The 10 best NFL games (and CHFFs) of 2012

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 17, 2012



The NFL released its complete 2012 schedule Tuesday night and it offers plenty of excitement for those of you who suffer the weakness of human emotion.
 
Classic rivalries continue. The Bears and Packers meet for the 185th time in their storied history in Week 2 and then again in Week 15. We’ll also see rematches of 2011 playoff classics between the Steelers-Broncos (Week 1), Patriots-Ravens (Week 3) and Giants-49ers (Week 6).

But there will be plenty of new twists in 2012, too. The season kicks off on Wednesday for the first time in history (Dallas at N.Y. Giants on Sept. 5). In fact, it’s the NFL’s first Wednesday game since 1948, when the Rams faced the Lions.
 
Fans will get a treat in Week 1 when the 49ers visit the Packers – a meeting most fans expected to see in the NFC title game back in January.
 
And then there is another NFL first: nearly a full season of Thursday football, starting with Chicago-Green Bay in Week 2, peaking with Houston-Detroit, Washington-Dallas and New England-N.Y. Jets on Thanksgiving and ending with Cincinnati-Philadelphia in Week 15.
 
Here’s our look at 10 games that appear promising here in the halcyon days of April. The 10 best games will probably look a lot different when the pigskins start flying in anger in September. We also weigh in with the most interesting Cold, Hard Football Facts from each potential marquee game.

1. San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (Sept. 9, Week 1)

The NFL comes out of the gate in prime form. The 49ers were the NFC’s No. 2 seed in 2011. The Packers were the Senior Circuit’s No. 1 seed. The two heavyweights went a combined 28-4 – but missed a chance to face off as each team was upset by the Giants in the 2011 postseason.
 
We’ll get our chance to see what might have been in this game. The Packers and 49ers are two of the NFL’s most glamorous and successful franchises over the years and faced off in several notable postseason battles in the 1990s.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: Green Bay OWNS the 49ers. The Packers have won eight straight in this series dating back to 1999 and are 13-1 vs. San Francisco since Joe Montana last played for the 49ers. 

2. New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens (Sept. 23, Week 3)

Admit it: the Patriots were lucky to get to the Super Bowl last year, after the Ravens handed them a pair of gifts in the final moments of the AFC title game. Receiver Lee Evans dropped what would have been a game-winning TD pass from QB Joe Flacco and then kicker Billy Cundiff shanked his shot at a game-tying 32-yard field goal with just seconds to play.
 
The two meet again in a early battle of AFC heavyweights. It’s a battle that usually ends in frustration for the Ravens, who are 1-7 all time vs. the Patriots.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: Baltimore went 7-2 vs. Quality Opponents last year. The Patriots went 1-3 – their lone win against Baltimore in the AFC title game.

3. Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (Oct. 7, Week 5)

Denver’s last visit to New England ended in disaster for the B-Men: a 45-10 victory by Tom Brady and the Patriots in the divisional playoffs back in January. This time the Broncos will return to Foxboro with former Colts legend Peyton Manning at the helm of the offense. It gives sports fans another precious chance to revisit the greatest quarterback rivalry in NFL history: Brady vs. Manning.
 
Never in history have the two elite quarterbacks of their time produced so prolifically and met so consistently with so much on the line.
 
Manning has changed uniforms. But this game might have that same old Big Game Feel: Brady and Manning will take into battle two of the AFC’s four defending division champs. Enjoy it, fans. These two quarterbacks are both now deep into the back nine of their respective careers. There won't be many more of these meetings.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Facts: The winner of the regular-season meetings between Brady’s Patriots and Manning’s Colts went on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in the 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011 seasons. Manning, of course, did not play in the 2011 match-up. But, wow! What a history between the two.

4. Houston at New York Jets (Oct. 8, Week 5, Monday Night Football)

The Monday Night Football Media Circus rolls into New York complete with big-mouthed Rex Ryan, a Big Apple showdown against a top-to-bottom talented Houston team and, in all likelihood, a Big Time QB Controversy for the Ages. Can Mark Sanchez and/or Tim Tebow stand up to the primetime pressure and deliver in a big showdown against the Texans? We'll know just about the time the calendar turns to October 9.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Texans could spell trouble for Joe Namath, let alone Sanchez or Tebow. Houston finished 2011 No. 1 across the board in our Quality Stats Power Rankings and No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating.

5. New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (Oct. 14, Week 6)

Coach Jim Harbaugh’s 13-3 49ers of 2011 were minutes from matching the legacy of Bill Walsh’s legendary 13-3 49ers of 1981 by representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.
 
