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Top 10 games of the 2023 NFL season: Bengals-Chiefs, Cowboys-49ers among tantalizing matchups

The new coaches have been hired, the prospects have been drafted, the free agents have been (mostly) signed -- now it's time to look forward to the top 10 games of the 2023 NFL season. Below is Nick Shook's ranking, presented in reverse order, of the upcoming matchups that most pique his interest:

Thank you, 2023 NFL Draft, for making this into a must-see event. The Panthers and Texans might not find themselves among the elite Super Bowl contenders this season, but because they each selected their quarterbacks of the future (Bryce Young for Carolina and C.J. Stroud for Houston) with the top two overall picks in April, they're all but guaranteed a large audience when they face each other. Alabama's Young and Ohio State's Stroud watched their teammates battle in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship, but the two QBs never got to square off directly in college. The closest they've had to a true showdown came off the field, in the 2021 Heisman Trophy voting, which Young won by a significant margin. Finally, we'll get our first chance to see who can lead their team to victory over the other.

Unfortunately, the scheduling gods could not deliver a regular-season rematch of the Jaguars' thrilling win over the Chargers on Super Wild Card Weekend. This, however, is more than acceptable as a consolation prize. In 2022, Jacksonville rose from afterthought to spunky playoff squad before ultimately falling to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Chiefs. That's all fine for a season of emergence, but new success brings fresh expectations. Cincinnati has transformed itself into an AFC power (even if the Bengals don't always receive the recognition they deserve) and will present a significant test for Doug Pederson and the cats from Duval County. And we haven't even talked about the battle of former first overall picks (Joe Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence). Let the games begin.

Former longtime Patriots offensive coordinator-turned Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels and former Patriots backup-turned new Raiders QB Jimmy Garoppolo welcome a team sporting very familiar colors to Sin City. During the Pats' trip to the desert last season, the Raiders scored a stunning home win as the result of inexplicable on-field buffoonery. Las Vegas won't plan on claiming victory with another gift. The Patriots, meanwhile, would surely love to avenge that final-play defeat -- and by beating their former allies, to boot. The lead-up to this game will understandably revolve around coach and quarterback, but frankly, McDaniels versus Bill Belichick is enough. Garoppolo's involvement is icing on the cake.

Can Jacksonville take the next step in 2023? This meeting with Buffalo provides an excellent opportunity to answer this question affirmatively. Much of the Jaguars' success stemmed from Trevor Lawrence's improvement in his second NFL season, with his development getting back on track under new coach Doug Pederson. Lawrence powered the team to a collection of late wins that helped secure a playoff berth. Can he get off to a similarly hot start? How will he measure up in this battle between two of the brightest, young quarterback talents in the league?

Any Dolphins fan that has felt insecure at any point about the team's decision to select Tua Tagovailoa over Justin Herbert in the 2020 NFL Draft should feel more confident about their signal-caller coming out of the 2022 season -- at least, based on what Tagovailoa did while healthy. Though he lost time to multiple concussions, when Tagovailoa was at the controls, he ran an incredibly explosive offense that put Miami on the map. Herbert, meanwhile, has proven to be a dynamite quarterback with the Chargers and finally got over the hump and into the playoffs. This matchup didn't produce a ton of points in Inglewood last year, but we did get to see a wacky Tyreek Hill touchdown and a one-score finish. We should be in for another good one this time around. Both teams are looking to push past the Wild Card Round, and both figure to play a notable role in how the loaded AFC shakes out.

Aaron Rodgers is now a Jet -- and what better way to test his new squad than by matching it up with the defending NFC champs? Much of New York's surprising success last season relied on its defense, which kept games within reach even when the Jets weren't receiving adequate quarterback play. That's no longer a concern with Rodgers, at least not on paper. The Jets will likely need every bit of their offensive firepower to keep pace with the incredibly talented Eagles. Rodgers had to leave early when the Packers faced Jalen Hurts and the Eagles last season, and he'll presumably be eager for another shot at the rising young star. A motivated Rodgers versus the recently extended Hurts? Say no more.

Cowboys reached each of the past two postseasons with lofty hopes -- and each time, those hopes were spoiled by the 49ers, a team that might not have appeared superior on paper but ended up being the better of the two when everything was on the line. In the 2022 Divisional Round, San Francisco picked off Dak Prescott twice, squeaking out a close win despite scoring just one total touchdown (the other 12 points came via Robbie Gould's leg). It wasn't an explosive game, but it was a gripping one, the latest showdown to help reignite the fire in a rivalry that dates back to the 1960s. These teams' next meeting is likely to be just as good.

These AFC East rivals split their games last season, with Josh Allen putting up an uncharacteristically poor performance during the Bills' loss in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Those Jets weren't quite what these Jets expect to be. That's right -- the matchup between Allen and Aaron Rodgers will likely dominate the NFL news and discussion cycle in the week leading up to this one. Rodgers will have a better supporting cast than he did in the Packers' loss to Allen and the Bills last season, but he won't be working with home-field advantage. Buffalo, meanwhile, will be eager to deflate all the offseason hype that's built up around the Jets. After all, the Bills are the reigning kings of the division, and they're not about to abdicate the throne just because a legendary quarterback is now on the other team.

This rivalry isn't likely to cool any time soon. After three straight losses to Cincinnati, Kansas City vanquished their boogeyman in the most important moment last season, taking down the Bengals in a thrilling AFC Championship Game en route to a Super Bowl LVII triumph. That loss won't be forgotten in the Queen City. The Bengals are poised to make another deep run at a title, and they know they'll have to go through the Chiefs. Because the ultimate prize isn't going to be on the line in this game, it's not quite the latest installment of the NFL's version of the Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals showdowns from 2015 to 2018, but it's pretty close. The defending champs will have to bring everything they have to make it two straight wins in this series.

Three words: Super Bowl rematch. One of the greatest title bouts in NFL history ended on a disappointing note, but unlike some past Super Bowl dance partners, both of these teams are on track to get right back to the biggest stage in football. We have every reason to believe there's at least a somewhat decent chance of seeing an actual Super Bowl rematch in Las Vegas next February, but thanks to the alignment of the scheduling stars, we don't have to wait that long. This game is an absolute must-watch, one you'll hear plenty about, because it's a clash of titans unseen in some time. Need proof? Snuggle up and watch the Super Bowl LVII replay.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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