By Brad Gagnon
This year's NFL schedule features 51 primetime games and 54 nationally-televised games, with one more scheduled to be added on the final Sunday of the season. There's also a chance that as many as eight Sunday night games will be flexed between Week 5 and Week 16. But working only with what we know right now, we've gone ahead and ranked the 54 games you'll have access to this year regardless of your cable package.
54. Titans at Jaguars (Dec. 18, NFLN): I can't believe the league would use a Week 16 national time slot on these two teams, both of whom are bound to be eliminated by then. How does anyone sell this game? I get that NFLN has promised to show every team at least once on Thursday night, but why not get this one out of the way earlier?
53. Bills at Dolphins (Nov. 13, NFLN): The Bills are going to suck again. Miami might be slightly better, but the Patriots probably have that division anyway. So in November, this just isn't a great matchup in its own time slot, regardless of the fact it's between divisional opponents. That, along with the given poor quality of Thursday night games, means this is another dog game for NFLN.
52. Steelers at Titans (Nov. 17, ESPN): Neither team does a lot for me, so I'm assuming this game won't appeal to most casual fans outside of Steeler Nation. It doesn't help that it's a fairly late game for two teams that might not be on a playoff track.
51. Chiefs at Raiders (Nov. 20, NFLN): Does anybody expect Oakland to be in contention at this point? And frankly, Kansas City might be merely fighting for a wild-card spot at best at this stage. Just another Thursday nighter that doesn't have a special feel to it even though it is a decent rivalry game.
50. Bears at Jets (Sept. 22, ESPN): I don't know if we really need Chicago on national television twice in a row, and the Jets are in store for another tumultuous, unsuccessful season. Two good TV markets, but this isn't an enticing cross-conference affair.
49. Dolphins at Jets (Dec. 1, ESPN): Unless you have fantasy implications, this might be one to ignore. Neither team stands out and could be out of the playoff chase by this time, so it's a tough draw in December where ESPN is crossing their fingers.
48. Vikings at Packers (Oct. 2, CBS/NFLN): This could be the nation's first good look at Teddy Bridgewater, which is cool I guess. But there's a chance it won't be, and even that isn't enough to make this an elite primetime game. I just don't think the Vikes will be that competitive.
47. Texans at Steelers (Oct. 20, ESPN): I don't see either team making the playoffs this year, so this is a pretty ordinary matchup. As a Monday night game, it can't be flexed, so ESPN will be hoping that the draw of #1 pick JaDeveon Clowney will be enough.
46. Buccaneers at Falcons (Sept. 18, CBS/NFLN): An early-season look at Lovie Smith's new-look Bucs is something football fans should appreciate, especially in a divisional matchup with a Falcons team seeking redemption. This isn't a blockbuster, but it has potential.
45. Ravens at Steelers (Sept. 11, CBS/NFLN): Two hard-hitting division rivals? Nothing to complain about, even if this matchup has lost some luster of late. It'll be interesting to see CBS's Thursday night debut.
44. Steelers at Ravens (Nov. 2, NBC): Unless both of these teams have a significant resurgence, it's hard to imagine this game not being flexed given their other matchup is also in primetime.
43. Colts at Texans (Oct. 9, CBS/NFLN): Houston should be better and at least this is a divisional game, but the AFC South lacks sex appeal. Still, it'll be worth tuning in to see Luck battle that defensive front.
42. Cowboys at Bears (Dec. 4, NFLN): A little late for a Dallas team that might struggle and a Chicago team that usually struggles during the second half of the year. Plus, the Bears always seem to manhandle Dallas.
41. Chargers at Cardinals (Sept. 8, ESPN): The second game of ESPN's Week 1 MNF doubleheader is often weak, but both of these teams are good enough to win playoff games. At least they aren't giving us the Raiders this time.
40. Ravens at Saints (Nov. 24, ESPN): Good matchup on paper, especially when the Saints have the ball. The Saints have been an unstoppable force at home in primetime.
39. Giants at Lions (Sept. 8, ESPN): This'll be the first time we get to see New York's new-look offense, which should be interesting on the road against a fierce defensive front in Week 1. A very fun matchup considering it features two teams that had losing records last season.
38. Patriots at Chiefs (Sept. 29, ESPN): The connections between these franchises have mostly faded, but we're still talking about two talented AFC squads and anything involving New England is a draw.
