cover32’s Top Ten: Games to Watch in 2017

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NFL Super Bowl LI
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; View of the the Lombardi Trophy as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) holds it up after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. The Patriots won 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, September 7, the NFL officially begins its 2017 season with the Kansas City Chiefs battling the defending Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots. In honor of this season’s kickoff, here is a look at my Top Ten games on this year’s docket.


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Honorable Mention: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

Week 1: Sunday, September 10, 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS

Although this may not have been a marquee matchup when the NFL schedule was released, many eyes will be on NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas this Sunday. In the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Houston residents will look to the Texans to provide some much-needed distraction (and maybe even a bit of joy) to a region in desperate need of it. Houston defensive end, J.J. Watt, was able to raise over $18 million in funds for relief assistance, thus cementing his legacy as a true humanitarian and beloved Houston legend. Surely, he will earn a loud ovation, and rightfully so. As this season commences, the collective hearts will be with Houston and its surrounding areas as the recovery efforts continue. With no intended disrespect to the Jaguars in any way, this one will be for Houston.

10.)Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers

Week 2: Sunday, September 17, 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS

The Los Angeles (nee San Diego) Chargers will play their first home game at StubHub Center against the Miami Dolphins. With the looming threat of Hurricane Irma in Florida, this will be the Dolphins season opener, as well. Their original opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been rescheduled until November 19. During the preseason, the Chargers struggled to capture the attention of its new home city; even with a victory over the crosstown Rams in what was billed as ‘The Fight For L.A.” However, when playing at full strength, the Chargers will be a fun team to watch, both offensively and defensively. Also, the Bolts new home stadium provides what has been described as an ‘intimate setting.’ StubHub Center holds approximately 30,000 seats and is home to the LA Galaxy of MLS. This game could offer a bit of nostalgia to the early days of the sport when teams would typically play in front of smaller crowds at smaller venues.

9.) Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

Week 6: Sunday, October 15, 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

Pittsburgh and Kansas City offer an old-school, gritty-type matchup anytime these two teams compete against each other. Last year’s divisional playoff game was no exception and came down to the wire. In a game where Pittsburgh’s offense was expected to take center stage, they were held without a touchdown and had to rely on six field goals by K Chris Boswell. Chiefs fans believe that their team was robbed on Eric Fisher’s holding penalty, which negated what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion. Alas, the Steelers advanced. In 2017, these two teams once again present a fascinating contrast in coaching styles, offenses, and defenses. Look for a close game in this possible playoff preview in Week Six.

8.) Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

Week 1: Thursday, September 7, 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC

The official season kickoff is always compelling. However, this year, there is a bit of added intrigue…and even a possible bit of satire. The last time the New England Patriots faced the Kansas City Chiefs in a regular-season game, the result was the lowest point in recent Pats franchise history. The Chiefs embarrassed the Patriots on “Monday Night Football,” winning 41-14 at Arrowhead Stadium. Since that time, New England has amassed a 43-9 record, while collecting two Super Bowl championships. The intrigue this year will be brought by the fact that some have speculated that New England’s fully-loaded roster could see them challenge the regular season record of 16-0, which they set in 2007. The Chiefs would like nothing more than to silent that speculation by handing the Patriots a defeat, on the night in which they unveil their championship banner.

If that isn’t enough incentive to watch, there is an added attraction. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be in attendance for this game. It will be his first visit, either in the regular season, or playoffs, since the ridiculous Deflategate saga. In an effort to give him a ‘proper’ New England welcome-back, Barstool Sports has sponsored an effort to provide fans with light blue towels, on which Goodell’s image (sporting a prominent red clown nose) is imprinted. To say the least, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out, for both the fans and media alike.

 

7.) Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks

Week 8: Sunday, October 29, 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS

This will be a showdown of arguably the league’s two most complete defenses. As a result, this should be a fantastic game, especially with both J.J. Watt and Earl Thomas healthy (fingers crossed). They are two of the best in the game at their respective positions. Even with Watt injured for most of the season, the Texans were last year’s top-ranked defense. On the flip side, the Seahawks return much of the same unit that lead the league in points allowed for four straight years, ending last year. In addition, newly-acquired defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will provide an added thump for the Legion of Boom. That’s precisely why Texans at Seahawks should be one of the most physical matchups of the year.

6.) New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Week 14: Sunday, December 10, 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

Yes, these two teams open the season against each other. However, the late-season matchup will be the more intriguing, as it will most likely have more on the line for each of these bitter rivals. No team has repeated in the NFC East since the Philadelphia Eagles won four straight titles from 2001-04. The Cowboys are looking to follow a 13-3 season with another division crown. However, Ezekiel Elliott’s unclear status following his suspension doesn’t help their chances. Without their All-Pro running back for up to six games, the Cowboys have to rely more on Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant. Dallas also has a tough schedule and had to replace the entire starting secondary, so there are concerns on defense, too.
Eli Manning and the Giants are primed to take control if the Cowboys slip. New York won 11 games last season and added veteran receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram to join star Odell Beckham, Jr. On defense, the Giants return nine of 11 starters to a formidable group directed by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. As far as the regular season goes, there’s nothing quite like December divisional matchups, and this will be one to watch.

