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Steelers-Ravens kick off new 'Thursday Night Football'

There are two major changes to the "Thursday Night Football" schedule this season. The first is that CBS will now air eight early-season games before the NFL Network takes over in November. The second is that Saturday games are returning, with NFL Network handling both bouts in Week 16.

Let's take a closer look at the most interesting matchups on the Thursday night slate.

Most anticipated

Week 9, New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers: The Panthers' Week 16 division-clincher over the Saints was one of the NFL's best games of the 2013 season. Although the offensive line and wide receiving corps are in a state of flux, we can still look forward to seeing the dynamic linebacker duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis flying around the field while Drew Brees and Cam Newton go toe to toe at quarterback.

Least anticipated

Week 16, Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars and Titans can't be blamed for the relative lack of coverage they receive in America's most-analyzed professional sports league. They can be blamed for failing to reach the postseason during the past half-decade when the entire system is designed for parity. Until each of these cities finds a face of the franchise, we will be treated to the likes of Jake Locker versus Chad Henne.

Biggest rivalry

Week 2, Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: The current smashmouth rivalry between the Seahawks and 49ers is what the Steelers and Ravens matchups offered just a few years ago. Baltimore is only a season removed from winning the Super Bowl and now features an upgraded offense. Pittsburgh was one of the hottest teams in the NFL down the stretch, winning six of its final eight games. This game sets the tone in a wide-open AFC North.

Best QB matchup

Week 8, San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos: Generating the best statistical season in NFL history, Peyton Manning won a record fifth MVP award. He also was the only quarterback in the league to outplay Philip Rivers in 2013. The frisky Chargers played the Broncos as well as any team, save the Seahawks, last season.

Bounce-back battle

Week 3, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: The Bucs topped Around The League's list of free agency winners, revamping the roster under the guidance of Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht. Already one of the teams most benefiting from the return of injured players, the Falcons added much-needed toughness to their offensive and defensive lines in March. Look for one of these teams to surprise in an NFC South free-for-all.

Winner takes Ohio

Week 10, Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: Don't sleep on the Browns, who emerged victorious over the Bills in one of the most thrilling Thursday night games of last season. Just for old time's sake, can we get Marvin Lewis to reprise Sam Wyche's admonition to the Queen City's faithful? That ought to stoke the flames of a rivalry gone flaccid since the late 1980s.

Obligatory NFC East game

Week 4, New York Giants at Washington Redskins: The NFC Beast was once the league's fiercest division. Now it limps by on reputation alone. These two teams combined for fewer than 10 wins last season, but they are always guaranteed to draw eyeballs.

Saturday twist

Week 16, San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: The Bolts and Niners combined for three postseason victories last season. This interconference showdown could have playoff implications in late December. The other Saturday tilt features Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson seeking revenge against the team that unceremoniously dumped him in March.

The "Around The League Podcast" NFL Schedule Extravaganza will change the way you look at everything.

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