Through the course of an NFL off-season, football fans across the globe patiently
twiddle their thumbs as they await for their beloved teams to hit the gridiron once again. A slow time in the NFL calendar year, the release of the schedule for the upcoming season is one of the most anticipated events we look forward to, and surely helps getting the hype train going for the NFL Draft that takes place in under two weeks.
Following a dramatic 2015 campaign, the release of this year's schedule looks to provide another thrilling chapter of NFL football. Although we are seemingly light-years away from kickoff, it's never too early to start circling match-ups on our schedules, and thus this list was provided for your viewing, and debating, pleasure.
Here are the top ten most anticipated games of the 2016 NFL season:
10. New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
Week 15, 4:25 ET
Our list kicks off with a rematch of the AFC Championship game in 2015. Bill Belichick and company look to avenge their earlier-then-wanted exit as they again travel to the mile high city to take on a Broncos team that is still searching for a legitimate answer at quarterback. Even with some missing pieces on defense, can Denver replicate their destruction of Tom Brady? Or will Brady's Bunch gain the revenge they're seeking? The Brady/Manning days are gone, yet a week 15 match-up should provide heavy playoff implications.
9. Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Rams
Week 2, 4:05 ET
After a surprising series sweep by the Rams in 2015, the Seahawks get their first chance to exercise their demons after being heavily favored to do the exact opposite of what happened (they are who we thought they were!) and a week two play-date with the Rams is exactly what the doctor ordered. Although there are some story-lines on the field, this game checks in at #9 on our list for another reason: The NFL returns to Los Angeles. The 21 year hiatus is over, and the league is eager to again showcase their brand in one of America's biggest markets. After acquiring the number one overall pick in this year's draft, the excitement surrounding the city looks to help bring the NFL back to its glory days.
8. Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 13, 8:30 ET
Our #8 most anticipated game of 2016 features a rematch of the 31-24 Carolina victory in last year's NFC divisional round playoff game. Both Carolina and Seattle play a tough, physical brand of football on defense and feature exciting mobile quarterbacks on offense. A playoff loss is bad enough, but a 31-0 deficit at halftime will just add fuel to Seattle's fire (Carolina let off the gas pedal, don't kid yourself). Another big game later in the schedule, both teams look again to be playoff ready by seasons end, dubbing this match-up as important as any other in 2016. Any time two hard-nosed defenses come to play, we're in for a treat, and we're hoping a Panthers/Seahawks game becomes more regular.
7. New England Patriots @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 1, 8:30 ET
Although only pulling #7 on this list, the week one Patriots/Cardinals game would take the cake for "Most underrated game". Although there are many great games to look forward to, for whatever reason, this match-up gets overlooked. This was a potential Super Bowl game in 2015, as both clubs were just 60 minutes away from reaching the big game. Two of the greatest football minds will collide in the desert as both Bruce Arians and Bill Belichick look to start their 2016 campaigns on the right note, and could play part one of a two game series, the last one being on the first Sunday of February.
6. Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
Week 8, 4:25 ET
Going into the NFC Championship game, the Cardinals played the role of underdog. After all season, fighting through adversity and injuries, gathering little to no respect from east coast media members, Arizona walked into Charlotte and was flat out embarrassed by Cam Newton and the dabbing Panthers. Lucky for Arizona, the Cardinals get a chance of redemption in week eight, as they go for round two in Charlotte against the defending NFC champs. By this point in time, we should have a established idea of how these teams are in 2016, and should the hype live up for both teams, it should be nothing like the 49-15 blowout last January.
5. Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 16, 4:30 ET
We have to hand it to whomever creates the NFL schedule. Putting the league's best, most physical and hatred fueled rivalry for the past decade and stamping it on Christmas is definitely A+ scheduling. While we are trading gifts and holiday cheer, Baltimore/Pittsburgh will be trading blows on the field. Should the Steelers and Ravens remain somewhat healthy, both are again expected to be contenders for the AFC North crown. Any game pitting these two division rivals is must watch television, but when being featured as a nationally televised game on a holiday, that is more than enough to peg this as a game everybody should circle on their calendar.
4. Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers
Week 6, 4:25 ET
To old-timers, nothing is more refreshing than a good old Cowboys/Packers date at Lambeau Field. All we're missing is a 4th and goal scenario with Bart Starr under center, right? Two years ago, what is likely known as the most controversial "non-catch" in NFL post-season history, immediately spurred a distaste between Green Bay and Dallas, as if there weren't one already. Last year, when the Cowboys traveled to Green Bay, the injury bug took it's toll on America's team all throughout the roster. This time around, wishful thinking would provide a healthy squad for both teams. Anytime two historical powerhouses such as the Cowboys and Packers meet, it's a great watch. Yet with a dash of revenge on the minds of everybody in Jerry's world, this would be the true revenge game for Dez Bryant and company.
3. Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos
Week 7, 8:30 ET
The Denver Broncos' off-season hasn't gone exactly to script. The defending Super Bowl champs were banking on Brock Osweiler to take over the throne as quarterback after Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset. In free agency, Brock ditched Denver in favor of Houston, and the Broncos were left scratching their heads. On Monday, October 24th, Osweiler returns to the Mile High City to a Denver defense that have been licking their chops ever since Brock departed. Houston has other ideas, as the Texans finally have an answer at the quarterback position. JJ Watt will again look to anchor Houston's defense with another phenomenal year, as coach Bill O'Brien continues to make strides. The intensity will be higher than ever on Monday Night Football, as both Osweiler and Denver will try to prove, "I'm better off without you."
2. Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Week 15, 8:30 ET
Pittsburgh returns to Cincinnati after one of the most dramatic playoff games in recent memory. To say the blood is bad between Pittsburgh/Cincinnati would be an insult to what happened. Although this rivalry has a few more games like the end of last season's to catch up with PIT/BAL, it's certainly turning into a animosity fueled, 60 minute game of explicit words we can't publish. Hate is often deemed a strong word, but if any two teams hate each other, these would be the two. This game surpasses their week 2 match-up not only due to Pittsburgh returning to Cincinnati after the Bengals playoff debacle, but also because Vontaze Burfict will have been long returned from his four game suspension, which includes a game at Pittsburgh. Dating back to Carson Palmer's season ending injury in the wildcard round of the 2005 playoffs, to the stomping of the terrible towel by TJ Houshmandzadeh, both of Le'Veon Bell's season injuries in back to back years, to the helmet-to-helmet hit on the head of Antonio Brown, and every dirty play, trash talk and ill-intention in-between, this game will have every ounce of that history and more.
1. Carolina Panthers @ Denver Broncos
Week 1, 8:30 ET
The 2016 NFL season kicks off with a rematch of last year's Super Bowl contest between the Panthers and Broncos. Denver will be more than welcoming to let Carolina into their home, and put a championship banner high in the sky, right in front of the team they stole it from. A championship rematch should be enough to land this game onto our list, yet this game earned our number one ranking for much more. Although it's the very first game of the season, we'll get a good glimpse as to see where both teams are mentally. Can Cam Newton and the Panthers offense rebound off a disappointing end to last year? Will Denver's defense be able to replicate their success from 2015? What will the quarterback situation look like for Denver? The Broncos are looking to keep momentum going in their title defense, as the Panthers would benefit greatly by defeating Denver and getting over the Super Bowl blues. However it should pan out, football will be back, and a more perfect game couldn't have been picked to start out 2016.