Now that the games have been slotted into dates and the 2014 NFL schedule is set, it's time for superlatives.
What's the best game among the 256 regular-season games? What's the worst? What are the best and worst weeks of action? Who won schedule release day? Glad you asked. Here are the awards from the release of the NFL schedule on Wednesday night:
Best game: With all due respect to Seattle and San Francisco, we're not getting too many more Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning games, and there's one scheduled for Foxborough on Nov. 2. And it's not just the novelty of the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation facing off again; their teams might be the two best in the AFC. That was the case last season, and then the Broncos went on an offseason shopping spree and the Patriots added the best player to switch teams this offseason, cornerback Darrelle Revis. The regular-season game last year between the two teams was entertaining. This one should be too.
Best game, part two ... and three: Fine, we're not leaving off San Francisco vs. Seattle. The NFC West rivals are two of the best teams in football. The NFC championship game last season was a classic. And we'll see if we get some fisticuffs between Richard Sherman and Michael Crabtree. The fact that the first meeting is on Thanksgiving almost got that one top billing over Brady-Manning. The teams meet again in Week 15, and if they're both as good as we think they are, there will be enormous playoff implications on the line.
Best ... whatever, we're just adding four and five to the list of top games: Denver, Seattle and San Francisco might be the three best teams in the NFL coming into the season (yeah, New England, we see you too). Because the AFC West matches up with the NFC West this year, we get to see the Broncos against the great defenses of Seattle and San Francisco.
Complain as you might that Denver can't compete with Seattle, the rematch on Sept. 21 should be better thank the Super Bowl. Keep in mind that Denver should have Ryan Clady, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib, and none of them played in that Super Bowl. Then the Broncos host the 49ers on "Sunday Night Football" Oct. 19, and it'll be fun watching Manning against that defense too.
Worst game: Cleveland at Buffalo, Nov. 30. Well, something has to rank 256th out of 256. However, this game moves up from the bottom spot if the Browns land quarterback Johnny Manziel in the draft because whatever team Manziel plays for will be must-watch football every week.
Most anticlimactic reunion: Last year, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning returning to Indianapolis to play the Colts was one of the biggest stories of the season. The two teams play again in Week 1, and the hoopla won't be the same.
The second game against a former team is never quite as exciting. Also, the game will be in Denver, and a major part of last year's Colts-Broncos game was how the fans would react to Manning. Still, it's a fun game between two AFC contenders and the reigning NFL MVP (Manning) against the most exciting young quarterback in the game (Andrew Luck).
Since this game is the "Sunday Night Football" showcase in Week 1 will give us a lot more time to hype Manning vs. Colts, but in truth it's less of a sideshow this year and just a good, entertaining football game.
Best last call: Tom Brady and the Patriots will be in Green Bay on Nov. 30, the first trip to Lambeau Field for New England since 2006, and one would assume by the next time New England visits Green Bay, Brady will be hanging out with his supermodel wife in retirement. If any market appreciates football history it's Green Bay, and the chance to see one of the all-time greats one more time will be fun. And, it should be a really entertaining game.
Worst guess: All offseason, everyone figured the Seahawks would start the season in the traditional Thursday night opener on Sept. 4 against one of two opponents: San Francisco or Denver. Both come to Seattle this season. The league threw a curveball by making Green Bay the opening night opponent. (Green Bay has to wonder why it can't have an easier opponent to start the season; the last two seasons the Packers played the 49ers in Week 1). It's a bit of a bummer. Nothing against Green Bay, but it was the third-best option for the opener. But Aaron Rodgers against Seattle's defense is still a darn good way to kick off the 2014 season.
Best addition: Saturday games are back! Years ago, once the college season was done, stray Saturday NFL games were a staple of December. They were eventually phased out, and there were no Saturday regular-season games last year. Well, we're getting a couple on Dec. 20. San Diego will play at San Francisco and Philadelphia will play at Washington. Make sure you don't schedule last-minute holiday shopping for that weekend, because the NFL is giving us something to watch on Saturdays again.
Best bet to be flexed Week 17: The league doesn't schedule a Sunday night game for Week 17 because the game with the most interesting playoff angle (or the one involving NFC East teams) gets flexed into prime time that week. It's disappointing the NFL didn't schedule 49ers-Seahawks for Week 17 because that would have probably been the one. Looking through the Week 17 games, the early guess is Cincinnati at Pittsburgh will end up closing the regular season. That game could end up determining the AFC North championship.
Best revelation: The NFL, for realizing that it could make a couple minor changes to maximize the entertainment value for fans. Extending flex scheduling by moving it up to Week 5, and allowing up to two flexed Sunday night games from Week 5 to 10, was simple and smart. Adding a couple Saturday games late in the season can't hurt. The decision to add a "cross-flex" option so games could move between CBS and Fox allowed CBS to show an all-NFC game on Thanksgiving. That allowed more options and the NFL came up with maybe the best Thanksgiving schedule in recent memory. And the league also put some effort into scheduling interesting Thursday night games, and even though that had more to do with making CBS happy, fans will benefit too. The league put a lot of thought into making the schedule the best it could be (and it's not easy, considering all 32 teams have requests and the television partners need to be satisfied too). Nice work, NFL.
Worst week: It's all relative, because a "bad" NFL week is still great, but if you need to plan a big event for a Sunday this fall, might as well make it Week 4. Two of the NFL's marquee teams, Seattle and Denver, have a bye. So do the Bengals, Cardinals, Browns and Rams.
Fine, we won't really miss the Browns. But the week starts with the Giants and Redskins on Thursday night (seriously, enough already with the NFC East prime-time games), and while Packers-Bears will be fun, the only game on Sunday between two 2013 season playoff teams is Eagles at 49ers. NBC must have grabbed Saints-Cowboys for Sunday night for the curiosity of seeing how bad New Orleans' offense could destroy Dallas (no kidding guys, we are tired of seeing mediocre NFC East teams in prime time).
New England at Kansas City on Monday night could be fun, but that doesn't save the week.
Best week: Week 7 wins it. We start the week with Jets at Patriots, which is always a solid rivalry game, and will be amped up a bit by Darrelle Revis going to New England.
The early set of games has some interesting contests: New Orleans at Detroit, Miami at Chicago, Carolina at Green Bay, Seattle at St. Louis and Cincinnati at Indianapolis. Kansas City at San Diego and Giants at Dallas anchor the late games, then there's a monster Sunday night game with San Francisco visiting Denver.
Houston at Pittsburgh isn’t the best Monday night game, but it’s not all that bad, and are you complaining after that Sunday slate?