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Breaking down the 'Thursday Night Football' slate

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For the second straight season we have a full slate of Thursday Night Football games shown on NFL Network, with eight on CBS. This year we couple those fourteen contests with two Saturday games in Week 15 and 16, exclusively on NFLN.

Once again schedule makers decided to mainly pit division rivals on TNF -- all but three games, which take place at the back end of the schedule -- in an effort to build intrigue and importance of the matchups.

There are several highlights to unpack in the TNF calendar, beginning with our opening game in Week 2, which pits AFC West rivals, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Peyton Manning's health and new offense will be displayed in primetime early in the season and in one of the most difficult places to travel. And who doesn't love a good Ravens-Steelers slugfest early in the season? -- Week 4 also currently sits as Le'Veon Bell's first potential game of the season.

TNF also brings us a bevy of first looks during the 2015 season. From Rex Ryan's return to New York in Week 10 (Jace Amrao better have that date underlined) to a Seahawks-49ers rivalry renewed sans Jim Harbaugh. We'll even get to witness Andre Johnson's return to his home in Houston when the Colts visit the Texans in Week 5.

We could continue to list a host of reasons why this set of primetime affairs makes us giddy, but without further laboring, lets dive into each matchup (all times in eastern):

Week 2 (Sept. 17): Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

Not only will we get a nighttime glimpse of Manning's offense, we will receive a better look at Jeremy Maclin's fit with Alex Smith. Could the Chiefs finally break their receiver-scoring drought against one of the toughest cornerback duos in the NFL?

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Week 3 (Sept. 24): Washington Redskins at New York Giants, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

In his one matchup against the Redskins last year Odell Beckham Jr. went off for 12 catches, 143 yards and three touchdowns. Washington has attempted to upgrade its defense this offseason, but we'll see if they can slow down the dynamic OBJ this time around.

Week 4 (Oct 1): Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

Regardless of whether his suspension is reduced or not, Le'Veon Bell will be back. The runner would have made a big difference in last year's playoff matchup against the Ravens.

Week 5 (Oct. 8): Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

Andre Johnson's return should be celebrated, but the receiver to watch is T.Y. Hilton. The Colts' 25-year-old wideout is averaging 110 yards per game against the Texans for his career. Last time he was in Houston, Hilton went off for 223 yards on nine catches and a score. Can the Texans slow him down this visit?

Week 6 (Oct. 15): Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

This NFC South matchup pits a new coach versus a revamped philosophy. Dan Quinn wants to bring speed and toughness to the Falcons defense and Sean Payton has reformatted his offense around a ground attack. It's always a riot when the Falcons visit the Saints, but this one should be particularly interesting and informative.

Week 7 (Oct. 22): Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

Will the rivalry flame lose some luster with Jim Harbaugh back in college? We doubt the blaze will go out that easily, but the 49ers have a lot to prove after being held to 10 points total by the Seahawks in two games last year.

Week 8 (Oct. 29): Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

It's the first chance for the Dolphins to unleash Ndamukong Suh on Tom Brady and the Pats interior offensive line. We'll see if the behemoth defensive tackle is worth all those pennies he'll be paid to help tip the balance of the AFC East towards South Beach.

Week 9 (Nov. 5): Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:25 p.m., NFLN

The interstate rivalry returns to the bright lights -- where Andy Dalton usually wilts. Last year, Dalton put up a 2.0 passer rating at home against the Browns on TNF. He can't duplicate that again, right?

Week 10 (Nov. 12): Buffalo Bills at New York Jets, 8:25 p.m., NFLN

This date is circled at least 46 times on Rex Ryan's calendar.

Week 11 (Nov. 19): Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars, 8:25 p.m., NFLN

You might whine about this now-annual TNF matchup, but you'll still watch. (And I'll still enjoy it.) Depending on what road the Titans take in the upcoming draft, this game could pit two of the best young, up-and-coming quarterbacks in the NFL.

(Note: Week 12 includes all Thanksgiving games -- Eagles-Lions; Panthers-Cowboys; Bears-Packers -- you can read a full analysis of those holiday games from Chris Wesseling right here.)

Week 13 (Dec. 3): Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN

Both will play on Thanksgiving and have a full week to rest prior to their Thursday tussle. Last time Green Bay traveled to Detroit, Aaron Rodgers struggled. But there is no Ndamukong Suh to cause havoc (or step on him) this time around.

Week 14 (Dec. 10): Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals, 8:25 p.m., NFLN

Diving into reckless speculation: Could Adrian Peterson end up facing his former team on this date? We doubt it.

Still, seeing Teddy Bridgewater battle the Cards' secondary late in the season while both could be angling for a playoff spot will be all kinds of entertaining.

Week 15 (Dec. 17): Tampa Bay Buccaneers at St. Louis Rams, 8:25 p.m., NFLN

Will this be the first Thursday game for Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? Will the Rams finally be busting through their seemingly ever-present 7-9 fate to rally for a playoff spot?

Week 15 (Dec. 19): New York Jets at Dallas Cowboys, (Saturday) 8:25 p.m., NFLN

Saturday games in December are fantastic. Dez Bryant matching up against Darrelle Revis is the cheery on top of that glorious pie.

Week 16 (Dec. 24): San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders, 8:25 p.m., NFLN

The Chargers don't play well in the Black Hole and a division game this late in the season always has the chance to make or break someone's season.

Plus, we get to celebrate NFL games sandwiched around the Christmas holiday.

Week 16 (Dec. 26): Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles, (Saturday)  8:25 p.m., NFLN

We wrap up with Chip Kelly back playing on a Saturday -- no I'm not saying Philly will revolt and Kelly will quit and return to college mid-season. It's only fitting that we end our slate with an NFC East rivalry that could determine the fate of a tight division once again.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down Adrian Peterson's return and discusses the Cleveland Browns' new uniforms. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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