NFL schedule 2014: Storylines to watch


Levi’s Stadium will make its regular-season debut Sept. 14. (Eric Risberg / AP)

Let the countdown to the 2014 NFL season officially begin.

The NFL schedule was announced Wednesday night and, while we may have known who would be each team’s opponents and where they would play, we didn’t know the key thing: when they’d play. Until now. Let the pondering of storylines begin.

First, because this is football, let’s look at who will be out for revenge. That would have to be Darrelle Revis, whose career has been gotten new life in New England; Steve Smith, the wide receiver who promised “blood and guts” after his release by Carolina; and DeSean Jackson, who was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Revis will get to face the New York Jets, the team he had his greatest success with, on Oct. 16 and Dec. 21; Smith will face the Panthers when they visit Baltimore on Sept. 28; and Jackson and the Washington Redskins will face the Eagles in Philly on Sept. 21 and again in Washington on Dec. 20.

It’s good to be Peyton Manning, but this season may not be the tiptoe-through-the-tulips season that 2013 was for him. He and the Broncos, after that horrendous Super Bowl, will have what presently shapes up as the second-most difficult schedule in the league.

It’s great to be Peyton Manning’s successor, even if he remains the most Googled athlete in the state of Indiana. Andrew Luck and the Colts have the easiest schedule in the NFL.

Breakfast at Wembley. The Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons will kick off at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 26. That’s 9:30 EDT, 6:30 a.m. PDT and 1:30 in London. Now East Coasters will know the wonders of NFL kickoffs that begin with breakfast.

If you felt cheated by the warm-ish Super Bowl… Two Monday night games carry the potential for wicked weather. On Week 14 the Falcons play in Green Bay and the following week the New Orleans Saints play in Chicago. And keep an eye on Minnesota. All of the Vikings’ games will be outdoors at the University of Minnesota and they’ll host the New York Jets and Bears in December.

The NFL, it would appear, luvs it some NFC. Or maybe it luvs the AFC more because it’s giving AFC teams Thanksgiving Day off. Instead, NFC teams will meet in three big division-rivalry games, with Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers.

For what it’s worth:  The Pittsburgh Steelers will not play a single regular-season game outside the Eastern time zone. They have the best quarterback in their division and last year’s AFC North champion, the Cincinnati Bengals, has lost both its offensive and defensive coordinators.

In Week 2, Levi’s Stadium takes a bow. The San Francisco 49ers will play their first regular-season game in their opulent ($1.3 billion) new home in Santa Clara, hosting the Chicago Bears on “Sunday Night Football.” (If you listen carefully, you can hear Jerry Jones weeping.)

Yes, they’ve done this a few times. Still, a Peyton Manning-Tom Brady matchup is must-see TV. This year, the 13th regular-season game between the two is at 4:25 p.m. Nov. 2, with Manning traveling to New England for the ninth time. Last season’s regular-season game was a classic, with the Patriots rallying for a victory that the Denver Broncos avenged in the playoffs. Manning is 38 and Brady will be 37 this summer. This can’t go on much longer.

There was a time when all this was much simpler. Of course, there was.

All in for Week 1? Robert Griffin III returns and, in his first game after a dismal 3-13 season, he’ll face the Houston Texans, who will have a healthy J.J. Watt and, possibly, Jadeveon Clowney on defense. He should probably hope the Texans go with Johnny Manziel with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft next month. Two rookie coaches will make their debuts and this will receive about 10 seconds’ worth of attention.

Prime-time candidates are the usual suspects. Eight teams (New England, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Chicago, Green Bay, New Orleans, the New York Giants and Denver) will have five prime-time games. Four (Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis and Philadelphia) have four each. Seven teams (Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland, Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay) will appear once (because the NFL commands that each team get a prime-time game). The new flex rules may change that, though.

“Thursday Night Football” is changing. CBS will now air eight early-season games before the NFL Network takes over in November.

And don’t forget the Saturday doubleheader. That comes in Week 16.

Let’s peek ahead. Week 17 is loaded with possibilities.  Just look at the schedule (with one of these games flexed to Sunday night):

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons, 1
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens, 1
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers, 1
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans, 1
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, 1
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins, 1
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings, 1
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots, 1
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, 1
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans, 1
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins, 1
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos, 4:25
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers, 4:25
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25

And, finally, know this about the NFL season: The teams with really good quarterbacks will do well. Write that down somewhere.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.

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Cindy Boren · April 23, 2014

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