37. Steelers at Panthers (Sept. 21, NBC): Big Ben vs. Cam Newton. Something about that kicks ass. They're just so physically imposing. Carolina has a lot to prove after a rough offseason and there's no guarantee Newton will be 100 percent, so plenty of storylines for a cross-conference game.
36. Cowboys at Giants (Nov. 23, NBC): Both teams could be struggling to stay alive at this point, which I suppose could make this interesting. But I don't get the feeling this matchup will be as intriguing as usual.
35. Broncos at Chiefs (Nov. 30, NBC): Denver took care of Kansas City in both meetings last year, and it appears the gap between those teams has grown. Could be one-sided, although the primetime atmosphere at Arrowhead would be worth it alone.
34. Cowboys at Eagles (Dec. 14, NBC): Again! That's a lot of Dallas in November and December, no? Philly could win this one big at home.
33. Jets at Patriots (Oct. 16, CBS/NFLN): These games always have a little extra buzz, and that'll again be the case here considering Darrelle Revis. And at least we can be sure that the Jets won't be out of contention this early, but I'm not entirely convinced Gang Green will hang in.
32. Eagles at Cowboys (Nov. 27, FOX): Dallas is always a draw, but this is not looking like a great Cowboys team and it's late. Still, they'll likely be fighting for their lives against a good division rival, and the 'Boys usually play well on Thanksgiving.
31. Colts at Giants (Nov. 3, ESPN): Both teams can put a lot of points on the board, and both should still be in contention at this point. It's not a blockbuster, especially since it contains teams from separate conferences, but this should be an above-average game.
30. 49ers at Rams (Oct. 13, ESPN): St. Louis is going to be better, especially if Sam Bradford can stay healthy and get back on track. At home, there's upset potential in a big divisional game here.
29. Bengals at Patriots (Oct. 5, NBC): Two teams that are supposed to win their respective AFC divisions. Always fun to see Tom Brady against stellar defensive fronts, and that Andy Dalton-A.J. Green combo is entertaining.
28. Cardinals at Rams (Dec. 11, NFLN): Don't be surprised if both of these teams are alive for a wild-card spot, with this matchup essentially eliminating one or the other. That'll keep things interesting between two underrated NFC squads and those other two teams in the NFC West.
27. Chargers at Broncos (Oct. 23, CBS): Two playoff-worthy teams in the same division. We'll take it. Plus, you might recall that San Diego actually beat Denver on the road on a Thursday night last season.
26. Seahawks at Cardinals (Dec. 21, NBC): The Peacock is banking on Arizona hanging around this late, which is a risk. Still, they could play spoiler here, which is something they've done in the past.
25. Bears at Lions (Nov. 27, CBS): Thanksgiving in Detroit, as per usual. At least this is likely to be a high-scoring matchup featuring three of the game's best receivers. Plus, it could have playoff implications and it's a divisional matchup.
24. Redskins at Cowboys (Oct. 27, ESPN): Another popular NFC East matchup between two teams who truly hate each other. And this is early enough that it's going to matter. Even if both teams are overhyped, this should be an entertaining game between two high-scoring teams.
23. Giants at Eagles (Oct. 12, NBC): We've had more than a few primetime barnburners between these teams over the years. No reason to expect things to be any different here. Both teams should be better than they were in 2013.
22. Patriots at Chargers (Dec. 7, NBC): Good history between these two teams, with Tom Brady and Philip Rivers in the center of it all despite so many changes elsewhere. This is a December game that should matter to both teams, so we approve.
21. Panthers at Eagles (Nov. 10, ESPN): Two reigning division champions from the same conference, both featuring fantastic young quarterbacks. Plus, it's a battle of good offense vs. good defense. No way this doesn't go down to the wire, right?
20. Browns at Bengals (Nov. 6, NFLN): Will Johnny Manziel be quarterbacking the Browns by early November? If so, that adds another intriguing element to the Battle of Ohio, which actually has become quite a solid divisional matchup now that Cincy has a great offense and the Browns are good on D.
19. Saints at Panthers (Oct. 30, NFLN): Carolina stole the division from New Orleans last season, and this is a great battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. Top-notch divisional game.
18. Lions at Falcons (Oct. 26, FOX): That's right, FOX. We're including this one because it takes place in its own time slot nationally at 9:30 a.m. ET from London. If you're on the east coast, you'll be able to combine football with breakfast for the first time ever. Plus, there'll be some fun with Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and Roddy White on the field for a solid NFC matchup.
