Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Schedule Previews: Part Three - NFL

This is the final part of my three-part column detailing the best games of the newly released schedules in the NHL, College Football, and now, the NFL. I hope you enjoyed the previews.

All this talk of a full fall sports slate is making me want to skip the rest of summer just so I can watch football all weekend, every weekend. But training camps open in a little over a week, so I guess I can wait until then to start getting excited (who am I kidding, I'm already stoked). Without waiting any longer, here are my picks for the five best games of the 2009-10 NFL schedule.

5. Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (September 10, 2009)

I'm giving this a spot on the list mostly because it is the Opening Kickoff game featuring the teams most AFC fans wanted to see meet in the playoffs last year: the best record in the AFC during the 2008 regular season (Titans) against the now-Super Bowl Champions (Steelers). Sure, this game has the potential to be great, as many do, but I don't think it really will be. Pittsburgh has won five straight season openers and is great at Heinz Field, cold weather or not. Hometown biases to the curb, the Steelers aren't about to start the season 0-1.

4. My sleepers have important stretches: Houston Texans (weeks 9 through 13), Kansas City Chiefs (weeks 13 through 17)

I've been quite vocal since the schedules were released that I thought two AFC teams were poised for breakout 2009 campaigns: the Texans and Chiefs. Taking a closer look at each teams' schedule, both teams have a five week stretch that will prove critical to their playoff hopes. From my point of view, if Houston can stay healthy and finish 4-2 in the AFC South they will have a great chance to play deep into January. The big stretch for the Texans is: week 9 - at Indy, week 10 - bye, week 11 - vs. Tennessee, week 12 - vs. Indy, week 13 - at Jacksonville.
For Kansas City, the schedule sets up less favorably, as the AFC West will play the AFC North and NFC East (they play all four NFCE teams in a row from weeks 3 through 6), but they can really capitalize on the second half schedule, where they could legitimately finish 6-2. They might even be able to run the table in the last five, when they host Denver, Buffalo, and Cleveland in weeks 13-15, and then travel to Cincinnati and Denver to finish the season.
Wow, that was quite the word count for two teams that have the potential to combine for 10 wins.

3. Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (November 1)

This match-up interests me mostly because of what these teams records could be entering November; Seattle could be 4-2, whereas the 'Boys could be 2-4 and Jerry Jones would be wanting to press his Dr. Evil fiery trap door button on Wade Phillips. A healthy Matt Hasselbeck and a new coaching staff will have the Seahawks back to NFC relevance in 2009 (mark it down, 11-12 wins). I think this could be the turning point in the season for both teams as you'll see a desperate Cowboys team trying to save its season and a calm Seattle squad coming into its own. That makes for great football, no doubt.

2. Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals (September 27)

I wavered between this and my #1 game because of the potential stratospheric amount of points that could be scored, but no matter, this will be a great early-season treat for football fans. Peyton Manning has been called "too old" recently, but, like LaDanian Tomlinson, he's a HOF'er, he'll be fine. Indy's schedule is so soft that, with the reemergence of a running game, they could finish 12-4. Arizona, like Indy, has no problem putting up points, and lacks somewhat on the defensive side of the ball, so contrasting styles be damned, this has "shootout" written all over it.

1. Carolina Panthers at New York Giants (December 27)

Continue to eat leftover Christmas ham and enjoy the best NFL game of the season from the (hopefully snowy) Meadowlands, where the epitome of great American football may, once again, decide the top seed in the NFC. Don't expect another 34-28 showdown, but both teams play fantastic defense and run the ball extremely well. The teams combined for seven touchdowns and over 400 yards rushing in one of the best games of 2008. Don't expect this one to be much different.

Buy another TV, get a cable splitter, and enjoy the best seasons in sports. Thanks for reading.

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