Giants
Sep 11, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws a pass in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. New York won 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

5.) Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons

Week 10: Sunday, November 12, 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

The Atlanta Falcons enter this season after a historic collapse in Super Bowl LI. While many feel that they may be unable to move on from such a loss, the Falcons will tell you otherwise. This game against the Cowboys in Week 10 will be a great test. Considering the losses that Dallas has suffered in the secondary, the Falcons offense will be all the Cowboys’ defense can handle. However, Dallas is much more capable of dictating the game’s pace than most of Atlanta’s other opponents. This is especially true when (and if) the Cowboys’ running game gets going with Ezekiel Elliott. Still, this matchup is likely to be a track meet, and perhaps a preview of the 2017 NFC Championship Game. Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, and Elliott were all in the MVP race last year, so it will be interesting to see all three of them in this contest.

4.) Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Week 2: Sunday, September 17, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

A rematch of a conference championship is usually a highly-anticipated game in any NFL season. This year, it is especially true of the Falcons matchup against the Green Bay Packers. The game was a surprising blowout on Championship Sunday. Will this rematch be another lopsided affair in Atlanta’s new home stadium? That is highly doubtful. Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and Company, are eager to avenge the way they played against Atlanta back in January. However, Green Bay’s success will depend on how their pass defense holds up against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and the Falcons running backs coming out of the backfield. With Steve Sarkisian calling the offense instead of Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons offense may not rely on such a high-flying game plan. In any case, look for this to be a great rematch between two exciting teams.

3.) New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders (Mexico City)

Week 11: Sunday, November 19, 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

The Patriots and the Raiders will square off south of the border in Mexico City during week 11, with the tilt being a home game for Oakland. These are two quite evenly-matched, and many consider this to be a playoff preview. The Patriots continue to be favorites for the AFC crown. However, many feel that the Raiders pose the most potent threat to dethrone the champs. The Steelers, Chiefs, and Texans all provide challenges. However, Oakland provides the best match on both sides of the ball. Derek Carr being healthy will be a huge boost to Oakland’s playoff hopes. It was obvious that Connor Cook would not be able to shoulder the load while Carr was hurt last year. Also, the Raiders may not need to rely squarely on the passing game to take down New England. Marshawn Lynch will give the Raiders a capable running attack as well, provided his legs joined him in coming out of retirement. By all accounts, Lynch looks healthy and ready to go. As for New England, the combination of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore in the secondary may prove to be the defensive threat necessary to slow down Carr’s aerial attack. Lastly, the Patriots-Raiders rivalry remains a bit ‘under the radar,’ but very compelling. Remember their controversial postseason affairs from 1976, 1985 and 2001? Just ask a Raiders fan if they still cringe when they hear the phrase…”the quarterback’s arm was moving forward.” It will be a hot time in Mexico this November, for sure

2) Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Week 1: Sunday, September 10,  4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

Of all the contests that will take place on the NFL’s 2017 opening week schedule, the best pure football game is likely to take place at Lambeau Field. Eddie Lacy gets the chance to take it to his former team from his new perch in the Seahawks’ backfield. Meanwhile, Ty Montgomery is looking to establish himself as a key cog in the Packers’ offense. Seattle’s defense looks poised to regain their dominance again this year. Earl Thomas is healthy and Sheldon Richardson joins an already loaded defensive line. The Packers offense also looks to regain form with a healthy Jordy Nelson. Most notably, however, is the matchup between Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. These two dynamic quarterbacks hold the top two career passer ratings in NFL history. Brothers Michael Bennett and Martellus Bennett will also face-off in this contest. Everyone knows that these two siblings always make things entertaining. Be sure to stay tuned to this one on Sunday afternoon.

James White
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots running back James White (28) scores the game winning touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in overtime during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1) Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots

Week 7: Sunday, October 22, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

It’s hard to argue against this game taking the number one spot. In fact, many thought this would be the NFL’s Kickoff Game. While that distinction went to the Chiefs vs. the Pats, it gives fans even more time to clamor for this rematch of an unforgettable Super Bowl. Those who rooted hard for the Falcons in February will be looking for revenge. However, this game is going to be played in New England. It’s almost certain that the Falcons will see more than their fair share of signs, banners and maybe hear a few audible chants of ’28-3.’ Atlanta’s offense will still be high-powered. Their defense will look to attack Tom Brady similar to the way they did in the first half of the Super Bowl. However, the Patriots will have Brandin Cooks as a deep threat this year, along with Chris Hogan and newly-acquired Philip Dorset. This could be a nightmare for the Falcons secondary. Can the Falcons exorcise the demons of Super Bowl Past, or will New England once again have the last laugh? We’ll find out on October 22nd.

Enjoy the season, everyone. Be sure to check back next Wednesday for our next Top Ten. If you have any suggestions for a topic you’d like to see, please use the forum below and let us know your thoughts. Thanks!

 

– Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers. He is also a National Content Writer for cover32.com and covers the NFL.
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