10 games that will decide the 2009 NFL season

When alleged analysts look to predict what’s going to happen in a given NFL season, many ignore two things:

1. No more than a handful of them have predicted the two Super Bowl teams correctly since Cowboys-Steelers back in ’78. Seriously, who had Cardinals-Steelers on their dance card last year? You could combine the DNA of Nostradamus, Jimmy the Greek and Biff from Back to the Future 2 and still not come close to that one.

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2. The schedule, of course. If a team like, say, Atlanta makes some good offseason moves (Matt Ryan, Michael Turner) and gets to play a last-place schedule (opening against the Lions at home is a key springboard to any successful season), suddenly the road from worst to first (or in their 2008 case, second, but no matter) becomes a whole lot easier.

And within that schedule of hundreds of games comes some intriguing beauties that at least appear to be cool on paper before opening night rolls around. We think we have narrowed it down to 10 key ones.

New York Giants at Dallas (Week 2)

So let me get this straight. Dallas is still the best ratings draw in sports. They just built a stadium that was more expensive to build than even the Bandbox in the Bronx (some refer to it as the new Yankee Stadium), and they can’t get a home opener in Week 1?

We did some investigating and it turns out that someone forgot to inform the Texas Rangers not to schedule any games that weekend. Apparently the two organizations can’t co-exist in Arlington at the same time (despite Texas being bigger than France, Germany, Spain and a whole bunch of other countries).

Anyway, the projected over/under for Giants-Cowboys is 41. Note: That isn’t the number of points Vegas thinks both teams will combine for. Instead, 41 represents the number of do-overs on punts a national audience will see thanks to a scoreboard hanging so low over the field that Ed Too Tall Jones has already hit his head on it … twice.

Atlanta at New England (Week 3)

Matt Ryan returns to Boston to take on Tom Brady and the Pats in what could be a Super Bowl preview. And there’s a 99.7% chance Ryan will be compared to Tom Brady at least as many times as Brady will be compared to Joe Montana. Over/under on replays/angles of Brady’s ’08 knee injury: 4.1.

San Diego at Pittsburgh (Week 4)

Replay of the game with that wild ending when the Steelers scored an allegedly meaningless TD off a fumble on the final play of the game. “Allegedly meaningless” because those 88 percent of fans who watch football while having some kind of financial stake in the outcome (straight wagers, fantasy football, office pools) thought Pittsburgh had covered as a result of said TD. Some fortunate souls in Vegas were even able to cash on it until the NFL had its own George Brett pine tar moment and took it off the board many minutes later. This bizarre scenario ended up leading to thousands across the country simultaneously saying (expletives omitted), “I won the game, I lost the game … where’s Tim Donaghy when you need him?!?”

Oh yeah, one of these two teams should challenge New England in the AFC Championship. All that’s needed is for San Diego to break out the away version of the powder blues and we’ll have the greatest color game ever (color games to be defined a bit later).

New England at Denver (Week 4)

Since this is what the NFL is calling a “legacy game”, it got me genuinely excited to see the Pats in their ultra-cool red and blue throwbacks vs. the Broncos and their should-have-never-ever-been changed Orange crush uniforms. But because the league’s marketing gurus have this penchant for bypassing the type of uniforms I loved as a kid in the ’80s, Denver will be wearing unis absolutely no one under 60 can ever recall seeing.

Two thoughts:

1. Were the San Diego Padres inspired by this color scheme?

2. We now know the REAL reason why Jay Cutler wanted out of Denver.

And the news gets worse. The Broncos will actually be seen in these things TWICE this season.

Anywho, what actually occurs during the game will likely be a blowout considering the implosion that has occurred since Josh McDaniels arrived to the city way above sea level. Not since Isiah Thomas got off a plane at a local New York airport has there been a more ominous feeling to a start of a coaching career than that of Jilted Josh.

Ran the bratty franchise QB out of town? Check.

Almost ran the bratty franchise WR out of the town? Check.

Have already run myself out of town after we go 4-12? Check.

Unlike the whole Mangini feud between the Jets and Pats, Bill Belichick will not only shake McDaniels’ hand after the game, but will likely hug it out with his former coordinator like he’s the next Ari Gold for giving the Pats such an easy road victory.

Arizona at New York Giants (Week 7)

Two top NFC teams with completely contrasting styles face off in a former NFC East matchup (and you wonder why Arizona was so bad for so long, making cross-country trips to play teams in its own division for 14 years). Over/under on the Cardinals’ total rushing yards against a vastly superior defensive line? 34. Over/under on the number of times Plaxico’s name is mentioned if the Giants struggle on offense? 34.

