The 2015 NFL Regular Season schedule was released on Tuesday night, and for some reason it was treated by ESPN and NFL Network as a capital-E Event worthy of wall-to-wall coverage. That’s way too much enthusiasm for what amounts to a jumbo-sized press release. Picking the ten matchups to look forward to now that the schedule’s out? Now that’s the appropriate level of enthusiasm.
So, using what we know now of all 32 teams, these are the games NFL fans should be circling on their calendar, in chronological order.
Week 1: Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons
Whatever you think of his moves, or whether he knows what he’s doing, Chip Kelly has owned this offseason. We have no idea what the Eagles will look like next season, which is amazing for casual fans. This will be our first real chance to see if Chip is crazy like a fox, or just crazy.
The Atlanta Falcons will host the Eagles in the first of the two Monday Night games Week 1, and they fell of a cliff last year. Can they bounce back?
Week 2: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
Last year’s NFC Championship Game has faded in the public consciousness because of the classic Super Bowl that followed it, but remember how crazy this game was? Let this win probability chart courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference remind you:
I don’t know what the threshold is for calling something an all-time great comeback, but I’m fairly sure coming back from a 0.1 percent chance of winning with four minutes left in the game qualifies. Seattle has won the last three of these matchups (all at home), including a blowout win in the first game of last year’s season. This time, the game will be in Lambeau Field in the Sunday Night game, in what should be the first truly marquee game of the season.
Week 4: Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
Each of these teams will be missing their signature offensive skill player from last season. The Saints dealt Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for center Max Unger and the 31st pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, and the Cowboys saw Chip Kelly dump a whole big pile o’ money on DeMarco Murray. Both of these teams will still be expected to produce above-average offense, and in the Superdome on a Sunday night, this could be a hell of a shootout.
Week 5: Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Until JJ Watt plays a few more seasons, Andre Johnson is the greatest Houston Texan of all time, having starred for them every season of their existence but one. No Texans fan with any sense begrudges Johnson wanting a change of scenery and a change of quarterback. All that goodwill won’t make it much easier when Johnson comes to town for the first time in another uniform — and for the division-rival Colts, no less.
A possibly rejuvenated Andre Johnson playing for a title contender is one of the better subplots of this season, and his return to Houston will be an emotional peak — and a damn good reason to watch one of those Thursday night travesties. Also, Andrew Luck is going to have to deal with JJ Watt (and Jadeveon Clowney, if he starts producing).
Week 7: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
The Minnesota Vikings still need to decide what they’re doing with Adrian Peterson, but this matchup isn’t about that. Teddy Bridgewater was quietly impressive in his rookie year with limited responsibility, and could be in line for a breakout season. Regardless of how the Peterson situation plays out (and there certainly aren’t any easy answers there), the Vikings will be an interesting team, as will their opponents.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gone, replaced by Haloti Ngata. It’s a downgrade, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been. The Detroit Lions have been loaded with top-flite talent for a couple of years now, and seemingly never matched their promise. Now that perhaps their best player is gone, one wonders if their window is shut. Then again, they still have Calvin Johnson, who’s healthy (for now).