule looks to be one of the most exciting in NFL history. But, as the saying goes, the games are won on the field and not on paper.
Each of the 32 NFL teams will have to win some crucial games this year, and here now are the toughest games for each team.
The Cardinals were the only team to knock off the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field last season in a 10-9 defensive struggle. If the Cardinals can pull it off once again, it would be a huge momentum swing heading towards the end of the season. The Seahawks will be out for revenge and the 12th man will be fired up for this game.
The Atlanta Falcons' struggles last year began against the Saints in New Orleans, and the team never seemed to recover from that loss. This year, the Falcons host the Saints in the opener and have the chance to exact some revenge against a hated rival. This game will show us how much things have changed in Atlanta.
The Baltimore Ravens failed to repeat as AFC North champions last year as Cincinnati took their throne. After suffering a Super Bowl hangover last season, the Ravens will be charged up against one of their biggest rivals, and on opening day, this game is so important in establishing momentum to start the season. This also begins a three-game stretch where the Ravens face each of their division rivals.
Last year in Week 1, the Buffalo Bills were so close to knocking off the New England Patriots at home. The Bills have beaten the Patriots just twice at home since the start of the Tom Brady era in 2001, and in order to be serious contenders, the Bills will have to beat the Patriots at least once this year.
The Panthers and Ravens will have an all-out war in Week 4 as former Carolina receiver Steve Smith faces his old team for the first time. This early season matchup could determine whether GM Dave Gettleman was correct to purge most of a 12-4 team last year. A loss to Smith would also create a media nightmare in Carolina.
Each game for the Bears against the Packers looms large. This rivalry is still among the fiercest in NFL history, and the Bears have revenge on their minds. Chicago lost to Green Bay last season in Week 17 on a fourth-and-10 play late in the game which cost Chicago a division title and a playoff appearance. Revenge is on Chicago's minds and facing former Bear Julius Peppers also adds some sizzle.
The Bengals bested Bill Belichick last year in Cincinnati, but very rarely does a Bill Belichick-coached team lose to the same team twice in a year. This time around, the Bengals travel to Foxboro on a Sunday Night primetime stage. A victory over the Patriots would turn heads while a loss would mean the same old Bengals who can't win the big game.
Former Cleveland Browns Trent Richardson and coach Rob Chudzinkski return to the city that cast them aside after very short tenures. Not only does this game have a hint of revenge, but the Browns' final four games are against three teams that made the postseason in 2013 and the hated rival Baltimore Ravens.
For the past three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have faced each of their division rivals in Week 17 to earn a playoff berth and the Cowboys lost all three. If history repeats itself, the Cowboys will travel to Washington to take on the potent Redskins with the possibility of the fourth straight win for a game that could decide the NFC East.
The Broncos have overhauled their roster with the intent of becoming more physical after getting dominated by the Seahawks in Super Bowl 48. The Broncos want to exact some revenge, but they will have to travel to Seattle in order to win their Super Bowl 48 rematch.
The Detroit Lions have not defeated the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field since 1991. In Week 17, with the very real possibility of a win and get-in scenario, the Lions would have to slay one of their long-time demons in order to ensure a playoff appearance in 2014.
The Packers face the unenviable task of playing the defending Super Bowl champions in the opening game of the season. The Packers also have a chance to redeem themselves at the site of the "Fail Mary" game in 2012.
The Houston Texans get their first AFC South opponent in Week 6 against the Indianapolis Colts at home. The worst part of last season was a second-half collapse to Indianapolis on Sunday Night Football that was the climax of a terrible season.
Last season, the Indianapolis Colts were at their absolute best when they defeated the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos. This time, the Colts travel to Denver and Peyton Manning will do absolutely anything in order to avoid losing to his former team twice.
Any game against the Philadelphia Eagles is tough, but in Week 1, the Jaguars will have to deal with an unpredictable Chip Kelly offense. A victory, however, could change things for Jacksonville as the Jaguars have seldom won big road games in previous years.
