Although the final seconds ticked off the clock of Super Bowl XLIV over two months ago, there has hardly been a moment to rest and take a breather from news in the National Football League. The Saints’ triumphant victory was a feel-good story that had all of Louisiana in jubilation, and the offseason moves all over the league have kept football on the minds of sports fans everywhere.
After a number of delays—presumably to tweak the schedule match-ups with all of the offseason moves being made this NFL offseason—the 2010 regular season schedule has finally been released to eager fans. Finally, those die-hard fans can begin circling specific dates on the calendar to make their plans for game-viewing beginning in September.
Here at The Sports Geeks, we understand that not everyone can sift through the 256 regular season games to find the biggest stories of the upcoming season. To help out the casual NFL fan, I dived into the entire schedule to pick out some of the juicier storylines—along with the dates those games will be played—to provide a one-stop guide to the regular season’s most dramatic games. As with so many things, however, the NFL is subject to change; some games highlighted on this list may end up being snoozers if players are injured or teams are underperforming compared to the expectations currently held of them.
Obviously, divisional games are always big draws; playing six games a year against rival teams creates dramatic storylines, and the interactions between both players and fans makes for must-see games. However, for the sake of this list, those divisional match-ups have been avoided as much as possible to focus in on the other storylines present behind the games on the docket.
A New Season Begins… with a Playoff Rematch
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
Week 1 — Thursday, September 9th, 2010 @ 8:35PM EST on NBC
After waiting through the free agency period, the 2010 NFL Draft, and four weeks of meaningless preseason games, the 2010 NFL regular season will begin in the home of the team that celebrated victory in 2009’s final game: the Louisiana Superdome. The defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints begin with a match-up against the Minnesota Vikings, who they beat in the NFC Championship game to earn the right to play in Super Bowl XLIV last season. With the back-and-forth nature of that 2009 NFC Championship game—a true candidate for the game of the year last season, at least in terms of entertainment value—fans of both the Vikings and the Saints have been waiting for the opportunity to see the teams take the field against each other once again. Thankfully, the schedule-makers have seen fit to stage a rematch sooner rather than later. The game might not have the same emotional impact if Favre doesn’t return to stand opposite Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees, but the offensive prowess of each squad should ensure an exciting show. Expect Favre’s legacy to take a significant hit if the Vikings play without him in 2010 and come away with a victory in this huge rematch; chances are that such an early opportunity for revenge might play a role in convincing Favre to return for another season.
2nd-Class Residents No Longer(?)
Carolina Panthers @ New York Giants
Week 1 — Sunday, September 12th, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on FOX
Baltimore Ravens@ New York Jets
Week 1 — Monday, September 13th, 2010 @ 7:00PM EST on ESPN
For fans of the New York Jets, the move from Giants Stadium to the new Meadowlands Stadium was meant to symbolize an end to an era of feeling like “second class citizens” in a stadium named for another team. However, the decision-making process used to award the first regular season game in the new stadium to the Giants—an unobserved coin flip at the commissioner’s office—sounded too much like business as usual for Jets owner Woody Johnson, who publicly flew off the handle at NFL brass over the matter. While the teams will face off head-to-head in prime time in the first week of the preseason for the first football played in the new stadium, the Giants open the regular season against the Panthers in a Sunday game while the Jets host their 2009 fellow AFC Wild Card team Ravens in the first Monday Night Football game of the season. If the Jets can continue on with their success from 2009 and meet the expectations of their fans, it might not be too long before the Giants start feeling like the unloved franchise in East Rutherford.
2009 AFC Wild Card
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Week 6 — Sunday, October 17th, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on CBS
The Ravens were able to visit Gillette Stadium twice last season; during the regular season, they went back to Baltimore unhappy—victims of what they saw as poor officiating in a closely-contested loss—but Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, and the rest of the team had the last laugh with a blowout victory over the Patriots in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. This year, the new rivalry gets another shot, once again in Foxborough, Massachusetts. New Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin will have a prime opportunity to show the Patriots what they missed out on in the offseason, as New England was an early suitor for the former Cardinals WR.
