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NFL schedule: Here’s what to watch

From opening night to New Year’s Eve, we have you covered

You’ve got to give the NFL credit. It’s one thing for the league to be the focus of the sports world during its season, but the NFL has also managed to turn the mundane process of releasing schedules into a prime-time television event — and in April, no less.

Yep, it’s almost as if the 2017 season kicked off Thursday night. With fans finally able to start planning how they’ll spend the fall, there are flights to book, hotel rooms to reserve and games to watch. Oh, so many games.

Which figure to be the best ones? What matchups — at first glance, anyway — appear to be the most intriguing? Well, the regular season is still more than four months away. Heck, the draft doesn’t even happen until next week. A whole lot could change before the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs in the Sept. 7 league opener. But with an eye toward the future, let’s take a look at some likely attention-grabbers.

Week 1

(All times Eastern)

Sept. 7

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

Time: 8:30 p.m.

National TV: NBC

Why we’ll watch: C’mon. The Patriots are playing. Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, head coach Bill Belichick and superstar quarterback Tom Brady are the greatest duo in league history at what they do. By winning their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy last season, Belichick and Brady ended the debate. All the Chiefs have to do is roll into Foxborough, Massachusetts, and take down the loaded Patriots on a night their Brady-loving fans figure to be even more jacked than usual. Good luck with that.

Sept. 10

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Time: 8:30 p.m.

National TV: NBC

Why we’ll watch: With the retirement of Tony Romo, Dak Prescott is the undisputed leader of America’s Team. Not that there was any question on the field. Last season, the rookie looked every bit like a 10-year veteran after taking over for the injured Romo to start the season. But some fans still hoped Romo would ride to the rescue. That door has been shut. Handing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott is the easiest part of Prescott’s job. As a rookie, Elliott ran all over the place. Owner Jerry Jones’ team has the NFL’s rushing champion paired with the game’s best second-year quarterback. How ’bout them Cowboys?

Week 2

Sept. 17

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Time: 8:30 p.m.

National TV: NBC

Why we’ll watch: After the Atlanta Falcons’ epic collapse in the Super Bowl loss to New England, we just want to make sure quarterback Matt Ryan and the team are doing OK. Will the Falcons — who were up big, 28-3, late in the third quarter — be able to put the recent past behind them and stop, or at least slow down, incomparable Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

Week 3

Sept. 24

Seattle Seahawks at Tennessee Titans

Time: 4:05 p.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: Big-time quarterback Russell Wilson is back leading a Seattle team that, while not quite as dominant as it once was, still gets after it on defense. Quarterback Marcus Mariota took a big step forward for the Titans last season, and it seems he’s made a rapid recovery from a broken leg he suffered in Week 16 last season. Titans coaches are optimistic he’ll be ready to go by training camp. Oh, we almost forgot: Wilson is married to Ciara.

Week 4

Oct. 1

New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins

Time: 9:30 a.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: The NFL returns to London’s Wembley Stadium. Even after all these years, Drew Brees can still sling it. The improved Dolphins ended a seven-year playoff drought last season.

Week 5

Oct. 8

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys

Time: 4:35 p.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: Prescott came up a little short in his first playoff game only because Rodgers is, well, still the gold standard at professional sports’ most important position. Dak’s Dudes can get a measure of revenge in this one.

Week 6

Oct. 15

San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins

Time: 1 p.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: There’s no other way to put this: It’s a grudge game. First-year San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan spent four seasons in Washington as the offensive coordinator under his father, two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan. Things ended badly. Washington owner Dan Snyder and team President Bruce Allen don’t want to lose this one. Washington head coach Jay Gruden had better not mess this up. For real. Also, emotional Washington cornerback Josh Norman figures to cover emotional San Francisco wideout Pierre Garcon, his former teammate in Washington, a lot. There’s just a ton to see here.

Week 7

Oct. 19

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders

Time: 8:25 p.m.

National TV: CBS

Why we’ll watch: These talented AFC West rivals went at it hard in 2016. The Chiefs wound up winning the division, but the story could have turned out much differently if star quarterback Derek Carr hadn’t suffered a season-ending broken leg in Week 16. Khalil Mack, the NFL’s 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, is a complete beast. Exactly why didn’t the Buffalo Bills draft the former University at Buffalo standout?

Oct. 22

Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots

Time: 8:30 p.m.

National TV: NBC

Why we’ll watch: This is sort of like returning to the scene of a gruesome accident — for the person who suffered the worst injuries. At least the Falcons faced the Patriots at a neutral site the last time. Even with the game so far off and having no way of knowing the state of each team by then, it’s still hard to see how this turns out well for Atlanta.

Week 8

Oct. 29

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Time: 1 p.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: Cam Newton and Jameis Winston each were No. 1 overall picks. Newton was the 2015 NFL MVP. Newton has reached the Super Bowl. Winston is trying to break through and lead the Bucs to the playoffs.

Week 9

Nov. 5

Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants

Time: 1 p.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: Boy wonder head coach Sean McVay leads the Rams into the Big Apple to face Eli Manning’s crew. At only 31, McVay is the youngest head coach in NFL history. The sharp former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator is out to prove age is just a number.

Week 10

Nov. 12

Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts

Time: 1 p.m.

National TV: CBS

Why we’ll watch: No chance to watch Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck duel should be wasted. If only every potential quarterback matchup elevated the game.

Week 11

Nov. 16

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers

Time: 8:25 p.m.

National TV: NBC

Why we’ll watch: If Mariota can direct a road win at Heinz Field late in the season, the future just may arrive much sooner than expected for the Titans.

Nov. 19

New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders

Time: 4:25 p.m.

National TV: CBS

Why we’ll watch: Brady has five Super Bowl championships. He’s the most successful passer of his generation — or any. Watching Carr, you get the sense a Super Bowl title or two (or more) is in his future as well.

Week 12

Nov. 26

Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Time: 8:25 p.m.

National TV: NBC

Why we’ll watch: Rodgers and Roethlisberger have racked up passing records and victories and met in a Super Bowl. There probably won’t be many more games in which they face off. Appreciate this.

Week 13

Nov. 30

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys

Time: 8:25 p.m.

National TV: NBC

Why we’ll watch: These NFC East rivals went in opposite directions last season, and the Redskins are a complete mess (again) while the Cowboys appear to be rock-solid stable.

Week 14

Dec. 10

Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals

Time: 4:25 p.m.

National TV: CBS

Why we’ll watch: The Bears are under new management at quarterback (Mike Glennon). Head coach Marvin Lewis is still directing the show in Cincinnati after all these years.

Week 15

Dec. 17

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers

Time: 4:25 p.m.

National TV: CBS

Why we’ll watch: Mike Tomlin isn’t only the coolest head coach in the game, he’s also one of the best. And could wideout Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell be any smoother? When healthy, the Steelers’ offense is second to none.

Week 16

Dec. 24

Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys

Time: 4:25 p.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: A Christmas Eve treat. Wilson and Prescott should put up a bunch of points. The No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs could be at stake.

Week 17

Dec. 31

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Time: 1 p.m.

National TV: Fox

Why we’ll watch: Odell Beckham Jr., who’s arguably the game’s best wideout, and Washington’s Norman do not like each other. They really don’t like each other. And a playoff berth could be on the line. The officials will be on high alert. Believe that.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.