July Fourth is a national holiday, with most Americans off from work, enjoying time with friends and family ... but no football. If you could earmark one game on the 2013 NFL schedule to receive national-holiday status, with the majority of the country tuned in, which game would it be?
Most games, you can enjoy in a three-hour span on a Sunday, uninterrupted. But the really good games, the ones that deserve their own holiday, require a more substantial investment. They need a full day for digestion.
I'll go with Denver Broncos at New England Patriots in Week 12. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. The kind of game Colts and Patriots fans lived for, year after year. The kind of game -- like in 2009 and 2010 -- where you think it's over in the third quarter ... only to be hanging onto your seat in the fourth. The kind of game it was in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, when Manning and Co. made every second count. It's always that way when Brady and Manning face off, regardless of the teams or supporting casts. Give this duel its own day.
It has to be the NFL Kickoff Game: Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos. So many storylines, starting with the fact that the defending Super Bowl champs have to open the season on the road because of a scheduling conflict. And obviously, it is the rematch of a double-overtime thriller from January's divisional round, though both rosters have experienced notable additions and subtractions during the offseason.
Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips are the Broncos' big additions, but Elvis Dumervil's fax fiasco (and subsequent release) delivered a crippling blow to the defense. Meanwhile, the Ravens lost more players than any other team this offseason, including two longtime leaders in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Of course, Elvis landed in Baltimore to fill that leadership void, and in a dramatic turn, he'll face off against his former team in the season opener. With the Ravens' bolstered D-line and a healthy Terrell Suggs coming off the edge, just how protected is Peyton Manning going to feel? Speaking of QBs, Joe Flacco got the Mile High contract, but lost his leading receiver in Anquan Boldin. Can Jacoby Jones waltz into that dependable role? Who will get more carries in the Ravens' backfield: Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce, who emerged down the stretch last season? Who becomes the Broncos' starting running back now that Willis McGahee is gone? And who starts at center for the Broncos? J.D. Walton underwent another surgery -- Dan Koppen to the rescue yet again?
So much drama, even "The Bachelorette" can't compete. We all might need a holiday to recover from what could be the most exciting start to a season in NFL history.
Either Cowboys-Redskins matchup is deserving. Niners-Seahawks is getting some much-deserved pub, but the rivalry between Dallas and Washington boasts one of the richest histories of all NFL matchups. While not as old as Packers-Bears, this rivalry has pitted the 'Boys and 'Skins against each other twice a year since 1960. There were times, like in the early 1970s and early '80s, when these two clubs legitimately hated each other.
Obviously, the salary cap era has done much to assuage negative feelings between teams, thanks to increased player movement. That said, given the Redskins' resurgence behind Robert Griffin III and a competitive team in Dallas, these clubs could be fighting for the division crown when they tee it up in Week 16. Last year, these two squads closed out the NFL's regular season by waging an exciting Sunday-night battle with the NFC East title up for grabs. Not to mention, their Thanksgiving bout was one of our Top 20 Games of 2012. Don't expect 2013 to be much different.
My first choice is Denver at New England. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is always worth watching, and the changing supporting casts only add to the intrigue. The Patriots have significant concerns on offense, as questions abound at receiver and tight end. Of course, Denver swooped in and signed Tom Brady's favorite target, Wes Welker.
Can Denver finally defend Brady and the Pats? Can Bill Belichick and Co. rise above significant turmoil and player turnover in New England? This is certainly a game worth watching. And how can you go wrong with the Patriots in a question inspired by the Fourth of July?
I've long advocated that Opening Day in baseball and the Super Bowl should be considered national holidays. Sports are woven into the fabric of our society, so why not allow people to gather on one day to watch the big game? Nothing seems to draw us together like the Super Bowl, especially when you consider that most people never watch live TV anymore, thanks to DVR. The Super Bowl is the only must-see event out there. Honestly, you never hear anybody say, weeks after the Super Bowl, "Please don't tell me the score -- I'm only up to Week 15."
Of course, since the Super Bowl is on a Sunday, the national holiday would be observed on the following day. Three-day weekend! Win, win.
Is there any question Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis is the biggest tilt on this season's schedule? Actually there is, considering Peyton ALSO has a game against the Giants (and brother Eli), as well as a rematch of January's classic playoff tilt against Baltimore. Oh, and did I mention the trip to New England for another date with Tom Brady? All four of those games call for holiday status. Play them all in prime time, on either Friday or Monday nights, so we can get a three-day weekend out of it. I can even sign off on playing all of them on Thursday night, so we can have a four-day weekend. (Obviously gotta have game day off, but also the next day -- for recovery purposes.)
Let's go even further. How about we play the Denver-Indianapolis game on a Wednesday. It's so big, we all need two days off prior to the game for preparations (digesting all the information, reading all the interviews, learning all the schemes -- we have to be well-informed on everything). Of course, we're off for the game, and its fallout will be so huge that we'll need two more days to process it all with countless hours of Internet/TV perusing. How can you possibly fit all of that into one week AND go to your job? In Europe, people get like 45 weeks of vacation. We can take off a few extra days for this.
This isn't a great time to ask such a question. You're catching me when I'm at my weakest -- it's been FIVE long months since I've had football. It's like asking a man you find starving in the desert what his favorite food is. Who cares?! Whatever you got, I'll consume it. Honestly, I'll take anything. Seriously. Panthers at Bills? Count me in! Jets at Titans? Can't wait! (Maybe we'll even see a Butt Fumble!) Jags at Raiders? Well ... alright ... maybe not. A guy's gotta have a minimum standard. Anyhoo, the larger point is: I want football!! And heaven forbid I get choosy about it out here in the Sahara of summer sports.
(In terms of playoff relevance, though, it seems tough to trump Seahawks at Niners in December.)