Joy of NFL means schedule offers once-bad games new hope

Chris O'Meara / Associated Press
The Lions and Bucs matchup didn't seem important at the start of last season. That should be different in 2011.

Every year brings new twists and turns in the NFL. Success one season might mean nothing the following September. The one constant seems to be change. With that in mind, once-dormant rivalries take on more importance and once-overlooked games suddenly become intriguing.

It's been some time since we entered a season expecting much from a Chiefs-Raiders meeting, but the two this season (Weeks 7 and 16) could settle the AFC West. The Tampa Bay Bucs, youthful upstarts a year ago, will host Detroit, a team that finished strong, in what could amount to a huge NFC tiebreaker despite them meeting in Week 1. Who would have dared suggest that a year ago?

Games to look forward to in 2011
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» Breakdowns: Weeks | Teams | Primetime

The Rams host two out-of-division NFC playoff teams from a season ago, and those two meetings with the Eagles in Week 1 and Saints in Week 8 will be litmus tests on how ready St. Louis is for the big time. The 49ers have visions of winning the NFC West as well, and in Week 12, they will make some history as they travel to Baltimore on Thanksgiving, with brothers Jim and John Harbaugh coaching against each other for the first time.

The Titans could need to make a statement in their opener, at Jacksonville, as they kickoff a season without Jeff Fisher at the helm for the first time in seemingly a generation.

And, any meeting between the Colts and Patriots (Week 13) is worth the price of admission. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons can put up more of a fight when they host the Packers in a playoff rematch in Week 5.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.



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