Top 15 games of 2015: Must-see matchups in the coming season

Fifteen for '15.

Hard to believe, but it's already time to look at the top 15 matchups of 2015. I seriously just got used to writing the "15" on my checks -- yes, some of us still use prehistoric checkbooks -- and here we are, analyzing the 2015 schedule.

Let me tell you: The 2015 slate offers a whole bunch of showdowns that appear both enticing and unique. Nothing stale about the list below; you won't see many divisional games. The Dolphins -- and the crown jewel of free agency, Ndamukong Suh -- taking on the defending champion Patriots? Missed the cut (albeit barely). Another tough omission: a Super Bowl rematch between the Bengals and 49ers that features a pair of quarterbacks who were drafted back-to-back (and who, coincidentally, both took a step backward in 2014).

Speaking of quarterbacks ... Titans at Buccaneers could be awfully intriguing if it were to offer Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Otherwise, it might just be the all-suck bowl.

Safe to say the games below don't stink, starting with a big-city battle that presents the best one-on-one matchup you could want ...

15) New York Jets at New York Giants

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

I'm sure you're thinking this is an "East Coast bias" thing. Like I care about the battle of New York/New Jersey -- the teams play in the same stadium, for crying out loud! No, I won't take "Most turnovers in an interconference game for 500," Alex. Geno Smith vs. Eli Manning: Doesn't quite whet the football appetite.

What gives? I've effectively pooh-poohed this matchup -- so why is it on the list?

Darrelle Revis manning up Odell Beckham Jr.? Yes, please.

14) Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

Deferring to the masses here. Fans are interested in seeing how this Eagles offense fares with its new Oklahoma Sooner backfield (QB Sam Bradford and RB DeMarco Murray). At the same time, fans are split as to whether Chip Kelly's a genius or a lunatic. Another thing fans are split about: how much the Cowboys will miss Murray. Many feel Dallas' offensive line was the main reason the team finished second in rushing offense last season. Others think the Cowboys made a serious error in judgement by letting Murray walk.

Who will be the primary ball carrier for Dallas in 2015? The Cowboys signed Darren McFadden in free agency, but they'll almost certainly add another running back in the draft. Whoever's toting the rock, Cowboys at Eagles rarely disappoints.

13) New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC (Sunday Night Football)

My esteemed editors at our NFL West offices sold me hard on this game ...

Me: The Colts get blasted every time they play these guys.
Them: Yeah, but Deflategate will pique interest even more.
Me: The Colts get blasted every time they play these guys.
Them: Indy added Frank Gore and Andre Johnson.
Me: But the Colts get blasted every time they play these guys.
Them: It's Brady vs. Luck.

Alright, well let's hope the Colts finally make this a close contest. In fairness, I think they will, as New England has suffered significant losses beyond just Darrelle Revis. With Vince Wilfork gone, Indianapolis should be able to run the ball.

12) Indianapolis Colts at Carolina Panthers

Week 8: Monday, Nov. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Monday Night Football)

These foes don't see each other too often. Typically, most people aren't clamoring to watch Indy travel to Carolina. But don't forget about the Cam Newton-vs.-Andrew Luck dynamic -- the top overall pick of 2011 facing the top overall pick of 2012. This might be the best matchup of two consecutive No. 1-overall-pick quarterbacks in football history. The only two that compare: Jim Plunkett facing Terry Bradshaw during the Raiders' Super Bowl season of 1980, and Eli Manning taking on Alex Smith in the 2011 NFC Championship Game.

Lastly, how will the Panthers' defense, which significantly improved in the back half of last season, fare against the Colts' offense, which significantly improved this offseason?

11) Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC (NFL Kickoff Game)

Plenty of fans and league analysts (myself included) felt the Steelers could have given the Patriots serious trouble in last year's playoffs. Then Le'Veon Bell went down in Week 17 -- and the Steelers were one-and-done in January, bailing out against the Ravens in the Wild-Card Round.

Well, the aforementioned matchup will happen on the opening night of the 2015 season. And there's reason to believe Pittsburgh could give the defending champs trouble. Bell, of course, will be suspended for the NFL Kickoff Game. That hurts. Big time. But at least the Steelers signed a solid backup in free agency: DeAngelo Williams. And Pittsburgh's offense could be even more well-rounded this season, with Martavis Bryant entering Year 2. Lastly, with New England forced to deploy two different cornerbacks following the free agency departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, Ben Roethlisberger could have a field day at Gillette.

10) Buffalo Bills at New York Jets

Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 12, 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network (Thursday Night Football)

SPOILER ALERT: This is the last divisional matchup you will see on this list. (Not that you didn't already scroll down to see the games anyway, but you get the point.) The reason for picking this game is pretty obvious: Rex Ryan's return. More than any other "revenge game," this one figures to be worth the inevitable pregame hype. Nearly every Jets fan I've spoken with loved Rex. And almost all of those folks felt former general manager John Idzik's sluggish decision-making was more of a problem for the Jets than the head coach was. Not to mention, you can't tell me people won't be excited to see the Bills sweater vest in all its glory when Ryan moseys into MetLife.

9) Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Let's double down on revenge. The LeSean McCoy-for-Kiko Alonso deal threw everyone for a loop. Chip Kelly doesn't do the star system -- although you have to wonder about his affinity (or lack thereof) for McCoy after the new face of the Eagles' franchise, the head coach, went out and lured DeMarco Murray to town. In fact, Kelly might be the most controversial frontman since David Lee Roth was doing jump splits in cheetah spandex. Can McCoy still be a cheetah in a balanced attack, or was he more a product of the Philly offense? Either way, he should be quite motivated in his return to the City of Brotherly Love (where a lot of fans still have plenty of love for him).

