43 games to watch en route to Super Bowl XLIII

On the journey to Super Bowl XLIII, in Tampa, Fla., here are 43 games that, for various reasons, merit more than a passing glance when perusing the 2008 NFL regular-season schedule:

43. Sept. 4, Redskins at Giants: Even if the Giants weren't the defending Super Bowl champs, this would still warrant being a stand-alone game to open the entire schedule. Few NFL rivalries are more intense than this one. And we have a coaching debut, by Jim Zorn, to boot.

42. Sept. 7, Bengals at Ravens: First chance for one of the projected also-rans in the AFC North to show that they might have what it takes to compete with Pittsburgh and Cleveland. It's also John Harbaugh's coaching debut.

41. Sept. 7, Buccaneers at Saints: Let's see what a healthy Bucs team, looking to build some momentum on last year's NFC South crown, can do out of the gate against a division rival determined to rebound from the disappointment of last season.

40. Sept. 7, Jaguars at Titans: The AFC South is still the Colts' to lose, but this game gives us an early indication of the sort of challenge they can expect from their closest challenger, Jacksonville. Or will it be challengers?

39. Sept. 7, Cowboys at Browns: Although the Cowboys were the only playoff team of the two last year, the Browns earned plenty of respect for coming close with a revived offense. And the clubs were exceptionally well represented in the Pro Bowl.

38. Sept. 8, Vikings at Packers: The first regular-season game on Monday Night Football provides us our first look at the Packers without Brett Favre. We'll find out if Aaron Rodgers can show the same hot hand he did in his previous prime-time appearance, last year at Dallas.

37. Sept. 14, 49ers at Seahawks:Mike Nolan expects his new offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, to have a major impact on the Niners' fortunes. Alex Smith will need to show proof of that against the presumptive favorite in the NFC West.

36. Sept. 14, Patriots at Jets: The most compelling part of this matchup is that it is a return to the scene of the crime, pitting the teams whose season-opening game in 2007 gave us the term "Spygate." Otherwise, the Pats, who have the NFL's easiest schedule because they play in one of its softest divisions, should be 2-0 after this one.

35. Sept. 14, Steelers at Browns:Sunday Night Football is the stage as AFC North kingpins throw the first punch in a fierce rivalry that has become much more interesting again because of the Browns' improvement.

34. Sept. 15, Eagles at Cowboys: Another great rivalry from the NFC East makes this an ideal prime-timer. There will be plenty of pre-game talk about the state of Donovan McNabb's game and whether Tony Romo has truly arrived as a consistent, big-time talent.

33. Sept. 21, Jaguars at Colts: Tone-setter for the rest of the season in the AFC South.

32. Sept. 28, Falcons at Panthers: The quarter pole is a good point to see how the Falcons are progressing under new coach Mike Smith. And it will be interesting to see where the Panthers are with a (presumably) healthy Jake Delhomme at quarterback. If Julius Peppers isn't terrorizing the Falcons' quarterback (whoever that might be), that is a bad sign for the Panthers.

31. Sept. 28, Broncos at Chiefs: Good time to check in on these AFC West clubs looking to get back into the playoff hunt.

30. Sept. 28, Redskins at Cowboys: If the Cowboys are 4-0 at this point, a tall order given their opponents, they're going to reinforce the notion that some of us have that they'll be in the Super Bowl.

29. Oct. 5, Bears at Lions: This is a chance for these NFC North also-rans from last year to create some separation from each other.

28. Oct. 5, Seahawks at Giants: It's quite possible that this will be a showdown of the best in the NFC West vs. the best (or one of the best) in the NFC East.

27. Oct. 5, Steelers at Jaguars: Rematch of one of the more dramatic playoff games from 2007.

26. Oct. 12, Panthers at Buccaneers: The outcome could have plenty to say about the winner of the NFC South.

25. Oct. 12, Packers at Seahawks: Rematch of another dramatic playoff game from '07.

24. Oct. 12, Patriots at Chargers: Rematch of the 2007 AFC Championship Game. Maybe a chance for the Pats to go 5-0 and heat up the conversation about another perfect regular season ... or suffer their first loss since Super Bowl XLII.

23. Oct. 13, Giants at Browns: Sexy Monday Night Football showdown. And get used to seeing more of the Browns in prime time this year.

22. Oct. 19, Seahawks at Buccaneers: Must viewing on Sunday Night Football to see what could very well be two powerhouses in the NFC.

21. Oct. 26, Chargers at Saints (at London): Last year's London game included a team that would go onto win the Super Bowl. No reason to rule out either of these clubs.

20. Oct. 27, Colts at Titans: Could the Titans make a prime-time statement that they're in the hunt in one of the league's toughest divisions?

19. Nov. 2, Jets at Bills: A battle of the presumptive second tier of the AFC East could give an indication of which might -- emphasis on might -- challenge the Pats.

18. Nov. 2, Cowboys at Giants: Playoff rematch, insane rivalry. Need we say more?

17. Nov. 2, Patriots at Colts: AFC Championship Game preview?

16. Nov. 6, Broncos at Browns: This Thursday Night Football matchup is a good place to see how the Browns are holding up under the glare of the prime-time lights.

15. Nov. 9, Packers at Vikings: NFC North heavyweight showdown, Part II.

14. Nov. 10, 49ers at Cardinals: Not a bad Monday Night Football game to gauge if one (or both) of these teams that have perpetually struggled will move into contention.

13. Nov. 16, Titans at Jaguars: There's a fairly good chance that this game will go a long way toward determining which of these teams is going to push the Colts the hardest for the division crown.

12. Nov. 16, Chargers at Steelers: Good game between good teams that should be in contention.

11. Nov. 16, Cowboys at Redskins: Always must-see TV.

10. Nov. 17, Browns at Bills: These teams waged an exciting battle in a blizzard in Cleveland last year. Neither made it to the playoffs, but both could very well be contending again by this point.

9. Nov. 23, Colts at Chargers:Could be a preview of the AFC Championship Game.

8. Nov. 27, Titans at Lions: Turkey Day, Part I: Probably going to be worthy of watching between bites and pleasant dinner conversation.

7. Nov. 27, Seahawks at Cowboys: Turkey Day, Part II: Probably going to be worthy of pushing away from the table and offering your undivided attention.

6. Nov. 27, Cardinals at Eagles: Turkey Day, Part III: Good one to watch with turkey sandwiches.

5. Nov. 30, Ravens at Bengals: Likely key divisional game.

4. Nov. 30, Saints at Buccaneers: Likely key divisional game.

3. Nov. 30, Giants at Redskins: Likely key divisional game.

2. Dec. 7, Dolphins at Bills (at Toronto): More than 100,000 people have signed up for tickets for the five-year agreement the Bills have to play preseason and regular-season games in their neighboring city to the North. And that makes many Western New Yorkers nervous. Very nervous.

1. Dec. 18, Colts at Jaguars: AFC South title could be on the line.

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