July 4th is a national holiday, with the majority of the country off from work, enjoying time with friends and family ... but no football. If you could earmark one game on the 2012 NFL schedule as a national holiday, with the majority of the country tuned in, which game would it be?
First game of season should always be a national holidayCowboys-Giants, Week 1 on Wednesday night -- without question. Ushering back in the season has become a bigger deal each year, and the NFL always delivers a marquee matchup for opening night. For this one, we have the world champions from the nation's No. 1 market and the league's biggest ratings magnet. But moreso, we have the return of football, and that's why it should be a national holiday.
Back in the 1930s (or whenever baseball was America's favorite sport), kids would play hooky on MLB's opening day. They don't need to with football, not with 8:30 p.m. ET kickoffs. But if there's one way to make that Thursday night (or this year, Wednesday night) game bigger, it's to make it what it already is -- a holiday -- and give everyone the day off. Let all those kids skip school like their grandfathers used to for those other games.
Manning-Brady XIII: NFL's best quarterback rivalryThis is an easy one. On Oct. 7, the New England Patriots play the Denver Broncos in a game the entire country should be forced to sit down and watch. The NFL was robbed last year of the its 13th meeting of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, but not this year.
Sure, sure, Manning is playing for Denver now, but the key elements of the NFL's best quarterback rivalry are still there. Brady and Manning will still be matching right arms in a battle to reach 40 points, with this contest taking place at Gillette Stadium. If history is any indicator, it'll go down to the wire.
The only question really is who will be this year's James Sanders, making the game-saving interception? Who will be this year's Melvin Bullitt, tackling Kevin Faulk on fourth-and-2. Just make sure you watch until the end.
High intensity of Lions-Niners will be must-see TVThere are dozens of must-see games in the upcoming season, but I'm most looking forward to the Week 2 matchup between the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers.
They played an entertaining game last season that culminated in one of the most memorable postgame moments in NFL history. Both the game and the postgame handshake were filled with high intensity and aggressiveness. Both teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2012 and this game figures to be entertaining from start to finish ... and even a little bit longer.
No doubt that Saints-Packers will deliver another classicAssuming that Drew Brees eventually signs a long-term contract, he'll once again lead the New Orleans Saints into Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers in a Week 4 duel. It will be a rematch of what was arguably the most exciting game of the 2011 season.
The Packers won a 42-34 shootout over New Orleans in the league's regular-season opener at Lambeau Field last year, with the two teams combining for 876 yards of offense. The Packers needed a goal-line stand in the game's waning moments to preserve the victory. Expect another back-and-forth contest this season, with Brees and Rodgers slicing up secondaries with surgical precision and also showing off their athleticism with some awe-provoking plays outside of the pocket.
Broncos vs. Patriots will provide plenty of fireworksMy choice is Denver at New England on Oct. 7. There was no better rivalry than Colts-Patriots when Manning was in Indianapolis. Every network wanted the game every year. Brady vs. Manning: Who is better? How many instant debates did that question spark?
This year, there is even more intrigue. How will Manning be physically? What will the Denver offense be like? Remember a few years back when Bill Belichick went against conventional wisdom and went for it on fourth down deep in his own territory and didn't get it? I believe Belichick was convinced his defense could not stop Manning if he gave him the ball back, no matter what the yard line was.
And remember, New England beat Denver twice last year because the Broncos' defense could not stop Brady. The best defense against Brady is a high-powered pass offense and a pass rush. Does Denver now have the formula to upset New England?
That is my national holiday game. And you won't need artificial fireworks for this one.
Tebow Thursday? I've got a better idea for a holidayHey, I'm all for more national holidays. On vacation, I tried to lobby New York for R.A. Dickey Day, but that didn't go so well. I'm sure I'll have better luck with Tim Tebow this fall. ("It's Tebow Thursday -- Happy off day, everyone!") But if we're looking for a time to celebrate football, let's do this:
Opening week of the NFL, let's have half the slate of games on Sunday, as is the norm. Then let's have the other half play Monday night. Four games at 7:30 p.m. ET and four more at 10:30 p.m. ET. And the holiday, since plenty of people will be up late watching the West Coast games, will be the next day, Tuesday, so fans can sleep in. I know there's a faction that would rather have the three-day weekend but this is a holiday for football, not for hitting a time-share down by the shore.
Might not get many more chances to see Brady vs. ManningManning. Brady. 4:25 p.m. ET on Oct. 7 in Foxboro. Forget a national holiday. I would be happy if this was at least a primetime game. CBS got lucky to score this game because it's the most intriguing matchup of the regular season.
Manning's recent surgery was a reminder how quickly a career can change. Or end. Tom Brady is 35 years old. This is the best rivalry of the past decade and we may not get to see many more like it.