Ready for some football already? The NFL regular season matchups for 2017 were announced on Thursday, with the Chiefs and Patriots as the opener on Sept. 7 (at New England). Sorry, KC fans.
Which are the five most intriguing games of the regular season? Surely what looks good in late April may not necessarily be as appealing once it's midseason. But, more likely than not, these will be the season highlights.
Packers at Falcons, Week 2. In what is expected to be the opening game of the Falcons' new stadium (which isn't quite ready yet), this is a rematch of last year's NFC Championship. Thankfully for the Falcons, they avoided having to play the Patriots on the road the first game of the year -- though they'll have to be sharp early in the season, since a Week 4 bye means Atlanta may have some rough playing conditions late in the year.
Patriots at Buccaneers, Week 5. The rare Thursday night game that might be compelling. The Pats are expected to be a juggernaut in 2017. The Buccaneers are expected to be an ascendant team in 2017. No better way to prove that in a hurry than to claim a win over New England in front of your home crowd.
Seahawks at Giants, Week 7. Assuming Richard Sherman isn't traded before the season, he and the Legion of Boom will have to tangle with an awfully formidable Giants receiving corps that now includes Brandon Marshall. Both teams are expected to compete for playoff spots in the NFC, so this will be an important game just as the playoff picture is starting to come into focus.
Chiefs at Cowboys, Week 9. This will be the Cowboys' first game announced by Tony Romo in the CBS booth. It's also an interesting game, with two teams that had playoff byes in 2016, only to squander them.
Raiders at Eagles, Christmas Day. The NFL is treating the Eagles like they are expecting them to make the leap in 2017, as evidenced by five games in primetime. Unless a catastrophic injury happens early in the season, the Raiders should be in the mix late in the year as well. That means this has all the makings of a critical late-season meeting.
Easiest schedule: Indianapolis Colts. Being in a perennially mediocre AFC South has its benefits. The Colts will face an NFC West division that's mostly looking for its legs. Indy also gets a nice late Week 11 bye, which will come in handy if Andrew Luck can stay healthy and the team is on the verge of returning to the playoffs. An especially easy start is big for embattled coach Chuck Pagano, who would likely be let go if the Colts struggle early.
Hardest schedule: New York Giants. Big Blue is tied for eighth for strength of schedule based on 2016 records, though that metric doesn't end up meaning that much now. They are in a tough division and have to go against a similarly tough AFC West. What makes their 2017 really difficult is facing a league-high four teams coming off a bye, a time when teams typically play well with the week of rest.
Team that has the most fun with the schedule release on Twitter: Atlanta Falcons.
Emoji Schedule ��- Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) April 21, 2017
��@ATLHawks, did we do this right?