NFL schedule 2015: Must-see games
The NFL released its 2015 schedule in full on Tuesday night. Pittsburgh will visit New England in the regular-season opener on Sept. 10, with the remainder of the league's 32 teams kicking off either Sept. 13 or 14. As has become an annual tradition, the opening Monday night of the year will feature two games: Philadelphia at Atlanta and then Minnesota at San Francisco.
Which of the remaining matchups are must-see this year?
Tennessee at Tampa Bay, Week 1: How do two teams that combined to go 4-28 a year ago draw "must see" billing in Week 1? Thank Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, one of whom is expected to be under center for the Buccaneers, who pick first in the draft. The Titans could nab the remaining star QB with the No. 2 pick, setting up a potential showdown between the draft's top two selections right out of the gate.
Oh, and in case you're buying one of the recent trade rumors that has Tennessee sending the second pick to San Diego, the Chargers open vs. Detroit.
Seattle at Green Bay, Week 2: The Seahawks and Packers treated us to an instant classic in last season's NFC championship, and they enter the 2015 season as favorites to pace the conference again. (Bovada has Seattle at 3/1 odds to win the NFC; Green Bay at 4/1.)
No doubt the Packers would love to exact a little revenge for their devastating playoff defeat. As a refresher, they led 19–7 with less than three minutes to play, only to watch Seattle score two TDs (and recover an onside kick) in a span of 40 seconds. Green Bay forced overtime, but a Russell Wilson-to-Jermaine Kearse scoring strike sent the raucous crowd in Seattle home happy.
Dallas at Philadelphia, Week 2: Dallas held off Philadelphia to win the division last season and was a controversial replay decision away from the conference-title game. But the real headliner here is DeMarco Murray, who was pushed out of Dallas thanks to Dez Bryant's franchise tag and later signed with the Cowboys' NFC East rival. This will be the first chance to see how well Murray fits in with the Eagles ... and to further judge Chip Kelly's wild set of offseason moves.
St. Louis at Washington, Week 2: For at least as long as Robert Griffin III plays in Washington, these franchises will be inexorably linked. Not that anyone needs a reminder, but the Redskins sent the Rams three first-round picks and a second-rounder for the right to draft RGIII in 2012.
When the two teams met at FedEx Field last season, Griffin sat behind Colt McCoy on the depth chart he only made it on the field for a mopup drive late in Washington's 24-0 loss. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher still took his opportunity to troll Washington a bit. For the pregame coin toss, Fisher sent out Janoris Jenkins, Michael Brockers, Zac Stacy, Stedman Bailey, Greg Robinson and Alec Ogletree—the six active Rams acquired, directly or indirectly, with the picks they acquired in that Griffin deal.
New York Jets "at" Miami, Week 4; Buffalo "at" Jacksonville, Week 7; Detroit "at" Kansas City, Week 8 (all games played in London): Has the novelty of these trips across the pond worn off yet? Perhaps for fans back home, but the league itself continues to push forward aggressively with Roger Goodell's desire to expand the NFL's reach. The three games hosted by London last season packed more than 250,000 fans into Wembley Stadium.
This also marks the third year of four in which Jacksonville will surrender one of its true home games for a London date. The NFL will not announced the 2016 international games for several months, but we know that the Jaguars will take part.
Indianapolis at Houston, Week 5: This Thursday nighter will be tough for Texans fans. Not only has Indianapolis taken over as the AFC South's team to beat by winning back-to-back division titles, but the team also nabbed longtime Texan Andre Johnson after he was released in early March. The No. 3 overall pick in 2003, this will be Johnson's first game played against Houston. He and fellow newcomer Frank Gore now will be counted on to push the Colts over the top.
Arizona at Pittsburgh, Week 6: Bruce Arians was named AP Coach of the Year in 2012, for his work on an interim basis in Indianapolis, and then claimed the award again last season with Arizona. Not bad for a guy who supposedly had decided to retire in 2011, after eight seasons with the Steelers, five as their offensive coordinator.
In reality, Arians' "retirement" was merely the explanation offered when Pittsburgh decided not to renew his contract. When Mike Tomlin called Arians to inform him of the franchise's decision, Arians "thought he was calling about a raise," he told ESPN. So Arians might have a little extra motivation for this one, despite his success as the Cardinals' head coach.
New York Jets at New England, Week 7: The defending champs have won seven of the past eight in this series, but the fierce rivalry tends to produce hard-fought battles—the last four Jets-Patriots games have been decided by an average of 2.25 points. There's also the little added intrigue for this one provided by Darrelle Revis's return to Foxborough, where he spent last year (and won a ring) before reuniting with the franchise he played for from 2007–12.