You know what happened: back-up punt returner Kyle Williams fumbled away two punts – one in the fourth quarter to help give the Giants a 17-14 lead and another in overtime to hand the G-Men the game-winning field goal attempt. New York walked away with a 20-17 overtime victory and went on to win Super Bowl XLVI.
 
The 49ers have an opportunity to gain some semblance of revenge in what looks like, at this point five months before the season, a meeting of NFC heavyweights.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: The 49ers surrendered 229 points in 2011. The Giants surrendered 400. The 49ers scored 17 when it mattered most. The Giants scored 20.
 

6. New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos (Oct. 28, Week 8)

Drew Brees of New Orleans and Peyton Manning of Denver are probably the two most popular quarterbacks in the history of the Big Easy – Brees, for leading the Saints to their only Super Bowl title; Manning because he was a schoolboy hero in New Orleans and a Favorite Son of South.
 
Oh, the two QBs have a bit of a history: Brees and the Saints beat Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. This time the meeting will be a little surreal – way up on Mile High.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Facts: Brees has never won in Denver. He went 0-3 there when quarterbacking the Chargers and lost his only game in Denver while with the Saints.

7. Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins (Nov. 4, Week 9)

Cam Newton won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and went on to a spectacular rookie season with the Panthers in 2011. Robert Griffin III won the 2011 Heisman Trophy and many fans expect him to go on to a spectacular rookie season with the Redskins – who moved up in the draft to land the No. 2 pick behind the Indianapolis Colts.
 
If all goes according to the best hoped-for plans, Carolina-Washington could prove a harbinger of the future of quarterbacking in the NFL and the first meeting of the potential Next Great QB Rivalry.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: Newton completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,854 yards, 10.2 YPA, 30 TD, 7 INT in his final year at Auburn. Griffin completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 4,293 yards, 10.7 YPA, 37 TD and 6 INT in his final year at Baylor.
 

8. Buffalo at Houston (Nov. 4, Week 9)

There’s little chance the chronically ill Bills will be contenders this year. Houston, meanwhile, was one of the best top-to-bottom teams in football last year and a legit Super Bowl contender before QB Matt Schaub was injured.
 
But this game will be interesting for the various sub-plots. Buffalo signed Houston’s former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams to a record-setting deal for a defensive player that includes $50 million in guaranteed money. Foolish deal. The Texans D actually got better last year when Williams is lost to injury.
 
It was a classic over-valued bad signing that desperate teams make. And why are the Bills desperate? They’re desperate because their former head coach, Wade Phillips, now the defense coordinator with the Texans, benched Doug Flutie before Buffalo’s 1999 playoff game at Tennessee. You know how it ended: the Titans beat the Bills thanks to the Music City Miracle.
 
Buffalo is still haunted by the Curse of Doug Flutie. The team has never returned to the playoffs. Phillips is also still haunted by the Curse of Flutie that he created himself. He did an incredible job turning around Houston’s defense in 2011. But then the Curse of Flutie struck down starting QB Matt Schaub and then back-up QB Matt Leinart. The Texans were forced to enter the playoffs behind third-string rookie QB T.J. Yates. The Curse works in mysterious ways.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: Wade Phillips never should have benched Doug Flutie.
 

9.San Francisco at New England (Dec. 16, Week 15)

Both teams went 13-3 last season. Both teams fell short of their ultimate goal when they were upset by Eli Manning and the Giants. If both teams look something like they did in 2011, it will be a classic match-up of immovable object (the San Fran defense) vs. irresistible force (the New England offense). But as fans of the Mighty CHFF learned this week, great offenses never put out for their fans when it matters most.
 
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: The 2011 49ers boasted the second-best scoring defense in franchise history (14.3 PPG). Only the 15-1 Super Bowl champs of 1984 gave up fewer points and then just barely (14.2 PPG). The 2011 Patriots boasted the third-best scoring offense in franchise history (32.1 PPG).

10. N.Y. Giants at Baltimore Ravens (Dec. 23, Week 16)

We've been wondering how Super Bowl XLVI would have unfolded had Eli and the Giants been forced to face Baltimore and the league's best pass defense (68.8 Defensive Passer Rating) rather than New England and one of history's softest pass defenses (86.1 DPR, 4,983 yards allowed). The reality is that we'll never know. The history has already been written.

But Giants-Ravens will allow us to ponder the issue a little further and also perhaps plan for a potential Super Boowl encounter between two teams likely to be in the mix in their respective conferences at the end of the season.

Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: Baltimore is 10-3-1 all time vs. the NFC West, including 3-1 vs. the Giants. The Ravens blasted the Giants, 34-7, in their one postseason meeting back in Super Bowl XXXV.

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