2012 NFL Schedule: 10 Games That Will Shape The Season

By Jason Stolberg
June 20, 2012 4:45 pm
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Every year we can point to a few games during the course of the NFL season and say "Wow... that game was extremely pivotal considering what happened in the playoffs."

This season will be no different, as there are several juicy matchups that will likely determine the fate of not only the two teams playing, but also the postseason landscape for the season as a whole.

So which games will those be?  I took a peek at the schedule from Week 1 to 17, and here's is what I found.

Week 1: Dallas @ NY Giants
The defending Super Bowl champs play in Week 1 in a rematch of what was essentially a “play in” game in Week 17 of the 2011 season. The Cowboys and Giants went into that game knowing the winner would get into the playoffs; and we all know what happened once the Giants got in.

The first game of the year often sets the tone for both teams, and this game should be no different. If the Cowboys want to show they’re legitimate, they’re going to have to go on the road and beat a Giants team that had a ton of momentum down the stretch in 2011.

So how important is the first game of the season anyhow? Well, we don’t have to look any further back than 2011, when the Packers played the Saints in a battle between the 2011 Super Bowl Champs and the 2010 Super Bowl Champs. The Packers ultimately prevailed in a game that would have far-reaching consequences; Green Bay went on to finish 15-1, while the Saints finished 13-3 and tied with the 49ers for the bye week in the playoffs. 

The Saints lost out on home field advantage to the 49ers due to tiebreakers, and subsequently were beaten on the road in San Francisco in the divisional playoff round.  Had the Saints beaten the Packers, the Saints would have had the No. 1 seed and home field throughout, which just might have been enough for them to get to the Super Bowl.  Don’t tell Drew Brees and the Saints the first game of the year isn’t important.
 
Week 4:  New Orleans @ Green Bay
This is a rematch of the pivotal 2011 Week 1 NFL Season Opener contest between the two most recent Super Bowl champs. The game turned out to be highly important to the standings at the end of the season and subsequent bye week seedings, and this contest could have similar ramifications. The Saints will be looking to go into Lambeau and get a little bit of payback as well as keep momentum moving through the first half of the season.  With their first three games being against the Redskins, Panthers, and Chiefs (2 of 3 at home), the Saints likely will enter the game 3-0 looking to take the mantle of the NFC’s team to beat.

The Packers will be hosting their 3rd home game out of four at this point, and will need this win to have momentum before going on the road for the better part of a month. Not to mention, tiebreakers between these two offensive juggernauts are bound to be important, as the Packers don’t want play a Superdome playoff game any more than the Saints want to play one in Lambeau.  Regardless, this game will be entertaining, and will have big time ramifications for the postseason.

Week 9:  Carolina @ Washington
Ok, so who isn’t looking forward to the first game between RGIII and Cam Newton? That’s right, probably no one… except for maybe people who seriously hate excitement, high scores, and statistics ringing up like new liquor sales in Washington state. This game features two of the most athletic QBs to hit the league since Michael Vick, and two defenses that struggled at times last season (Redskins were ranked No. 13 but faded down the stretch, Panthers were No. 28, and pretty much never showed up defensively for 2011).

So why is this game important, other than for the entertainment factor? Well, at the midpoint of the season, this will be a litmus test game for both Newton and RGIII. Are the Panthers and Redskins contenders behind their shiny new QBs?  Or are both at least another season away from competing? My guess is both will still be entertaining realistic postseason hopes at this point, and this game could serve as a springboard to truly competing down the stretch.
 
Week 12:  New England @ NY Jets
Games between Belichick’s Patriots and Ryan’s Jets are always hotly contested and usually have huge playoff ramifications on the line. Since 2009 when Rex Ryan took over as the Jets' head coach, he is 3-4 versus the Patriots, including the playoffs. 

Week 12 will mark the second of the two regular season matches between these divisional rivals, and will likely either cement the Patriots as the AFC East team to beat, or push the Jets forward into solid contention for the divisional crown. 

If it’s the former, it will mark the fourth time in as many years that the Jets haven’t been able to get over the late-season hump against the Patriots; they’ve lost every second regular season game between the two teams since Ryan took over.  The question is, can the Jets finally send the Patriots into a late-season swoon, or is it going to be more the same with a befuddled Ryan left to try to explain away another loss to Belichick’s crew?
 
Week 13:  Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore games are always knockdown drag-out fights, with both teams getting in their punches.  Just two years ago, I remember a game between these two when Haloti Ngata pretzeled Ben Roethlisberger’s nose, yet Big Ben didn’t miss a beat and came back in to lead the Steelers, busted schnozz and all. The Week 13 contest should be no different, with both teams looking formidable once again on defense.

Week 13 will mark the second game between these two on the season, and could very well decide the AFC North crown. Likely the division will come down to these two playoff stalwarts, so whoever wins this game will have a leg up on the other in terms of winning the division and getting to the post season. Either way, I’d almost have to expect a third game between these two in the playoffs, which is always a treat.

 

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22 months ago
Good stuff, Jason. I would throw Chicago vs. Detroit in Week 17 in there too.
22 months ago

Thanks Mike! Chicago vs. Detroit could have a lot of playoff ramifications for sure, especially depending on the results of the Week 14 game between the Lions and Packers. This could be another play-in game, just like the Chiefs-Broncos could be.
22 months ago
Great article!
I would of put Giants Eagles Week 17 in over the Skins and Eagles though. RGIII vs Vick would be fun to watch but the Giants and Eagles should both have playoff hopes or seeding on the line.
22 months ago
Good points about the Washington and Carolina game
22 months ago

Thanks Dan! It's probably in my top 5 of games I'm looking forward to watching!
22 months ago
Nice article. I agree with most of your picks, but I am personally waiting on the Packers/Bears games. A revamped Bears' offense and who knows what to expect from the Packers' defense.
22 months ago

Thanks Frederick! The Packers-Bears was a big consideration for me as well. I'm interested to see how the Cutler-Marshall connection goes; it was Cutler that made Marshall relevant at first. I went with the Lions and Packers instead because the Lions believe they are on the cusp of being a powerhouse team, but to get there they have to get over the Packers hump.
22 months ago
Thanks Keith! I did consider the Giants-Eagles game as well in Week 17, but I also have a feeling that RGIII is going to have the 'Skins in position to sneak in around the 6 seed this year... my feeling is that he's better than Cam, and he has better weapons than Cam, to go with a better defense. I'm thinking they go right around 7-9 to 9-7, which means that Week 16 game could very well be like a playoff game for them.

But yes, Giants-Eagles should also have some big time implications as well!
21 months ago
Hey Jason, what about San Fransisco vs. Green Bay in week one and the Packers vs Giants in week 12? Could be big in the end for the wildcard.
21 months ago

Thanks for the comment, Nick! Those are both very valid games for the list... San Francisco vs. Green Bay was a game a lot of people were thinking would be the NFC Championship game last season before the Giants upset that apple cart, and Packers vs. Giants will very likely have playoff implications... besides being one of the more entertaining games of the season with Rodgers vs. Eli. Of the two, I think your Packers-Giants matchup will in the long run end up the most important. Great suggestions!

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