It’s not the holiday season, but yesterday was (one of) the most wonderful times of the NFL year when the league released the schedule for the 2015 regular season.
Organized team activities have yet to start, and the draft is still a week away, but pundits and fans are ready to crown the Super Bowl champion in April after watching and analyzing each team’s match ups on ESPN, NFL Network and everywhere in between.
While I’m not so ready to jump to any predictions, some aspects of this season’s slate are especially notable.
1. Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Week 1
Some schedule-making officials must have an inkling of how things are going to shake out on draft day. If not, we sure can tell which players they hope the teams selected first and second overall.
The Bucs occupy the top spot next weekend, and all signs point to them selecting Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the front-runner to slip to the Titans in the second slot.
In what would otherwise be an awful tilt between two teams once again destined for their division’s cellars, the NFL kicks off the intrigue and comparison between the two prospects in what will likely be their professional debuts.
2. Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers – Week 2
Fans don’t have to wait long for the rematch between the NFC’s top two squads in last year’s playoffs.
The Packers fell in crippling fashion in the NFC Championship to the Seahawks in the 2015 playoffs, and about nine months later, they welcome Seattle into Lambeau Field for a shot at redemption (or as much redemption as they can get in a game with no direct playoff implications).
And don’t forget about the controversy surrounding the 2012 Seahawks-Packers’ meeting, with the replacement referees’ last-second snafu.
If history is any indication, NBC viewers will be in for treat that Sunday night.
3. Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts – Week 9
The duel between Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his former Colts team will always warrant attention, but the mid-afternoon clash between the teams in 2015 could hold extra significance.
Manning’s performances at the end of last season give no reason to assume he’ll perform at his customary level this year, but if he keeps par with his career passing average (272.2 yards per game), he’ll be on pace to become the NFL’s leading passer against the team with which he played his first 14 seasons.
What a scene that would be.
4. The Cleveland Browns play two primetime games after Halloween.
Do the schedule-makers know something we don’t about the outlook for the Browns this season?
The Browns travel to Cincinnati on Nov. 5 for a Thursday night AFC North showdown and welcome the Baltimore Ravens to Cleveland on Nov. 30 for a Monday Night game.
But former quarterback Brian Hoyer jetted off to the Texans in free agency, which leaves Johnny Manziel, a supposed locker room enigma, and journeyman Josh McCown to head the offense.
Plus, with wide receiver Josh Gordon currently suspended, nothing makes me project the Browns as playoff contenders.
Officials can’t flex either game into an earlier slot, so America should prepare for a healthy (or not so healthy) dose of late-season Browns football this year.
5. We know the last home game – potentially – for three NFL teams looking to ship off to Los Angeles.
Rumors have swirled around the San Diego Chargers, the Oakland Raiders and the St. Louis Rams as the candidates, either one or a combination of the three, most interested in operating in Los Angeles.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and league sources told many outlets they will not make any moves until after this season is over, but fans of the teams may know the final game the franchises will play in their current locations.
The Chargers host the Dolphins on Dec. 20, the Raiders, ironically, welcome the Chargers on Dec. 24 and the Rams face the Buccaneers in St. Louis on Dec. 18.
And it’s likely the fans won’t know it’s the last home game for the team at the time, if the organizations do relocate in 2016.
…So how long until kickoff?
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