What games on this year’s NFL calendar are worth rearranging your schedule for? Here’s a look at some of best:
Green Bay at Seattle, Sept. 4 (Thursday), 8:30 p.m., (NBC): It will be a big night in the Pacific Northwest, as the Seahawks celebrate their first Super Bowl title with the opener traditionally afforded to the champs. This will also be the first time the teams have met since the Seahawks’ controversial 2012 walkoff victory that helped end the NFL officials’ work stoppage. It’s also a huge test for both Super Bowl contenders, and the winner may stake an early claim to home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Indianapolis at Denver, Sept. 7, 8:30 p.m. (NBC): Peyton Manning lost to the Colts the first time he played his old team last season. This will be the first time he sees the Colts in Denver, and he’ll be looking for payback against Andrew Luck & Co.
Chicago at San Francisco, Sept. 14, 8:30 p.m. (NBC): The 49ers will unveil Levi’s Stadium in their home opener. The spectacular, environmentally friendly stadium is a look at what NFL stadiums will be in the future. It will also be the home of Super Bowl 50. The 49ers would like to play in that game in 2016. For now, they must tackle Jay Cutler and the Bears.
Denver at Seattle. Sept. 21, 4:25 p.m. (CBS): Beating the Seahawks in the preseason at Denver didn’t soothe the Broncos’ still-stinging memories of their 43-8 humiliation in Super Bowl XLVIII. But beating them in Seattle — where the Seahawks have lost just once in the past two seasons — won’t be easy.
Carolina at Baltimore, Sept. 28, 1 p.m. (CBS): Receiver Steve Smith, whom Panthers GM Dave Gettleman called the “face of the franchise” when he cut him earlier this year, will see his old team for the first time. And Smith, who said he has embraced the Ravens’ “bully way,” should have a chip on his shoulder.
Kansas City at San Francisco, Oct. 5, 4:25 p.m. (CBS): Alex Smith was the 49ers QB for seven seasons, and this is the first time he’ll face his old team. He won’t recognize his surroundings (Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is 38 miles away from Candlestick Park). Smith and the Chiefs will be out to prove their playoff campaign last year wasn’t a fluke.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland, Oct. 12, 1 p.m. (CBS): It’s just six weeks into the season, but this will be the second and final meeting of these AFC North rivals. Johnny Manziel may be the starter by this point, and he’ll need to prove he can beat the Steelers — something the Browns have done just three times since 2001 (3-24, including playoffs).
NY Jets at New England, Oct. 16 (Thursday), 8:25 p.m. (CBS/NFLN): This will be the first look the Jets and Rex Ryan get at their old friend, Darrelle Revis, wearing the colors of their archrival. The Jets haven’t won a regular-season game in New England since 2008.
San Diego at Denver, Oct. 23 (Thursday), 8:25 p.m. (CBS/NFLN): San Diego upset an 11-2 Broncos squad in Denver last season to help power its surprising run to the playoffs (which also ended in Denver). If the Chargers are to seriously challenge the Broncos in the AFC West, they’ll need another win in the Mile High City.
Detroit vs. Atlanta (in London), Oct. 26, 9:30 a.m. (Fox): You probably have had breakfast at Wimbledon in front of your TV. Now get ready for breakfast at Wembley as the NFL exposes its London series to a new audience. The earlier start time will allow fans in Europe to watch the game earlier in the day, while also testing a new fourth national TV window inside the US. So while the Lions-Falcons matchup isn’t especially exciting, it offers you a chance to watch four full games on your couch this day. Just remember to set your fantasy team’s lineup early.
Green Bay at New Orleans, Oct. 26, 8:30 p.m. (NBC): If Aaron Rodgers can lead the Packers to wins in Seattle in Week 1 and again in New Orleans here, the Packers probably will be able to avoid a trip back to either city in January.
Denver at New England, Nov. 2, 4:25 p.m. (NBC): There will be 10 other NFL games on this Sunday, but it might be hard to find news on anything but the 16th meeting of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Last year’s regular-season clash was a classic. Is another in store here?
Carolina at Philadelphia, Nov. 10 (Monday), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN): The Panthers’ strength is on defense, and they’ll have their hands full containing Chip Kelly’s offense. Both of these reigning division winners need to build momentum for a playoff push.
New England at Indianapolis, Nov. 16, 8:30 p.m. (NBC): Andrew Luck has lost both times he matched up with Tom Brady and the Patriots. But he has never hosted the Patriots for a home game. He’ll be out to show Brady that the Colts are no longer a pushover.
Baltimore at New Orleans, Nov. 24 (Monday), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN): The Ravens will be making just their second trip to the Bayou in franchise history. How they fare against Drew Brees and the Saints offense will give them a good idea of how ready they are for a deep postseason run.
Seattle at San Francisco, Nov. 27 (Thursday), 8:30 p.m. (NBC): What Thanksgiving isn’t complete without a grudge match around the turkey? That’s what the NFL has in store for the finale of its holiday showcase. It’ll be the first time the 49ers and Seahawks have met since the NFC title game, and a chance for Richard Sherman to show off his Super Bowl ring to Michael Crabtree.
New England at Green Bay, Nov. 30, 4:25 p.m. (CBS): It’s easy to see how this could be a Super Bowl preview. This will also be the first time Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will face off.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Dec. 7, 1 p.m. (CBS): The Steelers have missed the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time this century, while the Bengals have had three straight playoff trips (that all quickly ended after one game). Look for the Steelers to deliver a message that they consider themselves the royalty in the AFC North.
San Francisco at Seattle, Dec. 14, 4:25 p.m. (Fox): Sure, it’s only been two weeks since they last played. But this has become the NFL’s most ferocious rivalry, and it bears watching again. Plus, the winner could claim the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Indianapolis at Dallas, Dec. 21, 4:25 p.m. (CBS): This has the makings of a long season for the Cowboys, whose defense appears to have gotten worse even after being the NFL’s worst last season. But the drama that surrounds the Cowboys usually makes for good TV. Will seeing Andrew Luck come into his building make Jerry Jones pine for a good young quarterback of his own?
Take your pick: The NFL schedules all intra-division matchups on the final weekend to try to maximize playoff impact. So any of the final Sunday’s 16 games could conceivably be a big one. But keep an eye on Cincinnati at Pittsburgh and Arizona at San Francisco for two matchups that could have big playoff implications. Game times for the final Sunday will be finalized on Dec. 22.
Note: Game times for Sunday contests are subject to change.Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter @leahysean