— Sure, there may not be a 2011 NFL season, but that didn't stop the league from announcing the schedule for next season.
And it certainly won't stop us from getting excited about those games. Here's a selection of the best.
Sept. 8: Saints at Packers
Bravo to the NFL for putting the best game possible on opening night with the last two champions and two of the best five quarterbacks in football. It'll either be a celebratory return to football after a depressing offseason or a deeply depressing day for all football fans.
Sept. 11: Giants at Redskins
Cowboys at Jets (SNF)
The NFL loaded up great games in Week 1: Steelers-Ravens, Colts-Texans, and Falcons-Bears among them. But the emotion will be particularly high in New York and Washington D.C. as the entire nation remembers the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The first Sunday of every season feels like a holiday. This one will feel different and it’s appropriate that the Jets will close out the day. The NFL can’t possibly cancel this night, can they?
Sept. 12: Raiders at Broncos
The Monday doubleheader nightcap could very well be Tim Tebow’s first nationally televised start. If not, you can watch a stadium full of angry Broncos fans!
Sept. 18: Bears at Saints
Both teams have very difficult opening games -- The Saints are in Green Bay, while the Bears host the Falcons. We have a feeling that at least one of these playoff teams from a year ago will be trying to avoid a 0-2 start.
Sept. 18: Eagles at Falcons (SNF)
Michael Vick has returned to Atlanta before, but that was when he was a backup to Donovan McNabb. The Georgia Dome crowd wound up chanting Vick’s name by the end of that one. The scene in A-Town will be wild.
Sept. 19: Rams at Giants (MNF)
The Steve Spagnuolo Bowl! The old Giants defensive coordinator returns to New York, with Sam Bradford making the first of many Monday Night appearances to come. (Including two games this year.)
Sept. 25: Chiefs at Chargers
San Diego tries to avoid another slow start. The schedule maker helped Norv Turner out, with three of their first four games at home. We remember hearing their schedule was easy early last year too, and that didn’t help.
Packers at Bears
Chicago continues a brutal start to their schedule. Bet that Jay Cutler finishes this one.
Steelers at Colts (SNF)
We don’t want to brag, but NBC has the best game of the week. Again. These two teams have been to five of the last six Super Bowls, yet they’ve barely played against each other. It’s the ultimate power vs. finesse matchup.
Oct. 2: Jets at Ravens (SNF)
These two teams opened the last season on Monday night in a 10-9 game best remembered for a massive Ray Lewis hit on Jets tight end Dustin Keller. Expect more of the same.
Oct. 3: Colts at Buccaneers
Peyton Manning returns to the scene of the crime of perhaps the greatest fourth quarter comeback in NFL history. (It happened in 2003.) The coach of the Bucs that day was Jon Gruden, who will return to Tampa in the booth for the first time. It should make for fun TV.
Oct. 10: Jets at Patriots
This is the third straight road game for the Jets, and they have to do it on a short week after facing Baltimore. Yikes. Expect Wes Welker to keep his foot references to a minimum.
Oct. 16: Saints at Buccaneers
The NFC South has turned into the best quarterback division, with Cam Newton possibly set to join the party. Josh Freeman will get a number of showcase games in 2011 to show the rest of the country why he’s one of the game's best young quarterbacks.
Oct. 23: Bears “at” Buccaneers (London)
This game will only take place in Wembley Stadium in London if the lockout ends by August 1. Otherwise, it returns to Tampa. That date should be seen as a soft deadline for the league to get the labor situation settled. Afterward, the money lost from a lockout grows exponentially.
Steelers at Cardinals
A rematch of one of the most exciting Super Bowls in history. Were the Cardinals that good only three years ago?
Oct. 30: Patriots at Steelers
No one seems to give Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau bigger problems than Tom Brady and the Patriots. It’s hard to imagine this game not having major implications as the games start to feel a little more important.
Nov. 6: Packers at Chargers
This is the Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers aerial show. When the Brady-Manning-Brees trio eventually fades away, the game's two quarterbacks should be ready to take over.
Ravens at Steelers. (SNF)
These two teams only know how to play season-altering classics. Their games always seem to come down to one play, usually made by a defender. It’s only early November, but the AFC North could be won here.
Nov. 10: Raiders at Chargers
The first Thursday Night Football game of the year. No team dominated the Chargers quite like Oakland last year. The Raiders have enough talent to contend in the AFC West if they can stabilize their quarterback play.
