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Top 17 games of the 2017 NFL season: Must-see matchups

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Ahh, the Super Bowl rematch.

We don't get those too often. At least, we rarely see them the ensuing fall. And this one just happens to be a replay of arguably the greatest -- or at least most stunning -- Super Sunday of all time. Falcons at Patriots will mark just the third time in two decades -- and the seventh time ever -- that the two Super Bowl combatants meet in the very next regular season.

And that's just one game from the intriguing slate the league will feature in 2017. After carefully studying every team's regular-season opponents, I came up with the top 17 matchups of 2017.

Some of the old, familiar retreads got no love this time around. There's room for a few unusual contests pitting new coach against old team, as well as a showdown between quarterbacks drafted in succession. So take a look, tell me what I missed: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

17) San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins

Week 6: Sunday, October 15 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX

I can't help myself, putting this seemingly innocuous NFC matchup on the list. Seemingly innocuous, that is, until you think about a certain signal caller ... Will Kirk Cousins be in a 49ers uniform? Perhaps not, as the possibility he gets traded seems to get more remote by the day. That said, if the Redskins don't deal him, they might get a third-round compensatory pick next offseason when Cousins bolts for the Niners (... in theory, of course). How will Cousins handle those questions leading up to the game? We should mention: Pierre Garçon will be going up against his former team. Get excited.

16) Denver Broncos at Miami Dolphins

Week 13: Sunday, December 3 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS

Vance Joseph goes against the team whose defense he led last season. Can Joseph direct the Broncos' defensive unit the way Wade Phillips did over the last two seasons? This game should be evenly matched, although the Broncos have a better opportunity to make the postseason via winning the AFC West. (The Dolphins, of course, play in the AFC New England -- I mean, AFC East.) Is Ryan Tannehill ready to take that proverbial step forward in Year 2 of Adam Gase's offense? This matchup will be quite telling on that front. By the way, Joseph said at the NFL's Annual League Meeting, "My belief system is Wade's." Sounds cool. Will his defensive results mirror Wade's? And how much will Joseph's former defense take it to the young quarterbacks John Elway's rolling with?

15) Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers

Week 2: Sunday, September 17 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS

Another seemingly random matchup, but intriguing on the coaching front. Sean McDermott was given much credit for the Panthers' ascension from NFC South champ to Super Bowl team in the 2015 season. Although the Panthers disappointed in 2016, McDermott still had enough juice to land his first head-coaching gig. This is the kind of interconference slugfest the Bills need to win to be a playoff team. (Think of the heartbreaking loss in Seattle last season.) Tyrod Taylor vs. Cam Newton is interesting, as well. Taylor stays in the pocket more, but is he really far behind Newton as a complete player? Newton has been more ballyhooed for his athleticism and such, while no one seemed too excited about the Bills sticking with Tyrod. Seems out of balance to me.

14) New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers

Week 7: Sunday, October 22 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX

There are three certifiable Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the NFL right now: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (with Ben Roethlisberger a likely candidate). With the Packers and Saints not in the same division, and Brees 38 years old, there won't be too many more meetings between Rodgers and him. Last time these two faced off, they combined for a mere 765 yards passing and seven touchdowns. The year before, they locked horns in a heckuva contest to kick off the season that ended with a goal-line stand. The Packers' offense should present quite the challenge for a New Orleans defense Sean Payton has focused on improving.

13) Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 2: Sunday, September 17 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX

Perhaps no signing made people put the thinking emoji -- or the upside-down emoji (my personal favorite) -- in their tweets more than Mike Glennon signing with the Bears for what felt like 50 billion dollars. OK, so it was only $15 million per year on what ultimately was deemed a team-friendly deal. While Glennon's (good) fortune revealed what the quarterback market commands in 2017, it also provides him an opportunity to prove he is a commodity, not simply a viable starter. Glennon was decent in Tampa, but not many young quarterbacks can fend off a team using the No. 1 pick on a worthy quarterback. Jameis Winston's talent demanded the Bucs take him. Has general QB demand truly overinflated the price tag on a guy like Glennon? He will show all of us, including his former team.