8) Kansas City Chiefs at Green Bay Packers

Week 3: Monday, Sept. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Monday Night Football)

Surprised? Don't be. This is a solid game, no doubt, but it's also a huge nod to NFL history. With the league in full Super Bowl celebration mode as we approach the big game's 50th installment, how could we not pick a rematch of the first sucker to ever come down the pike? While the Kansas City-Green Bay title match that took place in January 1967 was originally referred to as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, it launched what has essentially become a national holiday for fans of, well, just about everything. Even Kelly Clarkson partakes. Despite its immense historical significance, would you believe no one could find the actual broadcast of the first Super Bowluntil a couple of years ago? Discovering it required Indiana Jones-caliber sleuthing of the highest order.

Too bad the initial Super Bowl kind of sucked. In case you've never heard of NFL Films, Green Bay won, 35-10. Hopefully, this year's game provides a more appealing product.

7) Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

John Elway clearly didn't want John Fox back; the notion that Fox's departure from Denver represented a mutual parting of the ways is less believable than the idea, among longtime Bronco fans, that Elway parted the Red Sea. Lo and behold, we get to see Fox try to take it to his old employer. While Fox's Bears squad might not be as strong as his old Broncos group, the former Denver head coach will have the benefit of home-field advantage. And Jay Cutler might even get fired up to face his old team, as he didn't get to play in the lone Chicago-Denver showdown since his trade in 2009. The quarterbacks for that 2011 tilt were Caleb Hanie and Tim Tebow, who participated in a wild overtime thriller. So Cutler should be ready to go ... or not.

6) New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC (Sunday Night Football)

Some fans might be growing weary of the whole Tom Brady-Peyton Manning thing. But when these guys are gone, they'll have left a black hole in pro football, with the antimatter being Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Osweiler. Remember the void when John Elway vs. Dan Marino was replaced by The Brian Griese and Jay Fiedler Show in 2001? What makes this game bigger than Fiedler's amazing ears is the fact that both teams are once again the favorites in their respective divisions for reasons beyond quarterback play. And though it seems Manning's game has fallen off, we won't really know until we see him in action -- especially against the only contemporary that is considered better than him.

5) Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

This was THE regular-season game of 2014. The battle at CenturyLink was a ratings bonanza featuring two unique quarterbacks, one dominant defense, one oft-dormant one and the best offensive line in football imposing its will in an incredibly hostile environment. Ultimately, the outcome rode on one of the sweetest third-and-20 plays you'll ever see, with Tony Romo evading Bruce Irvin twice before Terrance Williams dragged both feet for all of a millisecond. And we get to do it all over again, this time in Big D.

4) Arizona Cardinals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

I freaking love this game. These are two clubs that, sans injuries, probably would've gone much further than they did in last season's playoffs. If you dig historical symmetry, then you can see the appeal of this matchup between the participants in one of the best Super Bowls ever. After all, let us not forget who Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator was for Super Bowl XLIII: you guessed it, current Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. That contest featured Arizona's explosive offense, behind Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, pushing the ball against Dick LeBeau's famed zone-blitz defense. Today, the Steelers provide the offensive juggernaut, while the Cards are more known for their D. Curious to see if Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown will school Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson at Heinz.

3) Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

It doesn't get much easier than choosing this matchup. Who doesn't remember how the last meeting between these two went? There was DeMarco Murray's fumble, Aaron Rodgers limping around and tossing touchdown passes and, of course, the Dez Bryant catch/non-catch.

As if there weren't enough storylines to this game, let's remember the great Tom Landry-Vince Lombardi battles of the late 1960s (for the right to go to the first two Super Bowls), along with the Brett Favre-era Packers falling time and again at Texas Stadium during the Cowboys' run of the '90s. Green Bay is my Super Bowl favorite, but the Packers need to beat these guys ... again.

2) Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC (Sunday Night Football)

More easy pickins'. If the full length of Seahawks-Packers '15 comes even close to matching the last few minutes of last season's NFC Championship Game, gooood night. The perfect crest in Jimmy Johnson's coiffure might falter, while cheeseheads everywhere would be filling orders for Crestor. Not sure any group of fans had as big a playoff-coaster ride as Packer Backers last season. Pardon the simplicity, but the key here is location, location, location; Carlton Sheets himself couldn't say it better.

Green Bay's roster hasn't changed significantly, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett will find they can't fill in on run support as much with Jimmy Graham donning Seahawks lime green. Of course, no one really "filled" the box against Marshawn Lynch in the last go-around anyway.

1) New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

This is the most attractive game on the 2015 schedule. Consider ...

1) The Patriots and Cowboys are easily the two most hated teams in the NFL. And this kind of hatred = ratings.
2) This figures to be a very tough road test for the defending champions.
3)Tom Brady is the best quarterback of his generation, while Tony Romo led the league last season with a 113.2 passer rating and a mark of 8.5 yards per attempt.
4) New England will not face Seattle or Green Bay in the regular season. Strictly going off last season, Dallas is the strongest opponent on the defending champs' schedule.
5) Many analysts felt that, had Dez Bryant's catch against the Packers in the divisional round stood, thus helping the Cowboys advance to the NFC title game, Dallas' offensive line would have been too much for the Seahawks. Meaning Super Bowl XLIX could've been New England vs. Dallas.

Tell me people won't be psyched about this. Considering it's such a rare matchup, what with the current scheduling formula, which has AFC divisions facing NFC divisions once every four years, this was an easy call as the top contest of 2015.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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