One of the surprises in the 2017 NFL schedule is how many good games get Sunday afternoon play.
The Packers kick it off by hosting the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon in Week 1. This could have been a perfect late-November or early-December matchup of two of the best teams in the NFC and two of the best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
The Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry gets an early Sunday afternoon game in Week 4 on Oct. 1. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the Titans fare in their efforts to catch the Texans in the AFC South.
Here are my picks for the 10 best games to watch in 2017:
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22 (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Too bad this wasn’t the game to open the season, but it’s still the most anticipated rematch. The Patriots’ comeback from a 25-point, second-half deficit goes down as the greatest Super Bowl I’ve seen. What makes this more interesting is the Falcons will know just how they have rebounded from that devastating loss because the game is seven weeks into the season. The pressure is really on the Falcons because their game at New England marks the first of three consecutive road games.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17 (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
Over the past two years, I’ve felt the Steelers were the only team that could go into a playoff game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and pull out a victory. That didn’t happen last season. Though the Steelers lost a Week 7 home game to the Patriots at Heinz Field last season when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed the game because of an injury, a healthy Big Ben at home might be able to aid the Steelers in pulling out a win and securing home-field advantage in the playoffs over New England this time.
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)
Moving this game to Week 1 only enhances its value. Eddie Lacy has even more incentive to make his mandatory 245-pound weight requirement for the season opener. He’s facing the team that didn’t keep him around, while the Packers will still be figuring out how they can create a running game without him.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 19 (8:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
The Raiders are relevant again. They won 12 games last season, but they couldn’t do anything in the playoffs after quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg. The AFC West is a three-way race between the Raiders, Chiefs and Denver Broncos, but the Chiefs might have a little edge over Denver because Alex Smith is a better quarterback than Trevor Siemian. Plus, Oakland should be out for revenge — the Chiefs beat them twice in 2016.
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
The Cowboys returned to being America’s team in 2016 thanks to a draft that netted them quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Giants spent more than $200 million in free-agent contracts last year and fixed their defensive holes. Prescott will get his chance in the season opener to show whether he can advance his stature, especially since veteran Tony Romo retired for a job in television. The Giants, however, have won their past three games against the Cowboys.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17 (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Last year’s 33-32 win over the Packers in the Georgia Dome was a classic. This rematch should be even better. The Falcons’ defense — thanks to improving second-year players from a great 2016 draft class and the signing of Dontari Poe — should be better. And Atlanta is opening its new stadium. You can’t go wrong with Aaron Rodgers dueling with Matt Ryan.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10 (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Though the Ravens have been an average team over the past few seasons, this rivalry is arguably the best in football. These games are intense. The Steelers’ rivalry against the Cincinnati Bengals grew thanks to Vontaze Burfict, but the Bengals fell off last season. So we go with Steelers vs. Ravens in a game that should have playoff consequences.
at Dallas Cowboys
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 30 (8:25 p.m. ET, NBC)
Two years ago, the NFC East was the pits. Last year, the division bounced back with the Cowboys getting younger, the Giants getting better on defense and the Redskins energizing their offense with Kirk Cousins. A Thursday night game between these great rivals puts this matchup in the top 10.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3 (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
I know the AFC South has been down, but two years ago we watched the Texans take over from the Indianapolis Colts as the Colts’ defense faded. With a strong running game and Marcus Mariota, the Titans might be ready to take over the division, making this late-season matchup critical.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10 (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)
Every top 10 should feature a fun matchup. I’m going with the battle of the top two quarterbacks from the 2016 draft — not named Dak Prescott, of course — in Carson Wentz of the Eagles and Jared Goff of the Rams.