2009 AFC Wild Card
Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets
Week 12 — Thursday, November 25th, 2010 @ 8:30PM EST on NFL Network
The last two games that the Bengals played in 2009 were both against the Jets; a Week 17 shutout loss at Giants Stadium and an opening round playoff embarrassment in front of the home crowd at Paul Brown Stadium. After a phoned-in performance allowed the Jets to make the playoffs and then ironically oust them, Cincinnati will look to put forth a strong effort at the new Meadowlands Stadium. Carson Palmer and company will need to put in a much better performance to leave with a Thanksgiving “W”.
2009 NFC Wild Card
Philadelphia Eagles & Dallas Cowboys
Week 14: Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys — Sunday, December 12th, 2010 @ 8:20PM EST on NBC
Week 17: Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 @ 1:00PM EST on FOX
The Cowboys and Eagles are divisional rivals from the NFC East, but they—like the Bengals and Jets—ended the 2009 season with a Week 17 match-up and a Wild Card round game; both games handily won by the Cowboys. The Cowboys actually won all three match-ups between the two teams in 2009, including a 20-16 loss in Philadelphia. Now the Eagles will have to face the Cowboys behind the leadership of Kevin Kolb instead of former franchise QB Donovan McNabb. Time will tell if the outcomes are any different; jaded Eagles fans will probably herald even one Kolb victory over Dallas in 2010 as a sign of improvement.
2009 NFC Divisional Round
New Orleans Saints @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 5 — Sunday, October 10th, 2010 @ 4:05PM EST on FOX
In the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs, the Saints played rude hosts to the Cardinals and beat up on Kurt Warner in what would be the last game of the storied quarterback’s NFL career. The 2010 season sees the Cardinals getting a chance to take some revenge on their home field at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Matt Leinart will get a quick opportunity to show whether or not he can step up to fill the shoes of his predecessor, while the Saints will look to show that their pass rush can handle young players just as well as aging quarterbacks.
2009 NFC Divisional Round
Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings
Week 6 — Sunday, October 17th, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on FOX
Tensions ran high at the end of the 2009 NFC Divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and the Vikings, with Cowboys defenders criticizing Brett Favre’s late-game touchdown toss in the rout. While nothing is certain about Favre’s plans for the season, if he does return there will be significant motivation for Dallas as they return to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Each team won their respective division in 2009, and both are expected to contend for playoff positions again, making this a game to see.
Super Bowl Champion Showdown
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New Orleans Saints
Week 8 — Sunday, October 31st, 2010 @ 8:30PM EST on NBC
The last two Super Bowl Champions of the NFL–the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII and the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV–will face off at the Louisiana Superdome in a clash between the league’s best from the past two seasons. Interestingly enough, neither team made the playoffs during the year that the opponent won the Super Bowl. The Steelers have been in a downward trend while the Saints have been riding a high ever since their first football championship. There will certainly be a battle for bragging rights in this bayou matchup. Depending on how long the league decides to suspend Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, he may still be unavailable for this game.
So They Meet Again…
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
Week 11 — Sunday, November 21st, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on CBS
Despite the intricacies of the NFL’s scheduling format, the Colts and Patriots seem to consistently meet each other in the regular season, despite being in different divisions. In 2010, for the first time since November of 2006, the game will be held outdoors at Gillette Stadium instead of inside Lucas Oil Stadium. New England nearly took last year’s game, which featured the infamous “Fourth-and-2” call by coach Bill Belichick, before Peyton Manning led the Colts to a last-second victory. Manning and Tom Brady are arguably the top two quarterbacks in the league right now; few would expect anything but another classic clash of future Hall of Famers.
Stay Classy, L.T.