17. Saints at Cowboys (Sept. 28, NBC): Both teams are completely loaded with offensive weapons, with a lot of potential for a shootout. Last year when they met, the Saints set a record for most first downs in a game. In Dallas, this could be one of the highest-scoring games of the 2014 season. Plus, the Cowboys will still be contenders in September, anyway.
16. Giants at Redskins (Sept. 25, CBS/NFLN): Key early-season divisional matchup between two teams looking to redeem themselves after tough 2013 campaigns. Both Eli Manning and Griffin will be adjusting to new offenses and trying to stay alive.
15. Eagles at Colts (Sept. 15, ESPN): Cross-conference games just don't carry as much weight, but this should be an offensively-charged affair between two of the game's best young quarterbacks. Luck is the stud, but Nick Foles outplayed him last year.
14. Falcons at Packers (Dec. 8, ESPN): Don't be shocked if the Falcons are actually playing for something late in what should be a bounce-back season. They should stick with Green Bay on the road, and this will be a big MNF game for a lot of fantasy owners.
13. Bears at 49ers (Sept. 14, NBC): Chicago is always a tough opponent early, before injuries usually ravage the roster, and the Niners are always a draw. As San Francisco opens its brand-new stadium, we'll have a good tilt between two playoff-caliber teams.
12. Broncos at Bengals (Dec. 22, ESPN): Two reigning division champions that should be jockeying for AFC playoff positioning in a big Week 16 matchups. Plus, expect a ton of offense.
11. Seahawks at Redskins (Oct. 6, ESPN): Russell Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl, but the 'Skins are far better than their 2013 record (3-13) would indicate. I guarantee you this will be a close game.
10. Chargers at 49ers (Dec. 20, CBS or NFLN): Fun west coast battle between two teams likely to be bound for the playoffs but also likely to be fighting for seeding.
9. Eagles at Redskins (Dec. 20, CBS or NFLN): CBS and NFL Network are giving us a pretty cool Week 16 Saturday with this game and San Diego-San Francisco. This game could easily decide the NFC East. You can't go wrong, even if one of the two teams have faded. You know this'll be a battle.
8. Colts at Patriots (Nov. 16, NBC): A great matchup even in the post-Manning era, simply because Luck has picked up where Peyton left off. Bill Belichick has Luck's number at this point, but this could be a big season for the third-year quarterback. And looking more broadly, this is a matchup that could have major implications.
7. Bears at Packers (Nov. 9, NBC): Two playoff-caliber NFC squads renew one of the best and longest-standing rivalries in sports. This is always good TV, especially with guys like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler throwing the passes.
6. Saints at Bears (Dec. 15, ESPN): There's something about this game that intrigues us. Both teams should be very desperate in an NFC game that is bound to have playoff implications. And both offenses are just super-fun. Did the Saints get the cold-weather monkey off their back after winning in the playoffs on the road at Philadelphia? Or will a Monday night in December in Chicago prove their undoing.
5. Colts at Broncos (Sept. 7, NBC): Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning. Manning vs. his old team. Plus, you're probably looking at two AFC division winners. Expect fireworks as Luck kicks off what is supposed to be a big breakout season.
4. Packers at Saints (Oct. 26, NBC): Aaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees is all you need. Lots of offense between two Super Bowl contenders in the Superdome? That's football perfection.
3. 49ers at Broncos (Oct. 19, NBC): This was very nearly our matchup for last year's Super Bowl, and it would surprise exactly nobody if it were to become our matchup for this year's championship game. It's the ultimate battle of offense vs. defense, and two very popular teams that really draw.
2. Packers at Seahawks (Sept. 4, NBC): The opener always has a special feel, and this is a battle between two NFC juggernauts. Would it surprise anyone if these teams met in the NFC championship game? Plus, it'll be a Fail Mary reunion.
1. Seahawks at 49ers (Nov. 27, NBC): Suddenly, Thanksgiving Thursday night is becoming an appointment time slot for the NFL. This has become the best rivalry in the league, and it could be another preview of the NFC championship game. Offense sells better than defense, but everyone will be watching this game. And in San Francisco, it'll likely go down to the wire. You may remember what happened after their last meeting.
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