5 Must Watch Games of the 2013 NFL Season

Pro football returns tomorrow. Which games will make headlines throughout the season? Credit: Jeff Gross/ Getty Images North America

The NFL returns tomorrow night with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens opening on the road against the Denver Broncos in a rematch of last year’s instant classic, double overtime, divisional round thriller.

While this should be an entertaining start to a fantastic season, Vegas does not see the game as terribly close, as Denver is opening as a seven to nine point favorite.  So what will be the best games of the upcoming season?

These five games feature intriguing storylines and should have serious playoff implications.  Regrettably, there are no interleague games, but only because teams are listed in only one matchup so as a few teams do not dominate the list.

Without further ado, the must watch NFL games of 2013 are:

5. Week 5: New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears – October 6th, 1:00 FOX

            Neither of these teams made the playoffs last season.  However, that is likely to change this season.  Both the Saints and Bears are legitimate contenders and this is a critical early season matchup for the NFC playoff picture.

Saints coach Sean Payton returns this year after a year-long suspension and that will greatly help the team.  New Orleans already ranked second in total offense and first in passing offense last season and they should improve with their mastermind back.  The Saints defense will also improve from last year where they eclipsed the NFL record for most yards allowed in a year by 249 yards.

Chicago has the defense to shut down the prolific Saints passing game, creating a classic offense-defense matchup.  With star corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings leading the way, the Bears finished fifth in total defense and eighth in pass defense.

Watching Drew Brees target Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, and company against the stingy Bears pass defense should be ridiculously entertaining, especially if Julius Peppers can create pressure.  Considering New Orleans is essentially equally terrible defending the run and pass, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte will both put up some highlights.  Expect a relatively high scoring game, even though Chicago ranked third in scoring defense.

4. Week 3: Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens – September 22nd, 1:00 CBS

            Yes, Houston embarrassed the Super Bowl champions 43-13 at home last October.  However, a change of venue to Baltimore adds intrigue to what was already one of the biggest games on the early season slate.

In a relatively weak AFC, the Texans and Ravens are still two of the league’s top contenders.  Ed Reed’s return to Baltimore after he left as part of the exodus of Ravens only adds excitement.

This is Houston’s first real test of the season and also gives Baltimore a real chance to open 1-2 if they fall to Denver tomorrow.  Though Baltimore’s defense will certainly look different, it will effectively play the same as always.  The return of a healthy Lardarius Webb gives Baltimore’s secondary a needed boost.

This matchup also features two of the best running backs in the league in Arian Foster and Ray Rice.  Houston has the superior run defense though, which could mean the difference in the game.

Now that Andre Johnson has a counterpart in rookie DeAndre Hopkins, this provides an opportunity to see if Houston can actually run a balanced passing attack.  For Baltimore, the offensive line needs to find a way to contain reigning Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt to have success.

3. Week 14: Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers – December 8th, 8:30 NBC

            Two of the NFL’s elite offensive units squaring up in a late season battle with playoff seeding implications on the line: what’s not to like?  Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers lead the sixth and ninth ranked passing offenses and have a host of weapons at their disposals.

Both teams looked for running back help in the offseason and while Atlanta ultimately nabbed Steven Jackson from the St. Louis Rams, Green Bay added rookie Eddie Lacy.  This matchup will showcase both backs skills in a predominantly passing offense.

Realistically though, this game is all about passing.  Roddy White and Julio Jones form the best receiving tandem in the league for Atlanta, supplemented by future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.  And Green Bay’s combination of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones is quite fearsome as well.

While this game is all about offense, there is a couple of exciting pass rushers who add to the intrigue.  Clay Matthews is a star for the Packers and Atlanta replaced John Abraham with Osi Umenyiora.

This game is especially huge for Atlanta because it kicks off a killer three game stretch that sees them face Washington and San Francisco in weeks 15 and 16.  However, they face an uphill battle stopping the league’s best quarterback in the December cold of Wisconsin.

2. Week 12: Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots – November 24th, 8:30 NBC

            The two best quarterbacks of a generation are back at it against each other.  Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have provided fans with so many great memories and this game should prove no different.

This is basically the only game that can supplant the Atlanta-Green Bay in terms of offensive and, in particular, passing fireworks.  Last season, Denver finished fourth in total offense, fifth in passing offense, and second in scoring offense.  However, New England topped them by finishing first in total offense, fourth in passing offense, and first in scoring offense.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, much of their passing game will have to change.  Wes Welker is now with the Broncos and will make his return in this game.  Danny Amendola replaced him, but he does not have Welker’s track record.  Tight end Rob Gronkowski should be healthy, but without Aaron Hernandez the Patriots cannot replicate their devastating two tight end sets.

With Welker in the fold, the Broncos receiving corps that also includes Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker is incredibly dynamic.  While the running back situation is unsettled, they should have three 1000 yard receivers.

The major difference between Denver and New England is defense.  The Broncos ranked second in yards allowed last season while the Patriots ranked 25th.  While Von Miller is suspended for six weeks, he will back for this game and that can make all the difference, even if the game is in Foxborough.

1.  Week 14: Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers- December 8th, 4:25 FOX

            The best matchup of this season’s NFL actually happens twice: this just happens to be the more important game.  The two favorites in the NFC are divisional rivals who meet for the first time next Sunday night.  But, the week 14 game is the one with the true playoff seeding implications.

Scoring will be at a premium in these games as Seattle and San Francisco ranked first and second in scoring defense, and fourth and third in total defense respectively.  Yes, Seattle won the second meeting last season 42-13, but this game features too much defensive talent for a repeat to happen.

Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, and Aldon Smith anchor San Francisco’s incredible linebacking corps, while Justin Smith occupies blockers up front.  Add the intrigue of Nnamdi Asomugha and San Francisco has the most entertaining defense to watch.  Seattle’s aggressive; turnover forcing group lead by Richard Sherman is not an entertainment slouch either.

Add two exciting, dynamic young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick and this game suddenly becomes more than a defensive battle.  Both teams run the ball incredibly well, with Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch led attack ranking third last season and San Francisco’s Frank Gore paced run game ranking fourth.

For fans that love old-school running based offense and tough defense, this is the game to watch.  But, there is so much more to watch for with the quarterbacks and divisional rivalry.  San Francisco may have a slight edge, if only because of their superior offensive line.

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