Summer—the great conundrum of the calendar year. On one hand, kids are free of school, families take vacations and the world revolves around the fun-in-the-sun attitude. On the other hand, we find ourselves stuck in the doldrums of sports. Now granted, we still have the pleasure of watching the Stanley Cup Finals, and what should be an epic NBA Finals. But after that, we’ll have our hands in our pockets, casually kicking rocks until fall rolls around. This is the one summer that doesn’t feature a World Cup or Olympics, leaving us with the monthly golf tournaments and the early happenings of baseball season.
So how do we bridge the gap? We analyze the future, utilize our creativity and, for the die-hard NFL fans, we stare at the countdown clock until it hits September 7 (or if you happen to be one of those people that values the preseason, August 3) . Luckily, there is plenty to look forward to on the schedule—here are the top 15 must-see games of the 2017 NFL season.
- Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots
Week 7: Sunday, October 22, 8:30 p.m. ET
We just witnessed the most exciting Super Bowl of all time, and now we get a rematch the next season? There’s no question this is the most anticipated game of the 2017 season. The Patriots will be favored, and rightfully so—the addition of Brandin Cooks and home-field advantage play directly into Belicheck’s hand, but with the devastating loss fresh on their minds, the Falcons have had this game circled on their calendars since the schedule came out. Unfinished business.
- Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Week 5: Sunday, October 8, 4:25 p.m. ET
The two premiere contests of the 2016 playoffs were not just great games—they cemented their status as all-time classics. The Packers have outed the Cowboys two of the past three playoffs, and Cowboy fans have had just about enough. It will be hard to top the last meeting, but it seems as though something controversial/unbelievable/miraculous happens each time these two square off. AT&T Stadium will be sold out and both teams will be ready to rock.
- Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Week 14: Sunday, December 10, 1 p.m. ET
The two best teams in the best division in football squaring off late in the season? You had better believe this game is near the top of the list. The Raiders have the edge on offense, adding Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch to the list of weapons around Derek Carr, but the Chiefs have the edge on defense, and the homefield advantage—Arrowhead holds the record for loudest decibel recording, and it’s not a long shot to think that they can top their own record in this matchup.
- Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders
Week 15: Sunday, December 17, 8:30 p.m. ET
The last time these two teams faced off was in 2013—the Raiders were in the basement of the league along with the Browns, and the Cowboys were stuck in the 8-8 rut. Those are the days of old—these are now two of the NFL’s elite, and boast two of the best young quarterbacks in the game. This will be the last time the Raiders play the Cowboys in Oakland, so look for a packed Coliseum.
- Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants
Week 7: Sunday, October 22, 4:25 p.m. ET
The NFL has changed—whether or not it’s for the better depends on individual preference. High-octane offenses now rule the league, thus enhancing the value of an elite defense—the Giants and Seahawks finished second and third in points allowed per game, respectively. I prefer the well-played game with more scoring, but do enjoy, every now and then, the gritty defensive battle. Both offenses have the potential for big plays, but look for this bout to finish in the teens.
- Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
Week 10: Sunday, November 12, 4:25 p.m. ET
Outside of Green Bay, this is probably the matchup most people wanted to see in last year’s NFC Championship—the NFC’s two best offenses going head to head for a shot at the Patriots. It’s unlikely that either defense will stop the opposing offense in this week 10 matchup, but the Cowboys can slow the game down enough on the ground to keep up with the Dirty Birds.
- New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders (Mexico City)
Week 11: Sunday, November 19, 4:25 p.m. ET
It was the AFC Championship game we deserved, but just wasn’t meant to be—after Derek Carr suffered a broken fibula against the Colts in Week 16, the Raiders had no chance at reaching Foxborough in the playoffs. Now, fully healthy, on a neutral site, no excuses, the nation gets to see who the best team in the AFC will be in 2017.
- Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Week 2: Sunday, September 17, 8:30 p.m. ET
If the Green Bay defense decides to lollygag into Atlanta’s opening of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week two, the Packers will get blown out of the water—the energy will be electric, and the fans will be hungry after coming up painfully short in the Super Bowl. The Packers emphasized defense in this year’s draft, but in an environment like this, Rodgers will have to play better than ever to grab the win.
- Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 14: Sunday, December 10, 8:30 p.m. ET
It’s one of those rivalries that people can’t help but tune in to—the hate between these two teams runs deep, from Ray Lewis to Troy Polamalu to Mike Tomlin attempting to trip Jacoby Jones on the sideline. The Steelers had the last laugh last season, with Antonio Brown scoring with nine seconds left to win the AFC North—look for this week 14 matchup to decide the division once again.
- New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 4: Sunday, October 1, 4:05 p.m. ET
Maybe a matchup that doesn’t necessarily pop out on the schedule, this will be one of the best games of the season. Arguably the two best receiving corps in the league, I picked both of these teams to win their respective divisions—ambitious? Undoubtedly. But I like what both teams did this offseason, and this game will decide who’s ready to contend in the NFC.
- Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
Week 1: Sunday, September 10, 4:25 p.m. ET
Ah, the Eddie Lacy return game. Whether Lacy is booed or cheered or laughed at in his Lambeau return, one thing is certain—the Packers-Seahawks rivalry has become one of the best out-of-division rivalries in the NFL, and should provide another exciting clash of NFC titans. And for entertainment’s sake, Earl Thomas had better stay healthy in the preseason….
- New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Week 10: Sunday, November 12, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry is no more, but the intrigue of the Patriots-Broncos always seems to draw viewers. The Patriots had their way with the Broncos last season, coming into Mile High and holding Denver to a whopping three points. But with Kubiak out and Vance Joseph and Jamaal Charles in, the Broncos have a chance at redemption in week 10.
- New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Week 1: Monday, September 11, 7:10 p.m. ET
I can’t wait to see how Adrian Peterson runs against his former team—according to CBS Minnesota, Peterson said earlier this month that “It’s going to be fun to go against those guys. I can let them know when I was doing that talking, telling them ‘Hey, I’ll hit you guys for 150 or 200-yards’ that I wasn’t just talking. They’ll see.” When Adrian Peterson says “They’ll see”, you had better pay attention. This also poses as an early test for the Vikings’ defense—can they stand up to the high-powered Saints’ offense?
- Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers
Week 6: Thursday, October 12, 8:25 p.m. ET
Seeing as both teams severely underachieved in 2016, this is the official redemption game of the 2017 NFL season. The Panthers followed up their Super Bowl appearance with a 6-10 record and a last place finish in the NFC South. After starting 3-0 and hearing rumors that Carson Wentz would never lose a game, the Eagles finished the season 4-9 and found themselves in the division cellar as well. But this is a new year—the Eagles have improved their front seven and added Alshon Jeffery, and the Panthers have a healthy Luke Kuechly and have given Cam Newton weapons in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel.
- Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Week 13: Sunday, December 3, 1 p.m. ET
The AFC South is one of the worst divisions in the NFL—but it is a division that could be on the rise. The Texans believe they have their franchise QB in Deshaun Watson, the Colts are improving on defense, the Jaguars are a good quarterback away from contending, and the Titans will shock the league and win the division this year. Why watch this matchup? Cortland Finnegan and Andre Johnson aren’t walking through the tunnel, but this week 13 matchup will decide the division.