Week 1, Dallas Cowboys at NY Giants — It’s the opening game, so of course it makes this list. But also, you know, there’s that whole Super Bowl champions opening their title defense against their archnemeses thing too. And the Cowboys — the Tony Romo-shambling, Jason Garrett-led Cowboys — never cease to entertain.
Week 1, San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers — The class of the NFC meets early. Don’t be surprised if Aaron Rodgers vs. Patrick Willis happens again in December.
Week 2, Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers — SHAKE-GATE REDUX. Maybe this time, Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh will actually come to blows. Or Ndamukong Suh will just swallow Harbaugh whole.
Week 4, New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills — You just know that Chan Gailey’s taking Mario Williams aside before this game and saying, “Mario, this isn’t a bounty, but… just make Tom Brady frown, and I’ll buy you a banana split.”
Week 5, Denver Broncos at Patriots — Yeah, I know, Pats again, but it’s Manning vs. Brady AND the first Denver game that’s worth watching.
Week 6, Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets — By week 6, Andrew Luck should have begun to hit his stride, and hopefully the Jets will know what they’re doing with Tebow. (Sorry — he won’t be starting.) The Jets and Colts also have a surprisingly intense rivalry — remember that time Chad Pennington beat Indy 41-0 in the playoffs?
Week 6, 49ers at Giants — If you don’t think Jim Harbaugh’s going to be drooling with thoughts of revenge before this one, you’ve never seen Jim Harbaugh.
Week 7, Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans — These are the two teams who want to upset the power structure in the AFC. Of course, that means beating each other. This game also features two of the best running backs in the NFL right now, Arian Foster and Ray Rice.
Week 8, Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles — Matt Ryan and Mike Vick carry a huge amount of responsibility on their respective teams, and both are desperate to be mentioned in the same breath as Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, and Drew Brees.
Week 9, Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers — Why not, right? By this point, Jamaal Charles should be competing for the rushing title if he stays healthy, and we’ll have a better idea whether Philip Rivers’ bust of a season last year was an aberration or the beginning of a downfall. And if the Chargers haven’t decided on a target to replace Vincent Jackson by week 9, Norv Turner could be very firmly established on the hot seat.
Week 9, Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins — It’s the clash of the young quarterbacks: Cam Newton vs. Robert Griffin III. If RGIII isn’t starting by week 9, I’ll eat a building.
Week 11, Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers — Few teams try to kill each other as hard as the Ravens and the Steelers do. And there should be serious playoff implications by this point.
Week 12, Patriots at Jets — Patriots at Jets on Thanksgiving Day. America.
Week 12, 49ers at Saints — It’s a rematch of one of the best playoff games of all time, last year’s 49ers 36 - Saints 32 barnburner.
Week 12, Packers at Giants — And ANOTHER week 12 game, a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional playoff upset. Don’t make plans this weekend.
Week 14, Broncos at Oakland Raiders — It’s anyone’s guess who’ll be playing quarterback for Oakland in week 14 — can Carson Palmer last that long? — and they could have any record at this point. Meanwhile, presumptively, the Manning-led Broncos will be on top of the AFC West, but that’s the weirdest division in football; last year, three teams went 8-8, and one went 7-9.
Week 15, Packers at Chicago Bears — Da Bears were looking formidable last year before Jay Cutler went down, and how gross they were after his injury shows how underrated Cutler is. Now that he’s been reunited with his favorite target from Denver, Brandon Marshall, Cutler has a #1 target for the first time since he came to Chicago. If those two and Matt Forte are buzzing, they’ll be doing their damndest to keep up with the Green Bay juggernaut, and they might even succeed.
Week 16 + 17 — everything. The games to watch in the last two weeks will depend entirely on playoff implications, so picking them right now is like trying to figure out what your kids will look like before you’ve met their mother/father. JUST WATCH THEM ALL.