- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2017

The NFL schedule was released Thursday night, and there are more than enough enticing matchups to continually break down between now and when the Patriots and Chiefs kick off the 2017 season on September 7.

Here are 10 games to circle on the calendar:

Falcons at Patriots

Week 7— October 22, 8:30 p.m.

We all know what happened in February— when the Patriots came back from 25 points down to claim their fifth Super Bowl title — but let’s focus on the upcoming season. By Week 7 in the 2017 season, the Falcons will know how they have bounced back from that stunning loss, making this matchup even more intriguing. You could call this a revenge game for Atlanta, but a win at Gillette Stadium won’t give them Super Bowl rings. The Super Bowl rematch also marks the first of three consecutive road games for the Falcons.

Patriots at Steelers

Week 15—December 17, 4:25 p.m.

If anyone is going to challenge the Patriots in the AFC, the Steelers might have the best chance. Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown give Pittsburgh the offensive weapons it needs to compete with Tom Brady and New England’s dynamic offense. It didn’t materialize last season, as New England won the AFC Championship Game easily. But with both teams returning most of their core players, this will be an intriguing matchup once again. And since the game will be played so late in the season, it could have major implications on who has home field advantage in the postseason.

Seahawks at Packers

Week 1—September 10, 4:25 p.m.

This week one matchup is chock full of storylines as the Seahawks and Packers will face off for the fourth time in five seasons. Michael Bennett will face his brother Martellus as the latter plays his first game as a Packer. Eddie Lacy returns to Lambeau Field for the first time in an opposing uniform. Two of the league’s best coaches going head-to-head once again. The 2015 overtime NFC Championship Game is still in the minds of both teams. Will Richard Sherman still be a member of the Seahawks for this game?

Texans at Patriots

Week 3—September 24, 1 p.m.

It appeared the Texans had the Patriots on the ropes in the first half of the AFC Divisional Playoff in Foxborough last season before New England eventually prevailed. Subpar quarterback play let the Texans down in that game, and the guy who started that game now plays for the Browns. It will be tough for Tom Savage—or whoever suits up under center—to knock off Brady and Bill Belichick in Foxborough. However, Houston had the league’s top-ranked defense last season and gets back maybe the league’s best defender in J.J. Watt. They did lose top cornerback AJ Bouye in the offseason, but Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney have shown the ability to get after Brady.

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders

Week 7—October 19, 8:25 p.m.

The Raiders are relevant again. They won 12 games last season before bowing out in the Wild Card round after losing quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg. With Carr back healthy, the Raiders will be among the AFC’s best in 2017. The AFC West will be a three-way race between Oakland, Denver, and Kansas City once again, so this matchup could have significant divisional implications. Oakland should be out for revenge, as Kansas City beat them twice en route to the AFC West title in 2016.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Week 1—September 10, 8:30 p.m.

The Cowboys rebuilt through the draft in 2016, and rode rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to a 14-2 season and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Giants spent big in free agency last offseason to fix a defense that ranked 30th in 2015. The bold moves paid off, as they ranked second last season. Prescott will look to take the next step in his sophomore season, especially since veteran backup Tony Romo retired to join the CBS broadcast booth. The Giants have had the head-to-head edge recently, winning three consecutive games against Dallas.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Week 2—September 17, 8:30 p.m.

The Falcons won a 33-32 classic in the Georgia Dome against Green Bay last regular season, then won the rematch in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons young defense gets another year to improve and will benefit from the presence of veteran Defensive Tackle Dontari Poe. Aaron Rodgers vs Matt Ryan will always be must see TV.

Houston Texans at Tennesee Titans

Week 13—December 3, 1 PM

The AFC South has been one of the league’s worst divisions for several years now, with 9-7 winning the division each of the last two seasons. The Texans won the division last season, but the Titans equaled their 9-7 record and were one of the league’s biggest surprises a year ago. If Marcus Mariota can return to full health, the Titans could be ready to take the next step and win the division. If that’s the case, this late season matchup with Houston will be critical.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers

Week 8—October 29, time TBD

By the time this game comes around, everyone will be a lot more familiar with the Buccaneers thanks to HBO’s Hard Knocks. But NFL fans shouldn’t need a TV series to see how Tampa Bay is quietly building an excellent young team. With DeSean Jackson giving Jameis Winston another offensive weapon to compliment Mike Evans, and a young, fast defense led by veteran linebacker LaVonte David, the Buccaneers could be ready to return to the postseason for the first time since 2007. Meanwhile, the Panthers will be looking to prove their 2016 run to Super Bowl 50 wasn’t a fluke as Cam Newton looks to return to MVP form. Tampa Bay edged Carolina twice last season by a combined four points.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 14—December 10, 8:30 p.m.

The Ravens have struggled the past few seasons, but this AFC North matchup might be the best rivalry in football. These games are always physical and intense, and this one could have major playoff implications down the stretch.

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