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Top 16 games of the 2016 NFL season: Must-see matchups

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Drafted out yet?

Even if you aren't, let's take a break from wondering where Carson Wentz will end up and what Chip Kelly really thinks of Blaine Gabbert and consider the gems dotting the 2016 NFL slate.

There are plenty, including postseason rematches, quarterbacks facing their former teams and the kind of historical rematches that add layers to every sport. Selecting the most anticipated matchups was not only difficult, but more subjective than the usual football argument. The games you want to see depends on who you root for, obviously, but hopefully the rundown below has a little something for everyone. One note to mention: No team appears more than three times.

So enjoy our Sweet 16 for 2016. I even provided some of the toughest cuts, in case you were wondering. As always, let me know your thoughts. Agree or disagree ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Tough omissions: Bills at Jets, Chiefs at Steelers, Broncos at Jaguars, Vikings at Packers, 49ers at Rams, Redskins at Ravens, Falcons at Seahawks, Colts at Raiders.

16) New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams (in London)

Week 7: Sunday, October 23 at 9:30 a.m. ET on NFL Network

Our first game on the list is a fun international matchup, being played in London. The East Coast vs. West Coast thing is still alive and well on sports-talk radio, and for all the commenters who think us football writers are biased toward Eli Manning or "disrespect" (insert West Coast athlete here). This goes back to the days of Portland Trailblazers fans saying Clyde Drexler didn't get enough respect, or that nobody cared about Air Coryell and the San Diego Super Chargers. With the Rams in Los Angeles again, it's cool to have NFC teams in the two largest media markets facing off, especially with the game being played in another big global market.

15) Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers

Week 9: Sunday, November 6 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

Will Andrew Luck rebound in 2016? How about the Colts, for that matter? What amounts to a classic quarterback matchup is also a rare one, in that these two teams only face off once every four years. In fact, the last time these franchises met, back in 2012, we were all the beneficiaries of one of the better regular-season games of recent vintage. Luck, playing in his fourth NFL game, brought Indy back at the end to down Aaron Rodgers and Co. at Lucas Oil. Reggie Wayne (13 catches for 212 yards) was unstoppable on that day. I digress -- so let me digress more! Did you know that the wristband that all the quarterbacks wear these days came from a Colts-Packers playoff game? Baltimore Colts fullback Tom Matte was forced to play quarterback, with both signal callers (Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo) on the shelf, so Matte wore a wristband for assistance in calling the plays. The Colts' head coach on that day? Don Shula.

14) Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings

Week 13: Thursday, December 1 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC/NFL Network/Twitter

Seeing these two teams pitted against each other harkens back to playoffs gone by. (And frankly, this is one of the more classic uni matchups you could ask for -- neither team's getup has changed much since Dallas entered the league in 1960 and Minnesota entered in 1961.) The Cowboys and Vikings have squared off in the postseason eight times overall, making this one of the most frequent matchups in league history. Vikings head man Mike Zimmer spent his first 13 seasons coaching in the NFL as an assistant in Dallas (winning a Super Bowl with the team in '95). A lot of people think Adrian Peterson wants to finish his career there. Meanwhile, if the Cowboys fancy themselves a contender with a healthy Tony Romo, they are going to have to beat teams like this one on the road.

13) Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos

Week 1: Thursday, September 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Was Super Bowl 50 a fantastic game? Perhaps not to the masses. But in this day and age of arcade football -- see: the Giants-Saints score-at-will game last November -- sometimes a defensive slugfest is refreshing. Cam Newton caught a lot of heat for sulking during (and eventually storming out of) his postgame presser -- can he exorcise those demons in Denver? Will these two teams boast the premier defensive units in football in 2016? Seeing a Super Bowl rematch the very next season is pretty rare. It's only happened six times total, and just twice in the last two decades (Packers-Patriots in 1997 and Broncos-Seahawks in 2014).

12) Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs

Week 14: Thursday, December 8 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC/NFL Network/Twitter

Here is a divisional matchup early on our list, although it's here for good reason. League analysts and Raider fans alike are excited about what this team can do following a busy offseason and a 2015 campaign in which Oakland was viable week in and week out. The one AFC West team the Raiders couldn't get past last year was Kansas City, which also looks primed to seriously contend for the division crown. With the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back West champion Broncos still embroiled in quarterback turmoil, the division is there for the taking in 2016. Can't wait to see what Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and the boys can accomplish. If they're going to pull it off, they can't get swept by Kansas City again.

11) Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers

Week 6: Sunday, October 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

Much like Raiders-Chiefs, Cowboys-Packers is an easy sell, with two organizations that have been going at it for a long time -- be it Don Meredith vs. Bart Starr, Troy Aikman and Brett Favre linking up in the '90s or Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers going toe-to-toe in current times. We were robbed last year of a postseason rematch of the Dez Bryant catch, no catch game. Oh, sure, Dallas played Green Bay last year, but we didn't get to see Rodgers face the man who finished third behind him in the voting for the 2014 MVP Award, as Romo was already lost for the year. That's why Cowboys-Packers was our third-most anticipated game when we did this list last year. Looking forward to a meeting of two of the stronger NFC teams (when healthy), who are both looking to reclaim their respective divisions.

10) Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks

Week 16: Saturday, December 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

Yep, this is a matchup we get every year -- but tell me this isn't Seahawks-49ers 2.0. It seems like forever ago, but there was no better division matchup in football than Seattle-San Francisco for about three years. Now Arizona is the new boss in the NFC West, and with the acquisition of Chandler Jones, the Cards look primed to repeat again. After all, pass rush was the certifiable weak spot on this team in 2015. Throw in the fact that the Seahawks have question marks on the offensive line, and it seems the advantage goes to Bruce Arians' club. Of course, last time these two teams squared off, Seattle pasted the Cardinals in front of the Arizona crowd. Fans made excuses that the Week 17 game meant little to Arizona, but it was still an impressive smackdown. Looking forward to this clash.

9) Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

Week 8: Sunday, October 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

Speaking of the Cardinals, how about a little NFC Championship Game redux? OK, so this matchup was a complete dud in January. You know Arians will have his guys fired up to put that blowout loss firmly in the review. Carson Palmer has spoken about moving on from his woeful outing (six turnovers) -- we'll see what kind of resilience he has in this return to Charlotte. Remember, Arizona played that game without Tyrann Mathieu, a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate before he went down in mid-December. (I would've voted for him over J.J. Watt, had Mathieu finished the year healthy.) Then again, Carolina fans can point to the fact their team played the whole season sans No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

8) Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 10: Sunday, November 13 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

Dallas at Pittsburgh is another classic bout, the kind we rarely get to see. Chances are, if you see films of prior matchups, they're accompanied by the vintage voice of pro football, John Facenda. The Cowboys and Steelers played the two best Super Bowls of the 1970s. Then these franchises locked up in another dogfight in Super Bowl XXX. The 2004, 2008 and 2012 meetings between these teams were all outstanding games that came down to the bitter end. That last meeting went to overtime in Jerry World before the Cowboys turned a Ben Roethlisberger pick into the game-winning field goal -- it was one of the most exciting games of that season. The Steelers prevailed late in the 2008 showdown, when their defense won the day in the fourth quarter. And Pittsburgh's 2004 win at Texas Stadium brought public attention to the team's rookie quarterback, while the Cowboys' signal caller of the future was still watching from the bench. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tony Romo is still good TV.

7) New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 7: Sunday, October 23 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

Why is Patriots at Steelers No. 7? Glad you asked, as I had to explain this to my editor, who was not swayed by the top two AFC contenders facing off. But if not for a pair of sexier interconference matchups (both involving New England) and a couple of player vs. former team deals, this game would be even higher. After all, couldn't this be an AFC Championship Game preview? These organizations have squared off in the conference title game twice, both times in the Tom Brady era (in the 2001 and 2004 postseasons). Ben Roethlisberger started the second game as a rookie. This is also the title match some league analysts have been anticipating the last two years, with injuries derailing Pittsburgh both times. Hopefully, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will be healthy for this conference showdown.

6) Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

Week 13: Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Carolina at Seattle might not have the historical chops to hang with Cowboys at Steelers, but if we're talking recent history, how could you not be enticed by this one? These two clubs have linked up seven times since Pete Carroll took over the Seahawks in 2010, with last year's regular-season game being the best (in fact, coming in at No. 2 in our list of the top 20 games of 2015). While Carroll's bunch took the first five meetings, Ron Rivera prevailed twice last year en route to Super Bowl 50. The regular-season meeting was a hard-hitting affair that saw the Panthers take the next step in proving themselves worthy of contending in the NFC. Then came the postseason thriller, with Seattle coming back from a 31-zip deficit to make it a close shave in Charlotte. The outcome in this series has been decided by one score five times since 2012.

5) Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

Week 15: Sunday, December 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Steelers-Bengals always promises hitting, goonery and some superb defense. While the rivals play twice a year, every year, this AFC North matchup should deliver all the trimmings coming off the weirdest ending to a playoff game since ... since ... like ... ever. We picked the showdown in Cincinnati, as that was the locale for all of the Pacmananigans that went down in January. Don't forget that the late-season matchup was a brutally physical game as well. Don't forget that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton hardly played in that Week 14 meeting in Cincy and missed the playoff rematch. Don't forget that these games will decide the division and perhaps impact homefield advantage for the playoffs. Don't forget Jeremy Hill's fumble. Don't forget you like football.

4) Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins

Week 4: Sunday, October 2 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS

You have permission to consider me loco ... Browns at Redskins in the top five?! Sorry, can't help it. How can you not be curious to see if Robert Griffin III was the right choice in Cleveland, or if the whole situation will be a trainwreck? Let's see the RGIII experiment take off -- or crash land -- where he made his legend (and, subsequently, found a spot on the bench). Meanwhile, will Griffin's former understudy show just how much better he is, while proving he's worth more than merely a franchise tag? But what if it goes the other way? Yes, what if RGIII outplays Kirk Cousins in front of his former home crowd? This would be like a 50-year-old Dennis Quaid leaving the Sharks to face Willie Beamen, after filming the greatest movie music video ever, and then winning.

3) New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals

Week 1: Sunday, September 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Interconference matchups are always interesting, because teams like the Patriots and Cardinals only play each other once every four years. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this matchup, other than the fact that both teams lost in their respective conference championship games last season, is that it pits arguably the two most respected head coaches in the league against one another. Bill Belichick has only faced a Bruce Arians-coached team once, when the latter was pulling interim duty for the Colts in 2012. That day was a blowout in favor of New England, although ironically, the Patriots blew a home game earlier that season to Arians' predecessor in Arizona, Ken Whisenhunt. This will be a tough road assignment for Tom Brady and a reshuffled Patriots offensive line.

2) Houston Texans at Denver Broncos

Week 7: Monday, October 24 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Quite frankly, selecting Denver and Houston for this list of the premier games of the 2016 NFL schedule took all of eight seconds. Who doesn't want to see if Broncos general manager John Elway made a huge mistake letting Brock Osweiler go, broseph? Not to mention, there was plenty of speculation amidst Osweiler's arrival in Houston that he wanted to get out from under the Goodyear blimp-esque shadow of Elway and Peyton Manning, the disgustingly successful quarterback legacy that serves as a huge hurdle for any young player looking to establish his own identity. Throw in the fact that the Broncos are trying to repeat, the Texans have a good team and J.J. Watt might make Mark Sanchez recreate the buttfumble, and it's clear this deserves its lofty status.

1) Seattle Seahawks at New England Patriots

Week 10: Sunday, November 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Our premium matchup of the 2016 NFL slate pits the two combatants from arguably the best Super Bowl ever (which is part of a list for another day): XLIX. This matchup would've won this honor in a landslide if Marshawn Lynch were still suiting up for the 'Hawks. Imagine the Twitter conversations if Seattle were, say, at the Patriots' 1-yard line at any point during the game. We can only dream on that front. Still, Seahawks-Patriots bests Texans-Broncos because these are much better teams, and, therefore, this game has the potential to be of a higher quality. Both the Seahawks and Patriots will most likely be playoff teams again, whereas the Broncos and Texans will have multiple challengers to their division crowns (Colts, Jaguars, Chiefs, Raiders ... maybe even the Chargers? OK, maybe that's going too far). Given where Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll are in their respective coaching tenures, and given the rarity of this interconference meeting, this might be the last we see of these two on the same field ... unless we get a Super Bowl rematch, of course.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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