These seven NFL games may be the most intense of the year, since many of the key players involved have a score to settle.
1. Week Two: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
If you want to find two teams that absolutely despise each other, look no further. The Steelers and Bengals have a long history of bad blood, but their most recent matchup boiled over with intensity. The 2016 AFC Wild Card game was filled with injuries, scuffles, dirty hits, taunting and plenty of flags. Pittsburgh won, 18-16, but lost key contributors. Ben Roethlisberger injured his shoulder on a hit from linebacker Vontaze Burfict; and played injured against the Broncos the next week. Burfict will not be playing in this matchup due to a 3-game suspension handed down on him for lowering his shoulder into the head of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Burfict was flagged for a personal foul on the play. Brown suffered a concussion and was not able to play in the Divisional Round against the Broncos.
One player that will be playing in this matchup is Adam Jones. Jones has never shied away from trouble, as the cornerback has been repeatedly fined and suspended by the NFL. After Brown was injured, Steelers' linebackers coach Joey Porter ran onto the field to check on his player. Jones took exception to Porter's actions and got into a scuffle with the former linebacker. The resulting, shocking 15-yard personal foul on the Bengals corner led to the game-winning field goal for the Steelers late.
2. Week One: Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos
For the first time, a Super Bowl rematch will kick-off the NFL season. Peyton Manning will not be playing, but Von Miller will. After wreaking havoc in the Carolina backfield in Super Bowl 50, Miller has to be licking his chops thinking about this game. Both teams are returning a majority of their feared 2015 defenses, and emotions from the Super Bowl still linger. After an embarrassing offensive performance in the Super Bowl, reigning league MVP Cam Newton will look to get his team on the right track in Week 1. Carolina will be getting Kelvin Benjamin back for this matchup, which will help their offense.
Manning isn't the only star who'll miss the rematch. Josh Norman, who was initially franchise tagged by the Panthers this offseason, now plays for the Washington Redskins after getting his tag rescinded. (Washington signed the cornerback for 5 years and $75 million, making him the highest paid player in the league at his position.)
The Broncos are also without defensive end Malik Jackson. The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Jackson to a $85.5 million contract over 6 years. That contract made Jackson the second-highest paid 3-4 defensive end in the NFL behind superstar J.J. Watt.
3. Week 10: Seattle Seahawks at New England Patriots
The two teams did not meet last year, so this Super Bowl XLIX rematch is overdue. Seattle will be coming into New England with Malcolm Butler's shocking interception still burning in their souls. Marshawn Lynch (the man Seattle should have given the ball to on the one-yard line) has retired, so this game will be on Russell Wilson's shoulders.
These two teams have a history. On October 14, 2012, Tom Brady and Richard Sherman faced each other in a seemingly ordinary game. Then the trash-talking started. Tom Brady, with a 23-10 lead in the fourth quarter, told a yapping Sherman to come see him after the game. The Seahawks rallied and won, and during the postgame handshakes, Sherman found Brady. That's when the "U Mad Bro?" quote became popular, as memes engulfed the internet.
After a couple more notable quotes from each side, the two teams met in the Super Bowl, with the Patriots emerging victorious.
The 2016 rematch will consist of a clash between the Patriots' prolific offense and the Seahawks' superior defense. Seattle will look to get the revenge they covet in what could be the last Brady-Sherman matchup.
4. Week 15: Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins
Remember that Josh Norman guy? Well, he gets his chance to make the Panthers regret not paying a premium to keep him. The brash corner will be facing his old team for the first time in Week 15.
There are other key factors to this game. The Redskins are bringing in a reloaded offense featuring Kirk Cousins, DeSean Jackson, Josh Doctson, newly extended Jordan Reed, and Matt Jones, who showed some promise as a rookie.
A year ago, this game would've looked like a potential blowout, but this could be competitive. Yes, the Panthers could've kept him for a much cheaper salary, but still, look for Josh Norman to do everything in his power to exact revenge on the Caroline Panthers.
5. Week Four: Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins
This game is going to be less about Josh Norman, and more about the rollercoaster saga of Robert Griffin III. The once projected superstar turned bench warmer will be making his first trip to Washington in a different uniform. The mishandling of Griffin along with the injuries he suffered derailed his promising career. The Cleveland Browns are coming off a dismal season that "earned" them the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. After many trades, the Browns enter 2016 with a new-look offense. They added Baylor standout Corey Coleman and quarterback-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor.
The Redskins will be looking to add a win to their schedule after a surprising 2015-16 campaign that included a playoff berth and early exit at the hands of the Green Bay Packers.
The ugly history between Robert Griffin III and the Redskins is still raw. Gruden and the Redskins will do everything in their power to give Griffin another bad memory in Washington D.C.
6. Week Seven: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
Many people (especially Broncos fans) assumed that after their Super Bowl victory, Brock Osweiler would be ready to take the reins and lead Denver into a new era. They were half right. Osweiler is taking the reins, but not for the Denver Broncos. After gaining and losing the starting job, Osweiler spurned the Broncos' smaller offers and signed a lucrative 4-year, $72 million contract with the Houston Texans. Those Texans will travel to Mile High City in Week Seven for a showdown with the reigning Super Bowl champs.
Fortunately for the new Texans quarterback, the Houston offense has seen a significant upgrade this offseason. The team added Lamar Miller, Braxton Miller, Will Fuller V, Nick Martin, and Tyler Ervin to an offense that already includes DeAndre Hopkins.
The matchup between the Texans retooled offense and Denver's vicious defense will certainly be one to watch for. Brock Osweiler will need to play up to his contract, and if he does, he has a shot at the revenge he's seeking.
7. Week Five: New England Patriots at Cleveland Browns
This revenge matchup is not particularly about this game; it's about all of the games from Week Five and on for the Pats. Week Five is the week that Tom Brady is scheduled to return from the four-game suspension handed down on him by Roger Goodell. Everyone on this planet knows that Brady is a fierce competitor, and there's no doubt that he will return motivated if his suspension holds up. That's bad news for the league, and particularly the Browns. An angry Tom Brady is an effective Tom Brady, and an effective Tom Brady is not what the league wants to see.
Tom Brady's revenge campaign starts Week Five, and that's bad news for the rest of the NFL.null