1. New England at New York Jets (Sept. 19): The normally understated Tom Brady is on record as saying that he dislikes the New York Jets. He hates them so much he didn’t bother to watch HBO’s “Hard Knocks” during training camp. All the talking from Jets coach Rex Ryan has rubbed Brady and the Patriots the wrong way. He thinks that Jets are barking real loud when all they did last season was get close to going to the Super Bowl. Brady, with his three rings, is offended. The Jets will visit New England later in the season on Dec. 6.
2. Indianapolis at New England (Nov. 21): The two perennial AFC powers should turn in a late-season cold-weather gem. This one should have playoff implications if the Patriots are back to full strength. The Colts are the defending AFC champs and are aiming to return to the Super Bowl. By this time in the season both teams will have worked out their issues on defense. Also, the Colts will have worked out their issues with the umpire running in the middle of their no-huddle operation.
3. Minnesota at New Orleans (Sept. 9): The rematch of the NFC title game is an excellent game to kick off the season. This one will feature Brett Favre vs. Drew Brees with the rest of the league watching. The Saints will have a stiff test as they start out on the defense of their Super Bowl title. Stopping Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson will be key for the Saints. They didn’t make any major moves over the offseason to improve the league’s 21st-ranked defense against the run.
4. Pittsburgh at Baltimore (Dec. 5): This one could be for the lead in the NFC North. The Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger back by this game and will try to close the season strong. Baltimore safety Ed Reed will be back, too. The Ravens have lost four of their past five to the division-rival Steelers. The Ravens will try to unleash their running-back combo of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain.
5. Washington at Philadelphia (Oct. 3): Donovan McNabb returns to Philadelphia. This is when it will really hit the Eagles that it might not have been a good idea to trade McNabb within the division. It will be interesting to see how the Philadelphia “fans” welcome the man who took them to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl over 11 years. The Redskins figure to be able to run the football under new coach Mike Shanahan. The Redskins will host the Eagles on Nov. 15.
6. Dallas at Minnesota (Oct. 17): The Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs by the Vikings 34-3 last season. If they are going to make it to the Super Bowl, this would be a good game for the Cowboys to show they can handle a quality opponent. If Tony Romo and Brett Favre can’t put on a passing show, both teams still have some of the best running backs in the league. The Vikings also boast the best defensive-tackle tandem in the NFL in Pat and Kevin Williams, who make up the “Williams Wall.”
7. New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts (Sept. 19): The Manning Bowl, with Eli guiding the Giants and Peyton at the control for the Colts. This will be the brothers’ second meeting.
8. Dallas at Indianapolis (Dec. 5): The Cowboys and the Colts don’t play often. This should be a good matchup with Tony Romo trying to match aerial strikes with Peyton Manning.
9. Baltimore at Falcons (Nov. 11): This is Joe Flacco vs. Matt Ryan. They were the top two quarterbacks selected in the 2008 draft, with Ryan going to the Falcons at No. 3 and Flacco going to the Ravens at No. 18. Both led their teams to the playoffs as rookies with the help of strong running games. Flacco and the Ravens returned to the playoffs last season. This late-season game should help establish Ryan or Flacco’s playoff identity for 2010.
10. Green Bay at New England (Dec. 19): By this stage in the season, it will be known if the Packers are indeed a legitimate Super Bowl contender and if the Patriots have returned to elite status. While Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are the headliners, two of the best route runners in the game will be on display. Green Bay’s Donald Driver and New England’s Wes Welker will be worth watching closely in this one.