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Twelve more intriguing games to anticipate on 2012 schedule

Jim Prisching/Associated Press
Aaron Rodgers' Packers host the Niners in 2012, a classic matchup of high-powered offense vs. stingy defense.

Earlier this week, we posted 12 for '12, a look at the top games of the upcoming season. There are some ridiculously attractive matchups that give all of us football heads a reason to get all geeked up.

Yes, it's April, but after reading some of the comments posted on the article, and taking a second perusal of the 2012 schedule, there were a few games that stood out like Nicolas Cage's hairpiece in "National Treasure."

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Not exactly an instant classic, but Niners-Packers will be. As will another Peyton Manning game not mentioned in the first dozen. And how about Tim Tebow? You have to think he'll leave his indelible stamp on the Jets' season in some capacity, but in which game? Below is the best of the rest, 12 more for '12 ...

1. San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers

These are two very different cities. One bratwurst, the other tuna tartare. One beer, the other red wine. And while Green Bay can score on anyone, no one can match up with the 49ers' front seven. This promises to be hard-fought, strategic football, with a historical precedent being the '99 NFC Championship Game between the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" and Tony Dungy's Tampa Two.

2. Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans

Another stiff test for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Texans got awfully stingy last season under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and their front seven might be the AFC's best -- even without Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans. In fact, the outcome of this cross-conference dogfight could hinge on the battle between Texans defensive end J.J. Watt -- the real deal -- and Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Would anyone be that surprised if Green Bay and Houston faced off in Super Bowl XLVII?

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3. Houston Texans at Denver Broncos

Rodgers isn't the only elite quarterback that Phillips' 3-4 will try to pressure into oblivion. Denver hosts Houston in a game that should have major playoff implications.

Adding more intrigue to this one are the rumors that the Texans were one organization Peyton Manning had on his "yes" list. As many of you out there know, the Texans traditionally had Peyton Manning ills, going 2-16 against him all-time. Two and sixteen. That's domination. How will the 36-year-old do with a cast of so-so's against his favorite beatdown partner?

4. Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

Speaking of beatdowns, the Ravens put a 35-7 smackdown on the Steelers in the 2011 season opener in Baltimore last season. Ray Rice ran wild, the Steelers defense looked old, and the AFC North would ultimately fall to John Harbaugh's group. Of course, getting a controversial win at Heinz Field in Week 9 -- courtesy of a Torrey Smith pushoff -- didn't hurt.

Many of you chirped up about this AFC rivalry in the 12 for '12 column, and not without cause. Obviously the Ravens and Steelers line it up twice a year, but the key game here will be the day they play in Baltimore. Pittsburgh had its trouble on the road last season, beyond just the 28-point loss in Maryland. Road failures in Houston, San Francisco and Denver deep-sixed the Steelers' homefield and Lombardi aspirations.

5. San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots

Although not as constrained as Tebow, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith didn't exactly air it out last year, while being the least-picked-off quarterback in the NFL, with a miniscule 1.1 interception percentage. But will the new-look 49ers offense featuring Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Brandon Jacobs be able to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots' attack?

That all depends on whether the best front seven in football can get pressure on Brady, as well as beat up tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez off the line. There's really no reason for the Niners to honor the New England running game, especially with BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone. Brady taking on a unit with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith and host of physical players makes for good viewing. It's also the Super Bowl we could have seen last year if returning punts wasn't such a tough task in San Francisco.

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6. Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers

Boy, the Broncos' 2012 schedule has check marks all over it, in a good way. Granted, this might be more of a niche contest, but Broncos at Panthers presents a storyline reflecting an undercurrent of the pro football landscape for the past decade. Specifically, what or who is more desirable: the veteran pocket passer who surgically attacks the defense or the athletic specimen whose talent is so great it supersedes the value of 15 years of reading defenses and coverages? Peyton Manning vs. Cam Newton.

And if we're talking about the attractiveness of this game, how about John Fox going back to the place where he roamed the sidelines for the better part of a decade? Or the fact that current Panthers coach Ron Rivera had this team playing hard last year and Carolina could be primed for a wild-card run?

7. Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys

If Peyton-Cam I is old era vs. new era, floppy disk vs. flash drive, then Pittsburgh-Dallas is 1970s NFL Films hardcore football porn. Here's Steelers-Cowboys in a nutshell:

A. The best uni matchup in pro football. Period.
B. A reminder of three highly competitive Super Bowls, especially Super Bowl XIII.
C. The Preston Pearson Bowl. Look him up. He played on both teams, and was the first "third-down back" in the NFL (another Tom Landry invention.)
D. Two of the league's largest fan bases and most successful franchises, with a combined 16 Super Bowl appearances between them.
E. Blue collar meets white collar.

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8. Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles (first meeting)

What will be so fun to watch when Robert Griffin III takes on the Eagles is the juxtaposition of his game with Eagles starter Michael Vick, who truly wrote the script for both Griffin and Carolina's Newton. Would Cam have been the top overall pick in last year's draft if Vick hadn't upset the Packers in the 2002 playoffs, rushed for 1,000 yards in 2006 or been the MVP runner-up in 2010? Would RG3 be going second overall in the 2012 draft? You know the answer.

9. Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets

Andrew Luck will make his first appearance where he's not being hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread. How will he fare against Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's scheme, which has guys moving around constantly pre-snap, as opposed to the stationary defenses Luck played in college? Not to mention, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are just a hair better than any starting pair of corners Luck faced in college.

What if Luck completely outplays Mark Sanchez? Firemen Ed's head might explode. Santonio Holmes might start whining. Oh, wait ... he does that already. Vice versa, what if Tim Tebow plays and outperforms Luck? We'd all be Twittered to death.

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10-12. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Colts, vs. Titans, at Vikings

While we're on the subject of Andrew Luck, a compelling story exists regarding Blaine Gabbert, who, like Luck, is expected to get the Jags out of the franchise doldrums. But the reality is that those expectations are already tempered, even with the most ardent of Jags fans. Gabbert blinked too often, didn't handle pressure well and ultimately was ineffective all season long.

Developing a franchise quarterback is a long-play deal. But if Luck (who hasn't taken a snap yet) and the Titans' Jake Locker (who's barely seen the field) outduel Gabbert in Jacksonville, what does that mean for new head coach Mike Mularkey and GM Gene Smith? Ditto if Gabbert falters against the Vikings, who feature a quarterback taken two spots after Gabbert in the 2011 draft, Christian Ponder.

Remember, Gabbert was not Mularkey's choice. He wasn't there. And while people can make excuses for the former Missouri standout, the fact is that Jacksonville's passing attack was horrid on many levels last year. Losses to the Luck, Locker and Ponder would just make the Jags' top 2011 pick look that much worse.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL

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