The beauty of the NFL schedule can be in the eye of the beholder, but I know which 17 games in the NFL's 17-week regular season that I consider must-see TV:
1. Washington at Philadelphia, Week 4. Maybe the league should start making this an annual part of the regular-season schedule, having one veteran franchise quarterback a year change teams and then return to the city where he was once an institution. We pretty much used all our available superlatives to describe BrettFavre's return to Lambeau Field last season, but watching Donovan McNabb wearing his Washington No. 5 jersey at Philly's Lincoln Field Field should make for theater almost as good. Do we even have to ask the question whether McNabb gets booed? This is Philadelphia, after all. The rematch in Washington is in Week 10 on Monday night.
• FULL SCHEDULE2. Indianapolis at New England, Week 11. Just when we thought this yearly clash of AFC superpowers had grown the least bit stale, BillBelichick's gutsy/moronic fourth-and-two call last November breathed all new life into the NFL's best rivalry. I can't wait until the Wednesday of game week to hear how many different ways Belichick can refuse to answer questions about last year's controversial game-turning call.
3. Minnesota at New Orleans, Week 1. There's no better way to kick it off in 2010 than with a rematch of January's classic NFC title game, especially with the Saints using this Thursday nighter to celebrate their historic Super Bowl title in front of the home folks (one last time), and Minnesota's Favre returning (relax, you know he will) to the Superdome to make amends for that game-losing interception late in regulation. Here's hoping it goes into overtime and the whole playoff game rule change that these two teams helped inspire is once again grist for debate.
4. Dallas at Washington, Week 1. The NFL got this one right, putting Mike Shanahan and McNabb's high-profile Redskins debut on Sunday night in prime time, against Washington's longtime nemesis. By now, I'm guessing McNabb thinks every game is against Dallas, because this will make it three in a row, given that the Eagles played the Cowboys in both Week 17 and in the first round of the playoffs last season.
5. New Orleans at Dallas, Week 12. With Saints head coach and ex-Cowboys offensive coordinator Sean Payton stealing away with both a Super Bowl title and JerryJones' rare vintage wine in the past three months, it's easy to predict the intensity of the Dallas-New Orleans rivalry will continue to build. And don't forget it was Dallas that dealt the 13-0 Saints their first defeat last December, in that Saturday night special on the NFL Network.
6. Minnesota at Green Bay, Week 7. You can never make it seem like the first time all over again, but the specter of Favre going back into Lambeau Field again will still get our attention. The Packers owe their former quarterback a loss or two after last season's Minnesota sweep, and the QB duel between Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Favre is reason enough to care about this Sunday night showdown. It should just about be getting chilly in Wisconsin by the time this one rolls around. The rematch is less than a month later in Minnesota in Week 11.
7. N.Y. Giants at Indianapolis, Week 2. Manning Bowl II should be a little more light-hearted than its predecessor, because the last time Eli and Peyton faced off -- in the Week 1 Sunday nighter of 2006, won by Indy at New York -- neither one of them owned a Super Bowl ring yet. Then again, those Mannings hate to lose, even when it's to another Manning. Why am I not surprised this one is back on Sunday night?
8. N.Y. Jets at New England, Week 13. The AFC East likely will revolve once again around the Jets and Patriots, and this will be their second and final matchup of the regular season, and it's under the Monday night spotlight to boot. New York's division schedule is strangely packed into the season's early weeks (three of their first four games) and in the season's homestretch (three of the last five games). Division supremacy should be on the line when these rivals meet as December football dawns.
9. Chicago at Carolina, Week 5. There were times during his eight-year career in Carolina when Julius Peppers was darn near invisible as a Panthers defensive end, failing to make any real impact in some games and frustrating the life out of fans, coaches and teammates alike. But I promise you he'll be noticed when he steps back on the field as a Bear for the first time at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. And it will get loud. And possibly profane.
10. Dallas at Minnesota, Week 6. The Vikings ended the Cowboys' late-season joyride in the divisional round of the playoffs last January, humbling Dallas 34-3 behind six sacks of Tony Romo and four Favre touchdown passes. I seem to remember a late Vikings touchdown that some of the Cowboys found classless (linebacker Keith Brooking especially), and here's hoping we get to stir that one up for an entire week before the rematch.
11. Minnesota at New England, Week 8. The Foxboro crazies will be out in full voice on Halloween for Favre and Co., but I'm shocked to hear that this will be ex-Viking star RandyMoss' first chance to ever play against Minnesota. An injured Tom Brady missed two chances to play against Favre in 2008, when No. 4 was in the AFC East, and you have to figure this might be his last shot to go against the future Hall of Famer.
12. New Orleans at Arizona, Week 5. The Vikings-Saints in Week 1 won't be the only rematch from last year's NFC playoffs. The Cardinals get a shot at some revenge against New Orleans, the team that lowered the boom on the Birds 45-14 in last season's divisional round, essentially closing the book on quarterback KurtWarner's great career in the process. This time, Arizona will have the home-dome advantage.
13. Minnesota at N.Y. Jets, Week 5. OK, we'll grant you that it lacks the delicious drama of Captain Comeback's doubleheader against the Packers last year, but Favre will face his other old team this season, and he'll do it back in front of the green-and-white clad fans he teased and ultimately failed to please in 2008. I would expect Rex Ryan and the boys to have something special cooked up for No. 4 in this Monday night matchup.
14. Baltimore at New England, Week 6. You might recall the Ravens didn't just end the Patriots' 2009 season in the first round of the AFC playoffs, they administered such a humiliation of New England in Foxboro that it had folks talking about the end of the Patriots' era. That 33-14 Baltimore upset was over before it even began, courtesy of a 24-0 first-quarter Ravens lead. It was New England's first home playoff loss since 1978, and marked the first home playoff loss of Belichick and Brady's Patriots tenure. In other words, that one left a mark, and New England should be primed for payback.
15. Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets, Week 12. We get to bill this one as the Return to Revis Island, as Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco once again goes one-on-one against Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who shut him down and shut him up in back-to-back New York beatdowns of Cincy in Week 17 and the wild-card round of the playoffs. And it all unfolds on Thanksgiving night, no less. Now about that promised name change, No. 85....
16. Baltimore at N.Y. Jets, Week 1. The Giants might have gotten the honor of opening the new stadium in the Meadowlands on the Sunday of Week 1, but it's the Jets who have the marquee matchup that can't be missed. The Ravens are coming to town that first Monday night of the season, and the sub-plot of Ryan coaching against his old team in Baltimore should keep the bulletin board material flowing in both locker rooms for weeks in advance.
17. San Diego at Indianapolis, Week 12. If there's one team that has proven to be Kryptonite to the Colts and Manning in recent years, it's the Chargers. They can beat Indy at home or on the road, and San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has played some of his best ball against the Colts. If these two aren't leading their divisions once again by the time this late-November matchup arrives, it'll be a stunner.
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