New Orleans at Indianapolis, Week 7: Super Bowl 50 awaits the conference champions at the end of this season. As the NFL approaches that milestone, it has plans to "celebrate" in some fashion the 19 Super Bowl rematches on the regular-season schedule, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
One such game pits the Saints and Colts, who met in Super Bowl XLIV. New Orleans claimed its first title with a 31–17 victory, led by game MVP Drew Brees. Indianapolis currently stands as more of a threat to make it back to the championship game this year.
The other rematches include Kansas City at Green Bay (Super Bowl I), Miami at Washington (Super Bowls VII and XVII), Cincinnati at San Francisco (Super Bowls XVI and XXIII), Buffalo at Dallas (Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII) and the Giants at New England (Super Bowls XLII and XLVI).
Oakland at San Diego, Week 7; San Diego at Oakland, Week 16: Could these AFC West rivals soon be scheduling games at the same stadium, a la the Giants and Jets or—closer to home—the Lakers and Clippers? The Carson, Calif. city council reportedly was set to vote Tuesday night on a proposed $1.7 billion stadium, meant to house the Chargers and Raiders together sometime in the near future. The Raiders had a one-year extension at O.co Coliseum approved in March; the Chargers can opt out of their current stadium contract during an annual February-May window.
The 2015 San Diego-Oakland games could have an impact in the AFC playoff picture, as well. The Chargers qualified for the postseason in 2013 and just missed last year.
Buffalo at New York Jets, Week 10: The Rex Ryan express rolls stops off at a familiar station, for a Thursday night game no less. As head coach of the Jets, Ryan posted a 7–5 record vs. Buffalo, including a seven-game win streak from December 2009 to September '12. The Bills turned the tables last season, though, sweeping New York by a combined count of 81–26. Ryan then was fired after the season, paving the way for him to swap AFC East teams.
The Bills and Jets also meet win Week 17 back in Buffalo.
Denver at Chicago, Week 11: John Fox spent four seasons as head coach in Denver, compiling a 46-18 regular-season record and guiding the Broncos to a Super Bowl XLVIII appearance. He and the team "agreed on a mutual decision to part ways," per a statement from the team following a 24–13 divisional-round playoff loss to Indianapolis in January.
Fox has his work cut out for him with the Bears, a team riding a four-year playoff drought and coming off a 5–11 season. While returning to the postseason might be out of reach this year, notching a win vs. his former team would help.
Philadelphia at Detroit, Carolina at Dallas, Chicago at Green Bay, Week 12 (Thanksgiving Day): Last season's Thanksgiving slate looked mighty enticing when it was announced. The actual games fell far short of expectations, as Detroit, Philadelphia and Seattle all scored blowout victories (over Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco, respectively).
The NFL is going back to the well with another all-NFC lineup this season anyway. On paper, though, the holiday schedule offered in 2015 could make up for 2014's disappointing trifecta. All three home teams plus Carolina qualified for the postseason last year, while Philadelphia reached the 10-win plateau. And while expectations surrounding the Bears are tempered, it's tough to beat a Chicago-Green Bay matchup under the lights. Bonus storyline: The Packers will retire Brett Favre's number at halftime of the nightcap. The Packers and Lions also will play the following Thursday night, in Detroit.
New England at Denver, Week 12: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning meet for the 17th (and final?) time. Manning just turned 39 in March, so the general consensus is that this season could mark his swan song. He currently trails Brady in head-to-head matchups, 11–5, although his teams (Indianapolis in 2006 and Denver in '13) have captured the past two playoff showdowns.
Dallas at Green Bay, Week 14: One week after a call worked to Dallas's advantage in a playoff win over Detroit, Dez Bryant was victimized by the "Calvin Johnson" rule. Bryant had a remarkable 4th-and-2, fourth-quarter catch wiped out on replay because it was ruled that he did not "complete the process" of getting to the ground while maintaining control of the football. Green Bay ran out the clock on its ensuing possession for a five-point win, clinching a trip to the NFC championship.
Hopefully, the 2015 regular-season rematch between these teams is as entertaining, albeit with a less-controversial conclusion.
San Diego at Denver, Week 17: Picking up where we left off in Week 12 with the Patriots-Broncos contest, circle this one as perhaps the final time Manning takes the field for an NFL regular-season game. Should the Broncos fail to make the playoffs, Manning might be suiting up for the last time, period. Kansas City was the last team other than Denver to capture an AFC West crown, back in 2010. Could the division be up for grabs on the season's final Sunday? The Chiefs will host Oakland in the early slot on Jan. 3, 2016, with the Chargers-Broncos game to follow at 4:25 p.m. ET