New England Patriots & New York Jets
Week 2: New England Patriots @ New York Jets — Sunday, September 19th, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on CBS
Week 13: New York Jets @ New England Patriots — Monday, December 6th, 2010 @ 8:30PM EST on ESPN
As a member of the San Diego Chargers, LaDainian Tomlinson had choice words for the classiness of the New England Patriots organization after the Patriots won a divisional round playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium in January of 2007 and mocked linebacker Shawne Merriman’s “sack dance” once the game was over. Tomlinson’s decision not to shake hands with Patriots players and post-game press conference rant have become YouTube hits in the years since the game. With his trade to the Jets, the “new” L.T. will now be facing the Pats twice a year; something he’s already said he’s quite happy about. His first shot will come quite early in the season with a Week 2 match-up at new Meadowlands Stadium.
Delhomme and the New Guy
Carolina Panthers @ Cleveland Browns
Week 12 — Sunday, November 28th, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on FOX
To say that Jake Delhomme had an off year in 2009 would be a vast understatement; he set a new career-high in interceptions thrown and posted the lowest completion percentage of his career. After Delhomme was benched before the end of the season, the Panthers felt comfortable enough with new quarterback Matt Moore to move on from the player who led them to Super Bowl XXXVIII. With Delhomme’s new, if potentially tenuous, job as starting QB for the Cleveland Browns—and a Week 12 game hosting the Panthers—fans will be able to see whether Carolina was right to part ways with their former franchise leader.
Sibling Rivalry Renewed
New York Giants @ Indianapolis Colts
Week 2 — Sunday, September 19th, 2010 @ 8:20PM EST on NBC
For all of the discussion had about how Peyton Manning was going against his father Archie’s old franchise, the New Orleans Saints, in Super Bowl XLIV, Week 2 of the 2010 NFL season will bring us a showdown between Peyton and little brother Eli. Though Eli has been in the league since 2004, he has only faced Peyton once in an NFL regular season game; Peyton won that match-up 26-21 in the 2006 season in a game at Giants Stadium. The second game of this sibling rivalry will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Brett and His Ex’s
Green Bay Packers & Minnesota Vikings
Week 7: Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers — Sunday, October 24th, 2010 @ 8:20PM EST on NBC
Week 11: Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings — Sunday, November 21st, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on FOX
Minnesota Vikings @ New York Jets
Week 5 — Monday, October 11th, 2010 @ 8:30PM EST on ESPN
Should Brett Favre decide to return to the NFL for another season, he will have two more games against the team he spent the majority of his career with through divisional match-ups with the Green Bay Packers in Weeks 7 and 11. However, the 2010 regular season will also give him his first chance to play in front of the New York Jets fans who welcomed him back from “retirement” for the 2008 season. Given how quickly he departed from The Big Apple—and the fact that Favre’s late-season decline is cited as a major factor in the Jets inability to make the playoffs in 2008—it doesn’t project to be any warmer a reception than he’s received at Lambeau Field in Wisconsin.
A Different Shade of Green
New York Jets & Miami Dolphins
Week 3: New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins — Sunday, September 26th, 2010 @ 8:20PM EST on NBC
Week 14: Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets — Sunday, December 12th, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on CBS
Just hours before the release of the NFL’s 2010 regular season schedule, the New York Jets have been linked to another major offseason move: this time, acquiring linebacker Jason Taylor from the Miami Dolphins, their AFC East divisional rival. The signing of Taylor makes last year’s #1 overall defense even stronger in theory, and also removes an opponent that the new Jets offense would have faced on the Dolphins defensive side of the ball at least twice in the season. After playing in Miami for over 10 NFL seasons, it will be interesting to see how his former fans react when Taylor lines up in a new shade of green for the upcoming year.
