NFL Schedule 2013: Can't-Miss Games That Have Super Bowl XLVIII Potential

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent IApril 18, 2013

The Vince Lombardi Trophy. Sport's most coveted trophy.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy. Sport's most coveted trophy.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There are always NFL regular-season matchups capable of legitimately becoming a prequel to the Super Bowl.

And the 2013 campaign will be no exception.

Now the list of opponents was released back in December, and we were immediately provided the opportunity to analyze the season. The actual schedule release is on Thursday, according to Greg Aiello of the league:

Factor in the impact of free agency and that's enough to begin the brewing process for potential Super Bowl XLVIII matchups. Ahead, we breakdown which cross-conference games you won't want to miss this fall.


Packers at Ravens

It's quite an interesting matchup here. The Green Bay Packers with their high-flying offense travel to face the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore has definitely undergone some changes, with Ray Lewis retiring and Ed Reed joining the Texans, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

That said, the Ravens also brought in Chris Canty and Elvis Dumervil (via Mike Klis of the Denver Post) through free agency. So don't expect Baltimore to be extensively different than last season.

One advantage for the Ravens is being tougher in the trenches on either side. Green Bay doesn't present a strong ground game, nor did it succeed in stopping the run in 2012. With Ray Rice slamming inside, Joe Flacco sets up play action and attacks downfield.

If anything, this matchup will come down to the pass rush. Flacco and Aaron Rodgers are each capable of thwarting the opposing coverage; however, Green Bay racked up 47 sacks a year ago and Baltimore's rushers are just as talented.

The mobility of each quarterback will be crucial, because avoiding the rush and utilizing pocket awareness are necessary to take advantage of open passing lanes. Still, the edge goes to Baltimore with its ability to punch the line of scrimmage with Rice and keep the Packers off balance.


Seahawks at Texans

The Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans will be one fun contest to watch.

Each team possesses an improved defense from 2012, which is quite scary given how technically sound Seattle and Houston performed all year.

Offensively, Seattle will continue to rely on punishing defenses with Marshawn Lynch, and the same can be said of Houston with Arian Foster. In short, this will be an old-school ground game where victory requires immediate control of the line at every snap.

The Texans are capable of matching up with the Seahawks, though, because they won't abandon the run and Matt Schaub is typically provided with reliable pocket protection. A major distinction, however, does exists for each defensive front.

Seattle has more established depth for its pass rush, but the Texans are more disciplined against the run. A key factor here will be how the Seahawks close lanes and Houston's ability to get quarterback pressure from J.J. Watt.

With arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league, Seattle is capable of stacking the box to isolate Foster while playing man coverage behind it. Houston won't be able to force Seattle into a one-dimensional attack as easily, since the Seahawks added Percy Harvin through trade (via Jay Glazer of FOX Sports).

Patriots at Falcons

The one game that will burn the lights in the entire scoreboard will be the New England Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons.

Regardless of his targets, Tom Brady will dice up a defense and move the rock with incredible efficiency. He's also backed by a strong running game, as the Pats ranked No. 7 on the ground a year ago.

Atlanta has yet to prove it can consistently stop anyone. The Falcons made a strong get in Osi Umenyiora (via Jay Glazer), but also lost Dunta Robinson (Kansas City) when free agency began and Brent Grimes (Miami) in late March—each according to Adam Schefter. So anticipate Brady launching downfield early, which in turn opens up the ground game.

No matter the approach from New England, though, Atlanta presents the offensive personnel to outscore Bill Belichick's team. For one, the Pats failed miserably against the pass in 2012 (ranked No. 29) and gave up 27 passing touchdowns.

Guess what Matt Ryan will do?

Air it out to Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, all of whom will defeat single coverage. Include the newly-acquired Steven Jackson (per Schefter), and the Dirty Birds will punish between the tackles to sustain balance and force Brady to match pace.

Redskins at Broncos

Of the games listed here, the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos is the lone Super Bowl rematch in league history (Redskins won Super Bowl XXII, 42-10).

Fast forward from the 1987 season to 2013 and Washington ironically features a similar problem to Denver: the ground game. Last season, the Redskins got dominant production from Alfred Morris, and Robert Griffin III only benefited accordingly.

Obviously his health remains a concern, but Mike Shanahan has Kirk Cousins to count on as well. And don't sleep on Cousins, because he's more mobile than given credit and surveys well from the pocket.

The issue for Washington will be keeping pace with Peyton Manning. Denver's offense now lines up Wes Welker, and he'll develop immediate effectiveness with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker out wide.

The Redskins also lacked a reliable pass defense in 2012 and didn't get much from their pass rush. On the contrary, Denver fields a much better, all-encompassed pass rush and also signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in free agency.

Unless the Redskins receivers accumulate unreal yards after the catch, Denver's front seven slows down Washington's offensive onslaught. In turn, Manning takes over and shreds with his upgraded receiving corps.