This past off-season, filled with talk about concussions and bounties and scandal, seemed to drag on forever. (Didn’t we JUST go through the lockout?) And yet now… finally, preseason is here, which means regular season is just around the corner. Sure, the same issues still plague the league. Despite all that, my own anticipation is building to a deafening crescendo. Suffice to say, I’ve missed football quite a bit. Haven’t well all?
I was initially a little hesitant about picking the five games I’m most excited about. How could I possibly choose just five of my 272 kids? How could I deal with their sad eyes as I told them they weren’t good enough to make the list? In the end though, the sports fan in me persevered. Here are the five games that will have the biggest impact on the NFL this season (in no particular order.)
Demaryius Thomas (Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (Sunday, September 9th)
This is a no-brainer, simply for the storylines alone. The Broncos and Steelers are meeting again for the first time since the playoffs. Peyton Manning is playing in his first game in a season. It’s his first home game and the Broncos’ first game without Tim Tebow. The list goes on and on. Suffice it to say, every sportswriter in America (and every non-team-affiliated football fan) will be tuned in to see what happens. Cue up the hyperbole machine!
Both games between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys (September 5 and October 28)
Victor Cruz (Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)
Picking these two games was also a no-brainer, particularly after Jerry Jones so adamantly implored Cowboys fans to “come to that (Cowboys) stadium and watch us beat the Giants’ ass.” The argument can be (and has been) made that this was just bravado to hype up the fans. But the history between the two teams, as well as the strength of the division (the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants are all expected to compete for playoff spots this season) make it impossible to ignore the importance of these two games. And speaking of the Eagles…
LeSean McCoy (Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (Sunday, December 30th)
This match-up (in week 17) will likely take place with a playoff berth on the line. Given the high expectations surrounding these two teams (a “dynasty” and last year’s Super Bowl champs), there might be even more at stake. Over the past five seasons, just about every game between these two teams has gone down to the wire (the most famous being the “miracle at the Meadowlands” in which DeSean Jackson returned a punt 75 yards for the winning TD with only a few seconds left on the clock). Thankfully, I don’t have to predict the winner of this one just yet.
Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins (Saturday, August 25th)
Roy Helu (Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Yes, I know this is a preseason game. But in my own defense, it’s the third preseason game (or what’s commonly seen as the “dry run” for starters). And, more importantly, it’s the first (and only) match-up this season between the top two picks in the 2012 draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Both of these quarterbacks have the fates of their respective teams riding on their shoulders. And while the preseason isn’t really a true predictor of success, this game will kick off the season-long comparisons between them. All the hype surrounding these two already megastars makes any head-to-head match-up a must-watch.
Rob Gronkowski (Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
New York Jets at New England Patriots (Sunday, October 21)
This game made the list for two reasons. First, the Jets and Patriots have a bitter rivalry, dating back to 2007 when Eric Mangini (then as coach of the Jets) exposed his former mentor and boss Bill Belichick for his involvement in the infamous “Spygate” scandal. The mutual dislike deepened in 2009, when Rex Ryan was hired as the coach of the team and promptly declared that he would not “kiss Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl rings.” Really though, past feuds aside, this game is important because Week 7 is when Mark Sanchez will be benched in favor of Tim Tebow. And his first start with his new team will absolutely be required viewing, regardless of the opponent.