Breaking down the season's biggest games

Now that the 2010 NFL regular-season schedule has been released, let’s take a look at 10 games that should offer some drama, intrigue and playoff implications:

Week 1: Minnesota at New Orleans
Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST

This is probably too easy to put on the list because it’s the opener, but with the probability of Brett Favre coming back to Minnesota and a rematch of the ’09 NFC Championship game, it makes for great theater. Favre returning, Drew Brees and Saints fans with a full day to tailgate. Last time, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ New Orleans defense went after Favre, and with a full summer to prepare, expect the pressure to be dialed up even more. Great game to start the season.

Week 2: New England at NY Jets
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. EST

One of the best games of the season when it comes to game planning. How does Rex Ryan approach the Pats offense and how does Tom Brady respond? I love the way New England can dictate the flow of a game offensively when it comes to how it changes personnel from series to series, but if there’s one defense that can roll with each and every move it makes, it’s the Jets. Another Darrelle Revis-Randy Moss matchup and an entire week of hype to chew on.

Week 4: Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

This has always been must-see football for me during the regular season because each series counts for so much in terms of the final score. But where is Pittsburgh after three weeks with the expected suspension of Ben Roethlisberger? I see the Ravens as the class of the AFC North, and this could be a game that puts the Steelers in a hole if they don’t find an identity on offense without their franchise QB over the first month of the season.

Week 7: Minnesota at Green Bay
Sunday, 8:20 p.m. EST

Favre heading back to Lambeau for the second straight year is the ultimate draw for this game, but we’re also talking about the two teams that should compete for the NFC North title. For Green Bay to do that, it must take care of divisional opponents at home. This will be a much-improved Packers team than the Vikings faced from last season, but until I see it, Minnesota is still the team to beat in the North.

Week 10: Dallas at N.Y. Giants
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. EST

The Cowboys and Giants should battle each other throughout the regular season, and their last matchup of 2010 should have implications in the divisional race. How does the Giants defense respond under new coordinator Perry Fewell and his Cover 2 scheme? Is Dallas as loaded as it looks on both sides of the ball? Both head coaches are expected to win this season and go deep into the playoffs. And once November rolls around, the NFC East is on a par with any in the entire league

Philadelphia at Washington
Monday, 8:30 p.m. EST

It would be easier to pick the first matchup between these two when Donovan McNabb returns to Philly, but I want to see how this trade plays out. Where are Kevin Kolb and the Eagles? Has the young QB worked through some adversity and produced under Andy Reid? And in D.C, is Mike Shanahan’s team a competitor in the NFC East. McNabb should give them six wins alone, but who else is contributing for the Redskins? This game will tell us a lot about both QBs — and both teams.

Week 11: Indianapolis at New England
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. EST

There is some discussion about where this game fits when we talk about the best rivalries in the league, but it’s hard not to take it into account because both clubs are playoff contenders every year. The star power alone of Peyton Manning vs. Brady is enough to keep this game high on the list for the regular season. Bill Belichick gets to game plan for Manning, and Brady gets to work against Dwight Freeney and the Cover 2 scheme of the Colts. Good TV.

Week 12: San Francisco at Arizona
Monday, 8:30 p.m. EST

This game should tell us a lot about the NFC West. Is Matt Leinart still producing at this point of the season, or was the loss of Kurt Warner — and a number of big names — too much for the Cardinals in 2010? The Niners win games by running the football, playing defense and taking some shots down the field. Expect that to stay the same, and watch as Michael Crabtree turns into a solid No. 1 WR for an underrated San Fran ball club. This game should be for the division.

Week 14: Miami at N.Y. Jets
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. EST

At this point in the season, the AFC East will begin to play out, and one of these two teams could be home during January. Both clubs have made moves this offseason to upgrade their rosters and challenge the Patriots for the East title, and both play with the same physical style that translates into winning come December. The Jets added some big names, and the Dolphins added a top-five WR in Brandon Marshall to go along with QB Chad Henne. I love this matchup already.

Week 17: Tennessee at Indianapolis
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Besides the fact that Titans RB Chris Johnson could be going for a second consecutive 2,000-yard rushing season, Tennessee could be playing for a wild card spot if it can avoid another early season slide. The hope with the schedule makers is that divisional games in Week 17 would prevent teams from packing it in and resting starters. And that’s the hope in this matchup -- that Tennessee and Indianapolis are playing for postseason spots or, even better, the AFC South title.

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