Happy NFL schedule release day!!
It's a national holiday! Or at least it should be. And the prime-time schedule is packed with greatness, as always.
Here's our annual list of the spotlight games I'm looking forward to the most, Schein Nine style:
1) Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots
Week 7: Sunday, October 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
- 'TOP 100 PLAYERS OF 2017'
▹ Ike Taylor's Rankings:
▸ 100-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51
- FIRST LOOK AT 2017 SEASON
▹ Why 'Hawks will regain their swagger
▹ Ranking the 5 best offseasons
▹ Who will snap playoff drought in '17?
▹ Projected Starters (NFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
▹ Projected Starters (AFC):
▸ East | North l South l West
No surprise here. It's the rematch we've all had circled since the Pats authored the single greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, erasing a 25-point, third-quarter deficit to beat Atlanta in overtime. Think Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan and Co. are slightly anticipating this bout?
This time around, if the Falcons have a nice lead, hopefully new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian won't go against time, score and general logic, like Kyle Shanahan did on the game's biggest stage in February.
While many folks understandably wanted this to be the Kickoff Game -- the positive side is that these two powerhouses will be in midseason form when they clash.
2) Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Week 7: Thursday, October 19 at 8:25 p.m. ET on CBS/NFL Network/Amazon
Well, Week 7 sure is shaping up to be a dandy. Prior to the main course of a Super Bowl rematch on "Sunday Night Football," how about this appetizer between two fierce rivals with Lombardi Trophy aspirations?
Last year, Derek Carr played his worst game of the season on Thursday Night Football in Arrowhead. Carr and the Raiders won't have to travel on the short week this time around, and they will be out for revenge. It won't be too early to talk about the AFC West title race (and potential tie-breakers). Also, with the Raiders eventually moving to Las Vegas, this will be one of the final times these two teams meet in the Bay Area. And perhaps the last time under the lights. I can't wait.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans
Week 16: Monday, December 25 at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NFL Network/Amazon
Ho, ho, ho! This Christmas Day clash could be a matchup between the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense in the league. With Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, the Steelers boast the best set of triplets in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Texans ranked No. 1 in total defense last season -- and that was largely without J.J. Watt. With No. 99 back in the fold, Houston's defense could be scary.
In the penultimate week of the regular season, this game could have major seeding and playoff implications.
4) Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Week 2: Sunday, September 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
5) Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders
Week 15: Sunday, December 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Potential Super Bowl preview? I could see it. And it's a matchup of two of the most popular (and storied) teams in the NFL. The stars will be out on this Sunday night, with Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and, of course, the two quarterbacks in Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. Two of the best young signal callers in the NFL. And hey, neither was drafted in the first round. Interesting.
This game offers plenty of offensive firepower, but it could be decided by one of the defenses. Who will be able to get stops? By this point in the season, both of these potential title contenders will hope to have rounded into form on that side of the ball.
6) New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Week 10: Sunday, November 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
With the Denver quarterback situation and the Broncos' new coaching staff, this matchup doesn't have the same feel as it has in prior years, but it's still special. Tom Brady versus Von Miller? Count me in.
Even with last year's 16-3 win at Mile High, Brady is still just 3-7 in his career at Denver.
7) New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Week 1: Sunday, September 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
It's become an annual tradition, and no, it doesn't get old when these NFC East foes collide on "Sunday Night Football." With both teams coming off a playoff campaign, it takes the sizzle to a different level.
8) Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Week 10: Thursday, November 9 at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC/NFL Network/Amazon
Don't sleep on this game. Arizona stumbled last year, but the Cardinals should be back in contention in 2017. And these two teams just don't like each other and always play great and fun games. In fact, while the Cardinals disappointed last season with a 7-8-1 record, they tied and beat the Seahawks.
This is a battle between two of the best rosters -- and coaching staffs -- in the NFL.
9) Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Week 1: Thursday, September 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
The league picked a great one to start the season with. The atmosphere in New England will be electric. And the Patriots are better on paper now than they were a year ago.
Meanwhile, Kansas City is so solid and well-coached. This team will be ready for the challenge. After all, the Chiefs have certainly been game in each of their last two bouts with New England. K.C. lost by a touchdown in Foxborough during the 2015 playoffs, but the Chiefs blew the Pats off the field during the 2014 regular season.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.