NFL coaches try to keep their players even-keeled by preaching to prepare for every opponent with the same gusto. The same doesn’t apply to fans. The biggest games of the season are always circled when the league announces its upcoming schedule in April. While nobody knows for sure how the 2015 campaign will unfold, FOX Sports Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez ranks one game for each team that has a 'must-watch' feel to it.
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ATLANTA: vs. Philadelphia in Week 1 (7:10 p.m. ET/Sept. 14)
Some of the intrigue stems from the debut of the new-look Eagles after a major offseason roster overhaul by head coach Chip Kelly. But this also is the first chance to see all of the changes in Atlanta that have taken place since the hiring of new head coach Dan Quinn.
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CAROLINA: at Seattle in Week 6 (4:05 p.m. ET/Oct. 18)
Getting over the hump against Seattle would be a strong statement that the Panthers are a bona fide Super Bowl contender. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has lost all four of his career starts vs. the Seahawks, including last season’s second-round road playoff game.
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NEW ORLEANS: at Carolina in Week 3 (1 p.m. ET/Sept. 20)
Upending the defending NFC South champion could go a long way if the Saints are to reclaim the division crown for the first time since 2011. A post-touchdown brawl that ensued the last time these teams played in December adds fuel to this matchup.
TAMPA BAY: at Houston in Week 3 (1 p.m. ET/Sept. 27)
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston recently told the NFL’s website that the defensive player he looks forward to facing the most is J.J. Watt. Winston may get more of an up-close-and-personal encounter than he’d like if the Bucs can’t block Houston’s all-world defensive end.
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INDIANAPOLIS: vs. New England in Week 6 (8:30 p.m. ET/Oct. 18)
What was already an intense rivalry will be even more heated since it was the Colts who told the NFL that the Patriots were using underinflated footballs. This also would be the first game back for New England quarterback Tom Brady if his appeal of a four-game NFL suspension gets rejected.
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HOUSTON: vs. Indianapolis in Week 5 (8:25 p.m. ET/Oct. 8)
Tripping up the Colts at home on Thursday night football would make the Texans a legitimate contender in the AFC South. Houston has dropped five straight to the Colts, who have won the division the past two seasons.
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JACKSONVILLE: vs. Carolina in Week 1 (1 p.m. ET/Sept. 13)
Yes, the Week 3 matchup against New England is a biggie. But getting off to a good start is a must for the Jaguars, who haven’t won a season-opener since 2011 and opened the past two seasons with 0-6 records.
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TENNESSEE: at Tampa Bay in Week 1 (4:25 p.m. ET/Sept. 13)
Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota will always be linked as the first two players taken in the 2015 draft. The comparisons between the quarterbacks should resume here as both are likely to make their NFL starting debut against each other.
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DALLAS: at Green Bay in Week 14 (4:25 p.m. ET/Dec. 13)
Was it a catch or not? The Dez Bryant debate from last season’s playoff game between Dallas and Green Bay will dominate pregame conversation as the Cowboys return to Lambeau Field for the first time since their controversial 26-21 loss.
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N.Y. GIANTS: vs. New England in Week 10 (4:25 p.m. ET/Nov. 15)
The Giants have triumphed the past three times they’ve played the Patriots, including victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Toppling New England again would help New York in trying to keep that four-year cycle of winning NFL championships alive.
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PHILADELPHIA: vs. Dallas in Week 2 (4:25 p.m. ET/Sept. 20)
Call this the DeMarco Murray Bowl. The Cowboys will be facing Murray for the first time since losing the NFL’s reigning rushing leader to Philadelphia in free agency. The divisional rematch between the Eagles and host Cowboys is Week 9 on Sunday Night Football.
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WASHINGTON: vs. Dallas in Week 13 (8:30 p.m. ET/Dec. 7)
Although they have posted only one winning record in the past seven seasons, Washington’s long-time feud with the Cowboys remains strong. We should have a good idea by this point in the season whether Robert Griffin III is truly a franchise quarterback for the Redskins.
BUFFALO: vs. New England in Week 2 (1 p.m. ET/Sept. 20)
Even if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is suspended, defeating New England would be a huge step for a Bills squad that has won just two of the past 22 meetings (including one in Week 17 last year where the Patriots rested their starters).
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MIAMI: vs. New York Giants in Week 14 (8:30 p.m. ET/Dec. 14)
The Giants haven’t played in South Florida since 1996 because of scheduling quirks and one matchup being moved to London. Expect a flood of New York fans to try and takeover Sun Life Stadium.
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NEW ENGLAND: at Dallas in Week 5 (4:25 p.m. ET/Oct. 11)
Even if Tom Brady is suspended for this game, it doesn’t diminish the magnitude of two powerhouse franchises meeting for the first time since 2011. This potential Super Bowl 50 preview also will mark New England’s first trip to AT&T Stadium.
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N.Y. JETS: at New England in Week 7 (1 p.m. ET/Oct. 25)
While the Jets-Patriots rivalry will take on a new dynamic with head coach Rex Ryan leaving for Buffalo, the dislike between the two franchises remains strong. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis will be returning to face Tom Brady and his former team for the first time since leaving in the offseason.