Nov. 14: Vikings at Packers
Remember when this game was the most hyped one on the schedule? That won’t be the case anymore, no matter who is at quarterback this year for the Vikings. (Although getting Donovan McNabb wouldn’t hurt.)
Nov. 20: Eagles at Giants (SNF)
Here’s the re-match of the Miracle at the Meadowlands II. We’ll set the over/under on punts DeSean Jackson returns in this game at zero.
Nov. 21: Chiefs at Patriots (MNF)
Scott Pioli left the Foxborough nest two years ago to build his own program in Kansas City. The Chiefs have improved dramatically since then, and the league has noticed: Kansas City has four primetime games this year. This will be Pioli’s first trip back to face Bill Belichick, the man who taught him everything. Matt Cassel, Tom Brady’s longtime understudy, gets a chance to knock off the reigning league MVP.
Nov. 24: Packers at Lions, Dolphins at Cowboys, 49ers at Ravens
We can’t complain about the Thanksgiving slate this year, especially if Matthew Stafford and the Lions are competitive. (And if Stafford stays healthy for once.) The nightcap includes the first matchup of head coaching brothers in NFL history: John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh. Well, that’s assuming the 49ers haven’t made yet another coaching change by then.
Nov. 27: Patriots at Eagles
The NFC East and AFC East face off this year, which creates a lot of great matchups. Pick an angle, any angle. It’s a Super Bowl rematch and a matchup of the league's two longest-tenured head coaches. Tom Brady and Michael Vick were the frontrunners for the MVP award at the end of last year, but have barely faced off in their NFL careers.
Dec. 4: Packers at Giants
The Giants beat the Packers in Lambeau in the NFC Championship on their way to winning the Super Bowl after the 2007 season. The Packers lambasted the Giants in a key matchup of playoff contenders at the end of the last regular season to help kickstart Green Bay’s run to the Lombardi trophy.
Beware the winner of this game.
Colts at Patriots (SNF)
It’s going to be tough to top the last Colts-Patriots game on Sunday Night Football. Something tells us that we’re going to see a lot of flashbacks to Bill Belichick’s fourth-and-two call.
The Colts and Patriots typically play their annual game earlier in the season, so it will be a treat to see a Week 13 matchup between the two AFC titans. Belichick has to love getting the Colts in a possible cold weather game. Perhaps he’ll bring Ty Law out of retirement for one game.
Dec. 11: Colts at Ravens
Every franchise seems to have its own kryptonite. No matter how good the Ravens look, they can never seem to get past the Colts. If this is the Baltimore team that gets back to the Super Bowl, these are the types of games it needs to win.
Bears at Broncos
Jay Cutler’s return to Denver figures to be a fun story. The crowd may not kill him too much because they blame Josh McDaniels for everything that happened over the last two years.
Dec. 12: Rams at Seahawks (MNF)
We’re a little surprised ESPN had enough faith in the NFC West to put these two teams in primetime so late in the season.
Dec. 17: Cowboys at Buccaneers
We’re including this game because it’s the only Saturday night game of the year. Plus we haven’t mentioned the obligatory Cowboys game yet. Don’t worry about them falling out of the spotlight. They are one of six teams with five primetime games. The others: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and the Jets.
Dec. 24: Eagles at Cowboys
And we have another Cowboys game! 10 divisional games highlight Week 16, with 14 games on Christmas Eve, which falls on a Saturday. There won’t be a night game this week, but Eagles-Cowboys figures to be the national game in the afternoon with a lot at stake in the NFC East.
This loaded week also includes Raiders-Chiefs, Texans-Colts, Dolphins-Patriots, and Giants-Jets.
Dec. 25: Bears at Packers (SNF)
The oldest rivalry in football is the only game on Christmas, coming on Sunday Night Football. Despite the Packers winning when it mattered late last year, the Bears defense gives Aaron Rogers more problems than any other team.
Dec. 26: Falcons at Saints
This game was such a sweet Monday Night Football finale last year that they scheduled it again. The only difference this time: It’s in the Superdome. We have our doubts Matt Ryan can take the next step to elite quarterback status, but he can prove us wrong the night after Christmas.
Jan. 1: Colts at Jaguars
Every single matchup in Week 17 will be a division game, which should help keep things interesting.
The AFC South was essentially decided when the Colts and Jaguars faced off in Week 16 last year. Jacksonville will try to avoid another late season collapse this time around, with coach Jack Del Rio’s job potentially hanging in the balance.
Remember when this used to be a college football day?