Donovan’s New Motivation
Philadelphia Eagles & Washington Redskins
Week 4: Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday, October 3rd, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on FOX
Week 10: Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins — Monday, November 15th, 2010 @ 8:30PM EST on ESPN
After a fairly successful career in Philadelphia—leading the Eagles to multiple NFC Championship games as well as Super Bowl XXXIX—the team decided to send former franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to divisional rival Washington in favor of beginning the Kevin Kolb era as soon as possible. While fans of each team will tout the move as a positive, the regular season match-ups between these NFC East opponents will be the ultimate measure of success. The Redskins put up a 0-for-6 record in the division in 2009; McNabb will certainly have extra motivation to take two of those six games in the upcoming campaign.
Sgt. Pepper’s Soldier Field Band
Chicago Bears @ Carolina Panthers
Week 5 — Sunday, October 10th, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on FOX
One of the first major moves of the offseason this year was the acquisition of defensive tackle Julius Peppers by the Chicago Bears after the Carolina Panthers showed little interest in retaining the disgruntled player. Both the Bears and Panthers finished out of the playoffs and 3rd place in their respective divisions, so the move can’t exactly be touted as a “greener pasture” for Peppers. While the result of this Week 5 game will end up “validating” either the Bears’ decision to sign him or the Panthers’ decision to let him go, both teams will have much work to do in order to be playoff-ready in 2010.
New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 15 — Sunday, December 19th, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on CBS
Although Super Bowl XLIII MVP and former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes will have to sit out the first four weeks of the season due to substance abuse violations, the NFL scheduling team saw fit to make sure that the match-up between Holmes’ old team and his new Jets team would come in Week 15 so that he’ll actually have a chance to put up numbers against the black-and-gold. While Commissioner Goodell has yet to specifiy the upcoming suspension for Ben Roethlisberger, it’s fair to assume that he’ll be able to take on his former receiving target, given the late-season game.
Another Upset Brewing?
Oakland Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 11 — Sunday, November 21st, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on CBS
In the midst of a three-game losing streak in the 2009 season, the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans thought that their Week 13 match-up hosting the then 3-8 Oakland Raiders would be an easy win to get back in the right direction. Instead, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski led the Raiders to an inconceivable 27-24 victory with a touchdown pass with nine seconds left in the game. While Gradkowski may still have to fight for the starting job in 2010, the Raiders will get another opportunity to upset Pittsburgh on the road; the Steelers, meanwhile, will look to avenge one of the more embarrassing recent losses in franchise history.
AFC Conference Clash
San Diego Chargers @ Indianapolis Colts
Week 12 — Sunday, November 28th, 2010 @ 8:20PM EST on NBC
In 2009, the Indianapolis Colts posted the best record in the league, followed by the Saints and San Diego Chargers tied for 2nd. While the Colts and Chargers did not face each other, the 2010 schedule sees these AFC powerhouse teams on a collision course for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. San Diego will have a tough task on hand to defeat a Colts team disappointed by Super Bowl XLIV failure; if not for a late comeback in the AFC Divisional Round by the Jets, the Chargers might have found themselves in the AFC Championship game. Philip Rivers and company might not have a Super Bowl trip on the line when they visit Indianapolis, but the game could have significant playoff implications anyway.
Houston Texans @ New York Jets
Week 11 — Sunday, November 21st, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on CBS
In Week 1 of the 2009 season, the media darling Houston Texans got blown out by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets at Reliant Stadium. While the Texans went on to post the first winning record of their short franchise history, they finished out of the playoffs thanks to the Jets’ easy “forfeit” victories over the Colts and Bengals to finish the season. For the 2010 season, the Texans make a visit to the new Meadowlands Stadium in an attempt to extract some revenge on their quest to put up back-to-back winning records for the first time.
