As we enter the “dead” time on the football calendar, we are presented with an opportunity to take a breath and see what we have to look forward to this fall. As is always the case, dozens of high-impact players have changed teams, new coaches have been hired, and not only will historic rivalries be renewed, but new rivalries will spice the schedule throughout the season. Below are ten of the most intriguing games this season.
New Orleans at Cleveland
The debut of Reggie Bush and the new-look Saints will be taking place in Ohio against a team many feel can be a surprise in the NFL this year. New QB Drew Brees and new coach Sean Payton join Bush in attempting to topple Romeo Crennel’s much-improved Browns.
San Diego at Oakland
The debut of both San Diego QB Philip Rivers and Raiders coach Art Shell happens on the first week of the revamped edition of Monday Night Football. Shell is looking to take the Raiders back to prominence with a talented roster, and Rivers is looking to take the Chargers as far as he can. If Rivers can step in and perform, the Chargers will be dangerous, but “The Black Hole” on Monday night is not an easy first assignment.
Denver at New England
The Patriots will have a chance to draw a measure of revenge against the Broncos on Sunday night after Denver ended New England’s run of Super Bowl titles last season in the playoffs. The Broncos have added pieces to their roster, including WR Javon Walker, but you can bet that Tom Brady and the Pats haven’t forgotten what happened in Denver in January.
Washington at the New York Giants
LaVar Arrington paid the Redskins $4.4 million to become a free agent, and then he turned down what was reportedly a higher offer from the Green Bay Packers to play for the New York Giants. Arrington wants two cracks at his old team per season, and he’ll definitely be one to watch in a game like this. Arrington can be a terror on the field, and fans should expect quite a battle in the Meadowlands in week 5.
Dallas at Philadelphia
Week 5 is all about the NFC East, as the other two teams in the division will square off in what as of now is one of the most anticipated games of the season. The infamous Terrell Owens is thought by many in Philadelphia to be the main reason that the team’s 2005 season was a disaster. The Eagles rid themselves of what they saw as a cancer, and then that cancer signed with a bitter division rival. Owens is sure to be welcomed back to Philadelphia in a way that can only be done in the City of Brotherly Love, but will the venom present in the stands cause Owens to shrink under the microscope or to rise to the occasion?
Dallas at Carolina
Two teams thought to be in serious contention for the NFC title this season are the Cowboys and Panthers, and this game could legitimately be an NFC Championship game preview. The Panthers added their own sometimes-controversial WR in Keyshawn Johnson, whose last team happens to be the Cowboys. Johnson will no doubt be motivated to show the Cowboys that they made a mistake, but much more could be on the line in this game.
Denver at Pittsburgh
Although every season is different, one would be stretching it to insist that the Broncos won’t have revenge on their minds when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the team that beat them in the AFC Championship game in Denver last year. Granted, there are many places easier to gain revenge than the home field of the world champions, but this game could also mean a lot for playoff seeding, as both the Broncos and Steelers are expected to contend once again in 2006.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Not only is this an intense intra-division rivalry, but many believe that the Browns could legitimately challenge for a playoff spot this fall. The Dawg Pound will be barking loudly when the Steelers attempt to possibly stake a claim on the AFC North division in this late-season battle. This is one of those games where records usually don’t matter, but there could be much more on the line than pride here.
Tennessee at Houston
Although most don’t expect either of these teams to contend for the championship, the sub-plot that is Vince Young could create a must-see matchup in Texas. Texans fans originally wanted Houston native Vince Young to be the top overall pick in the draft, but the team surprised everyone by drafting Mario Williams. Titans owner Bud Adams still owns the team that was once the Houston Oilers, and now he could be trotting out his erstwhile team with the hometown hero behind center.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Everyone wants a piece of you when you’re the champ, and people tend to forget that it was the Bengals who won the AFC North title last season. If QB Carson Palmer can come back from a devastating knee injury, the Bengals could be in the hunt for the division once again, and both Palmer and the rest of the Bengals will be looking for revenge against the team that ended their season this past January.