Looking at the 2012 regular-season schedule, there are plenty of enticing matchups. Which game are you most anticipating this fall?
I always loved football, but it became my obsession and profession just as these two players came of age. It's hard to judge if they are the greatest of all time, but they are undeniably the greatest of this time. My time. I'm going to savor any matchups they have left.
Broncos-Patriots, Week 5. When the schedule came out, I said it was Cowboys-Giants. And I'm still excited for that one. But there's never been a quarterback rivalry like Brady-Manning, and as the past year showed us, it's impossible to know how many more opportunities we'll get to watch these two all-timers square off.
Despite big challenges facing the Patriots in Week 3 (at Baltimore Ravens) and Week 4 (at Buffalo Bills), there's a decent chance New England rolls into this one at 4-0. The Denver Broncos' schedule sets up differently -- vs. Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, vs. Houston in the first three weeks of the season -- so this could be a big one for them for a different reason.
But seeing those two on the same field will be the main attraction here, regardless. Manning's 36. Brady's 35. They'll forever be linked to one another, and if the football gods are smiling down on Foxboro that day, maybe we get another one of the classic shootouts that marked the old Colts-Patriots rivalry for so long.
Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans, Week 6. Great offense vs. what should be a great defense. As I wrote back in April, this game feels like a potential Super Bowl XLVII preview. It will be interesting to see how Wade Phillips does against his much younger adversary, Mike McCarthy. The latter has been tearing up the league as a play caller for the last five seasons, but the silver fox has completely revamped what was once a Swiss cheese defense in Houston.
Personally, I'd like to see J.J. Watt swat an Aaron Rodgers pass into the air, pick it off and take it to the house. We all witnessed a tremendous amount of offensive production in 2011 -- record production, particularly in the passing game. Wouldn't it be a treat to see the pendulum swing the other way? If Aaron Rodgers throws 45 touchdowns to only six interceptions again, he'll have to earn it, with both the 49ers and Texans on the docket this season.
I cannot wait for the Week 5 game on Sunday, Oct. 7 between Tom Brady's Patriots and Peyton Manning's Broncos at Gillette Stadium. These living legends have waged so many epic battles through the years, and I have always appreciated watching arguably the smartest quarterback in league history (Manning) against the best coach in the last 25 years (Bill Belichick).
I love that the game is at Gillette Stadium, site of so many epic Brady-Manning battles.
Denver vs. New England on Oct. 7. First, you have the story of Peyton Manning's comeback. Judging by his preseason outings, it looks like he is going to be fine. But how will the Broncos be as a team? Will the rest of the offensive players be as good as Manning? By October, they should be in sync on offense.
Then you have the whole Brady-vs.-Manning debate, Belichick vs. Manning, too. Manning moved the ball on New England's defense in the last couple encounters. Can he do it again?
The 42-34 offensive slugfest between the Saints and Packers at historic Lambeau Field might have been the most exciting game of 2011 -- and it was played on the season's opening night! Drew Brees threw for 419 yards in that contest, trumping 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers' 312, but the Saints couldn't quite finish a late comeback attempt as time expired.
The teams face off in Lambeau again this year in Week 4, and there's every reason to expect more aerial fireworks and another exciting fourth quarter from two of the league's best quarterbacks.
The obvious answer here is Cowboys-Giants, because it signals the start of another NFL season, and personally, I can't wait. And there are other great games early in the season many of us will zero in on, like the Detroit Lions' trip to San Francisco in Week 2.
Bump around Southern California during the summer and you start believing this is going to be the Raiders' year, listening to filibusters from Raiders fans on local talk shows. Eventually, you come down with a football version of Stockholm Syndrome, starting to agree that the Raiders are on the verge of big things. ...
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos on Sunday night in Week 1. The most anticipated return since Joe Montana's Kansas City Chiefs debut in 1993. The world will be watching to see if Peyton can return to form and pick apart last season's top-rated defense.
Playing against Peyton can be extremely frustrating; when you think you're perfectly disguising a defensive look to attack, he will check the check of the check, forcing the defense to show its hand. This game will provide an early verdict on whether or not he's still able to compete at an elite level.
Who knows how many more times we'll get to see Brady v. Manning -- everyone must relish whatever we have left. The Colts finally vanquishing the Patriots back in January 2007 to reach the Super Bowl for the first time might have been the finest-played NFL game I've ever seen. While I can't expect that again, I sure can hope for something like it.
When we look back at this personal rivalry in a few years, it will take on mythical status. And we'll realize after the fact that we should have paid even more attention to it.