New Century Trojan Horse
Seattle Seahawks & Arizona Cardinals
Week 7: Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks — Sunday, October 24th, 2010 @ 4:05PM EST on FOX
Week 10: Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals — Sunday, November 14th, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on FOX
Seattle Seahawks @ New Orleans Saints
Week 11 — Sunday, November 21st, 2010 @ 4:05PM EST on FOX
Former University of Southern California head coach Pete Carroll will be making his return to the NFL sidelines as the coach of the Seattle Seahawks for 2010, and in his first season back in the pro game he’ll have the opportunity to see two of his star Trojans—Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart and Saints running back Reggie Bush—in an unfamiliar role: as opponents. The NFC West rivalry between Arizona and the Seahawks will certainly take on a new and interesting twist as Carroll tries to game-plan against his former team leader at USC. While Bush might not get a starter’s playing time again in 2010—thanks to Pierre Thomas continuing to be the first-string running back for New Orleans—it will still be a surreal sight for Carroll to see number 25 across the field.
Super Bowl Champion Coaching Reunion
Kansas City Chiefs @ Cleveland Browns
Week 2 — Sunday, September 19th, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on CBS
Former New England Patriots Super Bowl Champion coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel joined the Kansas City Chiefs coaching staff in the 2010 offseason, and they will get a quick reunion with former co-worker Eric Mangini and his Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs had a rough season last year, but time will tell if Weis can work his offensive magic on highly-touted former Patriots backup Matt Cassel and give Kansas City’s fans a reason to be hopeful. Meanwhile, Mangini will try to show up the man whose job he inherited in New England when Crennel left to coach the Browns himself in 2005.
Get Your Passports Ready
Denver Broncos @ San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium in London, England
Week 8 — Sunday, October 31st, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on CBS
Chicago Bears @ Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Week 9 — Sunday, November 7th, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on FOX
The push for globalization of the NFL brand continues again for the 2010 season, with one game at Wembley Stadium in London and one game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Broncos and 49ers—who both missed the playoffs in 2009—will get a Halloween match-up in England as each team tries to improve upon divisional 2nd-place finishes in the AFC West and NFC West, respectively. Meanwhile, the Bills—who lost to the Jets in their “Bills Toronto Series” game last year—will look to defeat the Chicago Bears; this marks the first time that their regular season Toronto game is against an opponent outside of the AFC East.
New England Patriots @ Detroit Lions
Week 12 — Thursday, November 25th, 2010 @ 12:30PM EST on CBS
New Orleans Saints @ Dallas Cowboys
Week 12 — Thursday, November 25th, 2010 @ 4:15PM EST on FOX
The NFL’s tradition of having a “Thanksgiving Classic” will continue in 2010 with three games—early afternoon, late afternoon, and night varieties—featuring the staple teams of Detroit and Dallas. The Lions will be hosting the New England Patriots, the defending champion Saints will head to Arlington to face the Cowboys, and the Jets will get a primetime NFL Network game at Meadowlands Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals–a game profiled earlier in this story. While the Patriots and Lions don’t have much of a rivalry, existing on opposite ends of the NFL spectrum, the Saints-Cowboys match-up will be an opportunity for the Saints to extract revenge on the Cowboys, who ended New Orleans unbeaten run in 2009 with a Week 15 win in Louisiana.
Top of the Draft Heap
St. Louis Rams @ Detroit Lions
Week 5 — Sunday, October 10th, 2010 @ 1:00PM EST on FOX
The #1 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, QB Matthew Stafford, will get a shot at the St. Louis Rams and the #1 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft in Week 5. Popular opinion is that Oklahoma Sooners QB Sam Bradford will be that pick, giving this match-up of cellar teams in 2009 a marquee feel for the upcoming season; even if neither team is expected to make the playoffs. Neither team will be hoping to find themselves in the same high-draft-position scenario once the 2010 season draws to a close.
Okay, so there’s a very slim chance that anything about this Rams-Lions match-up will be “must-see”; however, should Stafford and Bradford become the next generation of great NFL quarterbacks, this will be a game people remember long after the fact.
So what do you think about the 2010 NFL Regular Season Schedule? Did I pick out the games that you all are interested in watching? Weigh in on the poll below and leave comments about which games you’re anticipating for 2010.