The Kansas City Chiefs lost their chance at an AFC West title with two of their five losses coming to the Super Bowl runner-up. The Broncos would be desperate for that game with a Super Bowl rematch the following week. A Kansas City win over Denver would give the Chiefs some momentum in trying to dethrone Denver.
The Dolphins were able to defeat the New England Patriots in Miami last year but still squandered their chance at a playoff appearance later in the season. With the Patriots coming to Miami in Week 1, Belichick and Brady will certainly be keyed in on this game. A Dolphins win could make people forget about what happened last season.
The Vikings open their NFC North schedule with a visit to Green Bay to take on the Packers in primetime. The Vikings were able to settle for a tie in Green Bay, but trying to defeat the Packers in primetime is a even larger task to try to accomplish.
In a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game and a matchup of the two best teams in the AFC, the New England Patriots will be looking to defeat Denver in New England for the fourth time in the past four seasons. This is also a matchup between the two best quarterbacks in the past 15 years in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Two of the top teams in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers, had a classic game last year with the Saints winning on a controversial call towards the end of the game. With both teams favored to be high seeds once again, the Saints will be looking to gain some much-needed playoff positioning and hold a crucial tiebreaker over an elite NFC team.
The New York Giants will be a completely different team than they were in 2013. The Giants seriously upgraded their secondary and their offensive line this offseason. What better test than the Detroit Lions in Week 1 with the best receiver in the game in Calvin Johnson and one of the best defensive line tandems in the game in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
The Jets and Patriots rivalry will add another epic chapter in Week 7 as former Jet defensive back Darrelle Revis faces his old team. Defeating the Patriots was hard enough with Belichick and Brady; now that Revis joins the fold, the task gets even tougher.
Should things turn ugly in Oakland, the Week 17 matchup in Denver could very well cost GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen their jobs. On the flip side, if the Raiders somehow are in contention in Week 17, they have not defeated the Broncos in Denver since 2011.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been used to revenge games in the past. Just like Donovan McNabb in 2010, the Eagles will face the Washington Redskins and another former Eagle in DeSean Jackson. This game will be filled with bad blood and plenty of emotions, but the matchups with Philadelphia and Washington have always been like that.
The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is one of the best in the NFL today and has some added incentives this year. In Week 2, Mike Tomlin returns to Baltimore after almost interfering with Jacoby Jones on one of the most controversial plays in recent years. Ravens fans will be revved up for this one as it is a Thursday Night game.
If the San Diego Chargers are to get back to the postseason this year, they will have to deal with a brutal December stretch starting on the road against the Ravens. After that game, the Chargers play four of the top teams in the NFL in Denver, New England, San Francisco and Kansas City. A win against Baltimore could give the Chargers some momentum or lead to a major freefall.
The San Francisco 49ers have had their demons when it comes to playing in Seattle. The 49ers have lost three consecutive games at CenturyLink Field, including last year's thrilling NFC Championship game. For the 49ers to take the next step, they will have to win at Seattle.
The Seahawks get a Super Bowl 48 rematch this year as they host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos early on in the season. The Broncos will be at their best in trying to get a measure of revenge after a humiliating loss.
After their bye week in Week 4, the St. Louis Rams travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles to begin a brutal stretch of football at the mid-season mark. Counting the Eagles game, the Rams face six playoff teams in eight weeks with two games against San Francisco and a matchup against the Cardinals, who went 10-6 last season. This stretch could boost the Rams into the playoffs or cost Jeff Fisher his job.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the teams that spent heavily in free agency, and what better team to test these new players against than the defending NFC South champion Carolina Panthers. With Carolina having some serious question marks this offseason, Week 1 would be a perfect opportunity for Tampa Bay to make some noise in one of the toughest divisions in football.
This Week 15 matchup against the New York Jets could very well be two potential Wild Card teams fighting for a playoff berth. Not only could the playoffs be on the line, but former Tennessee Titan star running back Chris Johnson will look for revenge after the Titans released him this offseason.
Also known as the Robert Griffin III game, the Redskins host St. Louis as both participants of the huge trade in 2012 face off for the first time. The Rams could have had their franchise quarterback of the future while the Redskins could have had the ancillary pieces that may have helped Washington down the road.
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