NEW YORK — No other fan base celebrates the release of is schedule quite like NFL fans, who were glued to TVs, websites and social media Thursday night when the “who, when and where” was bestowed upon the masses by the National Football League.
The season officially kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 7 when the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs as touchdown favorites in Week 1.
That opening matchup is good, but not great. And definitely not as good as each of these “Must Watch” games from the remainder of the 2017 NFL schedule.
Week 1: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans
Projected spread: Pick’em
The future is now. Or, more specifically, the future is on September 10, when two of the most promising teams in the AFC, led by two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the NFL, clash in Music City USA. Who knows how far the Raiders could have gone if David Carr has stayed healthy last year? And as for Tennessee, the Titans finished the season with a 4-1 run.
Week 2: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos
Projected spread: Denver +3.5
This could have very well been the “Tony Romo Bowl” if the Broncos had pulled the trigger on Cowboys’ now-retired signal caller. Heck, it still could be if things don’t go according to plan for Denver’s QBs in the preseason. What we do know is that this looks to be a classic matchup of “unstoppable force” and “immovable object”, with Dallas’ high-powered offense taking on Denver’s stingy defense at Mile High.
Week 3: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
Projected spread: Carolina -3.5
The Panthers have plenty to prove after suffering a season-long Super Bowl hangover in 2016. Carolina played some of its best games against the rival Saints, who will be coming off a Week 2 matchup with the Patriots before this NFC South grudge match. The contrasting quarterback matchup – Drew Brees’ arm vs. Cam Newton’s legs – should be entertainment enough.
Week 4: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks
Projected spread: Seattle -7.5
Just to reinforce that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, the schedule gives us this gem on Sunday Night Football to open October. Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck will trade touchdowns in what should be an insane primetime environment at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The Seahawks are 34-6 SU at home over the past five seasons, and a perfect 10-0 hosting AFC opponents in that span.
Week 5: Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Projected spread: Dallas -5.5
A rematch of the best football game of 2016 – save for the Super Bowl – is the crown jewel of Week 5. The Cowboys will be fueled by revenge after losing 34-31 to the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, despite battling back from 21-3 hole. Dallas’ secondary is soft, so Aaron Rodgers will likely add some ridiculous throws to his highlight reel but the time the final whistle blows in Big D.
Week 6: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals
Projected spread: Arizona -5
Football fans will get to see what the Bucs are really made out of in Week 6. A promising Tampa Bay team travels across the country to take on a vaunted Arizona stop unit that shut down Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers in a 40-7 thrashing in Glendale last season. Tampa Bay will have some extra time to prepare after playing on Thursday the week before while Arizona could get caught looking ahead to its game in London, England the following week.
Week 7: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots
Projected spread: New England -6.5
How this game wasn’t tabbed as the season opener is beyond us, but we’re just happy the AFC/NFC rotating schedule has blessed us with a rematch of Super Bowl LI on Sunday Night Football. What can we say about this game? Just go rewatch the Patriots’ crazy comeback and circle Sunday, October 22 in glitter pen on your calendar.
Week 8: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Projected spread: Kansas City -5.5
Our projected spread for this game is really a bailout. There’s so much uncertainty around the Broncos offense, mainly at quarterback, that this line could be hovering around a touchdown if Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, or whoever struggles in the first half of the season. Regardless of who’s under center, Arrowhead is tough spot to be the visiting team.
Week 9: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
Projected spread: -3.5
Some people forget that between Week 5 and Week 14 last season, you’d be hard pressed to find a better team than the Lions. Detroit went 8-1 in that stretch before dropping the final three games of the schedule. This Monday Night NFC North battle could play a big role in how the division shakes out.
Week 10: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected spread: Steelers -7.5
The Colts have a pretty large black and yellow monkey on their backs heading into Week 10. Pittsburgh has handled Indianapolis with ease in their last three meetings, outscoring the Colts by a collective 124-51. The Steelers will be coming off a bye and are 11-6 after the annual hiatus since 2003.
Week 11: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks
Projected spread: Seattle -1.5
Seattle is a franchise fueled by emotions and this Week 11 rematch with the Falcons boasts more emotional baggage than an episode of The Bachelor. Atlanta broke the Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Round last January, which stung even more with former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn standing on the other sideline. We’ve already mentioned how nuts it gets in CenturyLink for primetime games, but this will be an atmosphere unlike any other.
Week 12: Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected spread: Pittsburgh -4.5
It’ll be interesting to see how high the Las Vegas oddsmakers go with this Over/Under number. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will go tit-for-tat with Rodgers and Jordy Nelson on the Sunday night of the Thanksgiving weekend. Football fans will get a healthy heaping of touchdowns to go along with all those leftovers.
Week 13: New York Giants at Oakland Raiders
Projected spread: Oakland -4.5
This non-conference clash will be a vital game for both teams as they will probably be in the midst of heated races in their respective divisions. The Giants are in the Bay Area for the second time in less than a month but have some extra prep for Oakland after playing on the Thanksgiving Thursday the week before. This marks their third road game in four weeks with the first of those at San Francisco in Week 10.
Week 14: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected spread: Pittsburgh -6
You can bet on feelings get hurt every time the Ravens and Steelers butt heads. And these late-season matchups tend to carry a ton of weight in the AFC North and Wild Card races. Last year, Pittsburgh snapped a four-game losing skid with a home victory over Baltimore on Christmas Day but is just 6-10 versus the Ravens since 2000.
Week 15: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected spread: Pittsburgh +2.5
What? Another Steelers game? Face it, the black and yellow make for some entertaining TV and the schedule makers did Big Ben & Co. zero favors with a December slate that starts at Cincinnati, vs. Baltimore, and vs. New England. The Patriots beat Pittsburgh twice last season, but their Week 7 victory came against a Steelers squad led by backup Landry Jones. Health is always an issue with Roethlisberger, so this spread could be completely different come Week 15.
Week 16: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Projected spread: Dallas -5
This could very well be the passing of the torch in the NFC. The Seahawks have long been the gatekeepers of the conference while the young guns in Dallas are coming off a surprise 13-3 record in 2016 – tops in the NFC. This Christmas Eve contest is the Cowboys’ lone home stand in the final four games of the season. Dallas went 7-1 inside “Jerry’s World” last season, outscoring opponents by an average score of 29-21. Seattle was just 3-4-1 on the road.
Week 17: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams
Projected spread: St. Louis -3
The final week of the regular season is ripe with must-see showdowns, making it tough to pinpoint just one. Instead of diving into a potential make-or-break finale, with playoff hopes hanging in the balance, we look to what could be the “toilet bowl” of the 2017 season. The Niners and Rams may find themselves in tank mode with the No. 1 pick in the draft going to the loser. It’s a game only a gambler could love.
Editor’s note: This story was written by Jason Logan for Covers.com, a sister site also owned by Tribune. Check out Covers.com for betting breakdowns of the 2017 NFL season as well as live odds, stats and trends for every game on the board.