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BALTIMORE: at Pittsburgh in Week 4 (8:25 p.m. ET/Oct. 1)
This black-and-blue rivalry resumes with the Steelers looking to avenge Baltimore’s upset win at Heinz Field in the first round of last season’s playoffs. The two sides have split their past six matchups with Baltimore outscoring Pittsburgh by the margin of 137-128.
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CINCINNATI: TBA in the playoffs (January 2016)
Sure, the Bengals have plenty of juicy matchups on their schedule with games against Seattle (Week 5) and Denver (Week 16) as well as the annual slate of division showdowns. But after four consecutive opening-round losses, Bengals fans won’t be getting too excited until seeing whether the 2015 Bengals can win in the postseason.
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CLEVELAND: vs. Denver in Week 6 (1 p.m. ET/Oct. 18)
Now the Broncos top football executive, John Elway, returns to Cleveland more than 20 years after leading Denver to victory over the Browns in playoff games nicknamed 'The Drive' and 'The Fumble.' Cleveland hasn’t reached an AFC Title game since. Defeating Denver would move the Browns one step closer to getting there.
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PITTSBURGH: at New England in Week 1 (8:30 p.m. ET/Sept. 10)
A quarterback duel pitting Ben Roethlisberger vs. Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t nearly as sexy if New England’s Tom Brady remains suspended. But the Steelers have their own player absence to worry about with running back Le’Veon Bell suspended for a game whose outcome could influence the AFC playoff race down the road.
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CHICAGO: at Green Bay in Week 12 (8:30 p.m. ET/Nov. 26)
The Packers will be retiring the jersey of Brett Favre, who quarterbacked Green Bay to a 23-13 record against the Bears during his NFL career. Chicago will be trying its best to spoil the fun on what will be a raucous Thanksgiving Night atmosphere at Lambeau Field.
ASSOCIATED PRESSMike Roemer
GREEN BAY: vs. Seattle in Week 2 (8:30 p.m. ET/Sept. 20)
The Packers suffered two of their most memorable losses of the past three seasons in Seattle. This is a chance to avenge last season’s devastating late-game collapse in the NFC championship game.
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DETROIT: at Green Bay in Week 10 (1 p.m. ET/Nov. 15)
The Lions have lost 24 consecutive games to the Packers in the state of Wisconsin. Ending that futility could help the Lions knock Green Bay off the NFC North throne after winning four straight division crowns.
Duane Burleson/Associated PressDuane Burleson
MINNESOTA: at San Francisco in Week 1 (10:20 p.m. ET/Sept. 14)
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged that Adrian Peterson might not play in the preseason to save wear and tear on his 30-year-old body. That means the Week 1 opener could mark the first time that the star running back appears in a game setting since being pulled from the field last year following a child abuse charge.
DENVER: vs. New England in Week 12 (8:30 p.m. ET/Nov. 29)
Health permitting, this will be the 17th time that quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have faced each other. It also could be the last with Manning at 39 years old and possibly playing in his final NFL season.
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
KANSAS CITY: vs. Denver in Week 2 (8:25 p.m. ET/Sept. 17)
The Broncos have taken six straight games from Kansas City, marking Denver’s longest winning streak in this AFC West rivalry since the 1970s. The Chiefs have a good opportunity to end that skid with Denver coming to Arrowhead Stadium on a short week in the NFL’s first Thursday night game of the season.
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OAKLAND: vs. Green Bay in Week 15 (4:05 p.m. ET/Dec. 20)
The last time Green Bay traveled to Oakland came in 2003 when quarterback Brett Favre butchered the Raiders pass defense following the death of his father. This game has added significance to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who will be playing in the backyard of alma mater Cal-Berkley for the first time in his NFL career.
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SAN DIEGO: vs. Miami in Week 15 (4:25 p.m. ET/Dec. 20)
This could very well be the last NFL game ever played in San Diego with the Chargers eyeing a move to the Los Angeles area for the 2016 season.
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ARIZONA: vs. Green Bay in Week 16 (4:25 p.m. ET/Dec. 27)
Green Bay hasn’t played in University of Phoenix Stadium since the 2009 Packers suffered a 51-45 overtime loss in the highest-scoring game in NFL postseason history. Based on how strong both teams look on paper, the 2015 matchup could have playoff implications.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
ST. LOUIS: vs. Seattle in Week 1 (1 p.m. ET/Sept. 13)
A Rams victory here over the two-time defending division champion would send the statement that the Rams are very much for real in the NFC West race.
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SAN FRANCISCO: vs. Seattle Week 7 (8:25 p.m. ET/Oct. 22)
This rivalry has lost something following the departure of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, but replacement Jim Tomsula could establish himself as a thorn in Pete Carroll’s side if San Francisco takes advantage of playing at home on Thursday Night Football on a short week and ends a three-game losing streak to Seattle.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
SEATTLE: at Dallas in Week 8 (4:25 p.m. ET/Nov. 1)
The Cowboys were one of four teams to defeat the Seahawks in the 2014 regular season -- and in Seattle, no less. This matchup is even juicier with both teams now fully established as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.