12) First Los Angeles Chargers home game (vs. Miami Dolphins)

Week 2: Sunday, September 17 at 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS

While the Chargers' move to Los Angeles was met with a collective yawn, what you haven't heard is that many of us are wondering what it will be like to watch an NFL team in what could be deemed an intimate setting -- a 30,000-seat soccer stadium. This harkens back to the early days of the AFL, or even farther back to 1940s NFL, when some teams were playing in front of those crowds at smaller venues.

11) New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 15: Sunday, December 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

Who knows where to place this contest? These two teams have faced off three times over the past two seasons, with none of the three bouts being particularly awesome. Thus, what has looked rad on paper has turned out kinda blah on TV. The closest contest was the 2015 Kickoff Game, which was devoid of Le'Veon Bell. Ditto the majority of last season's AFC Championship Game, as Bell's gimpy groin sidelined him in the first quarter. At some point, these two AFC goliaths will play at full bore with full health, and it should be awesome. I still think, had Bell not been hurt in the 2014 regular-season finale, that Pittsburgh -- not New England -- would've played Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.

10) Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams

Week 14: Sunday, December 10 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

What? You're not feeling Eagles at Rams? Alright, I get it -- Philly probably will finish third in the NFC East, while the Rams might hang around the cellar of their division. Yet, this game is intriguing because it will be the first time we see Carson Wentz and Jared Goff go up against one another. In fact, we rarely see two quarterbacks drafted first and second overall play each other early in their respective careers. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston went at it right off the bat. Seriously -- it was their first pro game. And it was a blowout. While league observers are excited about Wentz and Dak Prescott having many meetings to come in the NFC East, everyone seems to have blown off Goff. Let's see what the guy can do in his first full season as a starter.

9) Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks

Week 8: Sunday, October 29 at 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS

With a premier quarterback, the Texans not only would be a contender, but it would make this Houston-Seattle matchup one of the very best games. Even without Tony Romo under center for Houston, though, this showdown offers plenty of intrigue. These two defenses should provide a fantastic game, especially with J.J. Watt and Earl Thomas healthy. Those are two of the best in the game at their respective positions. Moreover, how about last year's top-ranked defense versus the only unit in the modern era to lead the league in point allowed for four straight years (only snapping that streak this past season)? That's precisely why Texans at Seahawks is listed, because this should be one of the most physical matchups of the year. Now, imagine if Romo stepped out of the booth ... Nah.

8) Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons

Week 10: Sunday, November 12 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

The NFC Championship Game we didn't get. Unfortunately. With no offense to the Packers, Falcons at Cowboys would have been a much tighter contest, with the second-seeded Dirty Birds on the road. While Atlanta's offense will be all the Dallas defense can handle -- especially with all the Cowboys' losses in the secondary -- the Falcons never had to worry about the game being dictated to them when playing Green Bay this past January. That is precisely what happens when the Cowboys' running game gets going with Ezekiel Elliott. Still, this matchup is likely to be a track meet, and perhaps a preview of the 2017 NFC Championship Game. Cool that Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott and Elliott were all in the MVP race last year, only adding to this game's intrigue. (Now watch Devonta Freeman rush for 185 yards.)

7) New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 5: Thursday, October 5 at 8:25 p.m. ET on CBS/NFL Network/Amazon

Now we're diving into the really fun matchups. Patriots at Buccaneers might not be a game that jumps off the schedule at first glance, but it should. That Tampa defense should get off to a quick start. This unit was playing great last season until the last two games, which should change with the addition of Chris Baker and the continued development of young stud Kwon Alexander. Alexander and Marcus Mariota were the toughest omissions from my All-Under-25 Team. Winston earned that prestigious honor, and should be more effective in Year 3. How serious a contender will Tampa be? This game against New England provides a useful gauge, but the Bucs could win 10-plus games. The Pats have struggled in Florida lately. No, seriously.

6) Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Week 2: Sunday, September 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Replaying a conference title game is never a bad thing, especially when the highly anticipated matchup turned out to be a total blowout on Championship Sunday. Will this rematch be a new dud in Atlanta's new digs? Doubtful -- especially with the yuck taste in Rodgers and Company's mouth after the way they played against these guys in January. Much depends on how Green Bay's pass defense holds up against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and those Falcons RBs coming out of the backfield. Of course, Kyle Shanahan's departure to San Francisco could mean that offense will be slightly less track meet-ish. Then again, that man experienced an avalanche of blame from the Twitter millions following the Super Bowl, so ... we'll see?

5) Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders

Week 15: Sunday, December 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Any time these two teams get together -- once every four years -- it feels like classic football. Two storied franchises with eight Lombardi Trophies between them and Good-vs.-Evil history makes for fun times. Yep, nothing like the Dallas Cowboys against the Oaklllll ... eh ... uh ... Las Vegas(?) Raiders. Ugh. OK, scratch those previous sentences. At least both teams are solid, with quality quarterbacks, stud receivers and defenses that pretty much ensure the game won't be 17-13. Both organizations feel like they are on the Super Bowl's doorstep. That's awesome. And yes, it'll be even better if (when?) @MoneyLynch is in the Raiders' backfield opposite Zeke running for the Cowboys.

4) Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

Week 6: Sunday, October 15 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

Easily the most intriguing of the AFC postseason rematches. While Patriots at Steelers sounds sexy, the reality is that the AFC Championship Game stunk, as did the regular-season matchup -- partially because the Steelers have been partial. (Availability is the most important ability, football fans.) Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Kansas City locked up in an old-school, '70s-style matchup that came down to the wire (and an Eric Fisher stranglehold of Ted Nugent proportions). Chiefs fans thought they were robbed. The Steelers advanced. These two teams present a fascinating contrast in approach -- from coaching styles to offenses to the strengths of their defenses. Great uni matchup, too, while we're at it.

3) New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders (Mexico City)

Week 11: Sunday, November 19 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS

While the 2016 Patriots were cruising the last few weeks of their 14-2 campaign, everyone was wondering aloud who would challenge them in the AFC. The Steelers were fumbling around. No one trusted the Chiefs' passing game to take down New England. Oakland? Now that was a title threat with juice. Sure, the defense was middling, at best. But Derek Carr could keep up with Tom Brady. Not to mention, head coach Jack Del Rio was gutsy enough to make for a fascinating coaching matchup. Annnnnd we ended up getting nada because Carr fell late in season. Subsequently, one half of Connor Cook football told us what we all needed to know (but didn't want to hear): Oakland was going nowhere in January without Carr. These two could see each other in the playoffs -- again. Remember their controversial postseason affairs from 1976, 1985 and 2001?

2) Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Week 1: Sunday, September 10 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

There's been a lot of talk about Ty Montgomery becoming a permanent addition in the Green Bay backfield. Well, Eddie Lacy will take it to his former team from his new perch in the Seahawks' backfield. That makes Seahawks at Packers -- which hasn't produced wonderful games the last two years -- much more fun. How about immensely more fun? Never mind. Don't forget that, besides Russell Wilson going against Aaron Rodgers (they hold the top two career passer ratings in NFL history), Michael Bennett and Martellus Bennett will go at it, too.

1) Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots

Week 7: Sunday, October 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Many thought this would be the Kickoff Game. Nope, that's Chiefs at Pats. We'll have to wait until midseason for this rematch of an unbelievable Super Bowl. For all those who rooted hard for the Falcons in February, well, their football hopes might be dashed again, given that this deal is not on a neutral field, the Atlanta offense will be different and Brandin Cooks could fly past the Falcons' secondary like nobody's business. So here's a piece of advice for new OC Steve Sarkisian: Run the football.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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