The 2012 NFL schedule was released earlier this week and with more primetime games than ever before, this season is sure to be full of can’t-miss games. Here are our top 10 most intriguing match-ups that you won’t want to miss:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos, Week 1
How can you miss Peyton Manning’s first game as a Bronco? As a bonus, it comes against the Steelers, the team Denver eliminated from the playoffs last year in miraculous fashion, on Sunday night.
2. Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears, Week 1
The Manning era is done in Indianapolis, but will Week 1 mark the beginning of the Andrew Luck era? Presuming the Colts draft the Stanford star and give him the starting job out of training camp, Luck’s first NFL game will be against the typically aggressive Bears defense.
3. New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers, Week 4
These teams opened the 2011 season in thrilling fashion, as Green Bay stopped the Saints on the goal line on the game’s final play and won 42-34. There’s no reason to think this year’s game can’t be similarly high-scoring. And don’t forget that Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers was mentioned in the NFL’s report as a target in New Orleans’ bounty program.
4. Denver Broncos at New England Patriots, Week 5
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning match-up has to be one of the top games of any season. This is the first time Manning will face his rival as a Bronco. Brady holds an 8-4 edge over Manning in their head-to-head meetings.
5. New England Patriots at New York Jets, Week 12
The second match-up of these AFC East rivals is on Thanksgiving night. Who knows what role Tim Tebow will have by this point in the season, but it’s a safe bet this game will have major divisional implications.
6. San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints, Week 12
The game these two teams played in last year’s playoffs was thrilling, with San Francisco winning in the final seconds. But the bigger story was the troubling pre-game speech from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the audio of which was recently released.
7. Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, Week 12
Two of the best teams in the NFC square off on Sunday night in New York. After taking the then-undefeated Packers to the wire in their regular season meeting, the Giants pulled off a huge upset against Green Bay in the playoffs en route to their Super Bowl victory.
8. Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles, Week 12
America says hello to Cam Newton. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year plays his first Monday Night Football game against his idol, Michael Vick. If the Panthers are playing well heading into the game and Newton performs well on the big stage, it could propel him to superstardom.
9. Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 13
If this isn’t the best rivalry in the NFL, it’s certainly in the discussion. With the Ravens having swept Pittsburgh last year and getting them at home in Week 11, might Baltimore be going for a fourth straight win in the series?
10. Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, Week 17
The defending NFC East and Super Bowl champions end the regular season with a home game against the Eagles in another classic rivalry. Like the Giants’ regular season finale against Dallas last year, perhaps this game will also decide the division winner.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.