Vikings at Packers (Week 8)

Not since T.O. (lately the hobbled one’s name has been T.O.E.) returned to Motownphilly has there been such anticipation for hearing just how loud one player will be booed during introductions. Seriously, has there ever been a player who has gone from deity to dope in one city more quickly than Brett Favre? From what I hear, even Warren from There’s Something About Mary got verbally accosted at a local Green Bay Dave & Busters after Favre began his purple reign.

By the way, even before No. 4 got involved this matchup was considered a huge one in deciding who wins the NFC North.

New England at Indianapolis (Week 10)

At some point, won’t one of the team owners ask, “Why do we have to play them every year? Can’t we get Detroit instead for playing the Colts/Pats each season like we’re in the same division?

Speaking of Tom Brady, I just caught his appearance on “Entourage” and just don’t get why Turtle hated him for most of the episode. His reasoning? Turtle’s a Giant fan and apparently anyone who follows the team has an obligation to tell Brady off if they see him in person.

Now I get the joke if the writers made Turtle a Jets fan (given the character’s Queens roots, that would make more sense). But the whole Tom-Brady-is-the-Giants-number-one nemesis thing made zero sense considering the teams aren’t rivals and hardly play each other (only nine meetings total in history).

By the way, Sloan may be the hottest girl in the history of television but can’t seem to get a big movie role. Seriously, what gives?

But before I go off on a Sloan tangent (which could make this column as long as the healthcare bill), a simple question has to be asked: Are the Colts the same team that made this rivalry great for most of the decade? The key people surrounding Peyton’s greatness (Addai, Harrison, Dungy) are either banged up, released or retired, respectively, and you have to wonder if you’re seeing the beginning of a rebuilding stage in Indy. Manning will always keep them competitive, but with more than a few picking the Titans and (gasp) Texans ahead of the Colts in the AFC South, one has to wonder if the blue and white are even on the Pats’ level anymore.

Indianapolis at Baltimore (Week 11)

The team that left Baltimore plays the team that replaced them in a compelling matchup of Peyton Manning vs. Ed Reed.

I always wonder when I watch these two teams play in Baltimore how many fans there continued to root for the Colts despite the move. The Ravens seem to have a great fan base, but for the old schoolers who watched everyone from Unitas to Bert Jones, did they just switch to the Ravens the moment the team began playing there?

In today’s world of DirecTV and seeing any team you like despite location, I would think more than a few would stick with the Colts. But when this whole thing went down in 1984, the moment those moving vans left on a snowy night, that allegiance had to go to the Redskins or Eagles since that was the one game they could see consistently on a Sunday afternoon, right? If you’re in Baltimore and born before 1970, feel free to email me on this one. I’m genuinely curious.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (Week 16)

The best 13-12 game the NFL has to offer. The hits are brutal, both teams are excellent — old school football at its finest.

But I still can’t get over Santonio Holmes sporting the number 10. Every time he catches a ball, I expect him to take off his helmet, then his face (which is actually a mask) and start laughing like a madman while exclaiming, “There is no Santonio Holmes! It was me, Kordell Stewart all along!”

This game is also a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game that finally showed Joe Flacco that we ain’t in Delaware anymore. But by the time this one rolls around, the impressive young QB will have more experience under his belt. Compared to Pittsburgh, the Ravens’ running game is superior, the defense is on par. So if Flacco can avoid the kind of crippling interception he tossed to Troy Polamalu late in last year’s conference championship, this game could decide who-gets-home-field-versus-who in the playoffs.

Philadelphia at Dallas (Week 17)

It’s great that the NFL regular season plays into January. A playoff spot will likely be on the line (as it was last year) and the new Dallas scoreboard that Jerry Jones refuses to move will likely result in 8-13 do-overs and might even be instrumental in blocking a field-goal attempt.

You just have to love it when a guy like Jones thinks he’s built the perfect stadium like the folks in New York did when the new Yankee Stadium opened, only to see things like scoreboards blocking punts or wind tunnels turning bunts into home runs transforming both venues into billion-dollar punchlines. It’s like a royal wedding being hyped for months until the actual day comes and the groom somehow loses the ring.

The only question is if Michael Vick will be driving defenses or Donovan McNabb crazy at that point in the season. This could also be the game that decides whether Wade Phillips survives another season as Cowboys’ coach.

So enjoy the NFL season, kids. The late start this year seems to have fans even more amped up than usual. Just refrain from making predictions like I just did. Remember, only weathermen get paid well for being consistently wrong.

Joe Concha is a contributor to FOXSports.com and will not miss one minute of one game this season outside of bathroom breaks and ill-timed weddings to attend. E-mail Joe at joe.concha@foxnews.com.