Senior Writer

Barring disaster, NFL's 2011 sked has a lot to love


Schedule-release day takes on a new meaning this year.

It could be just a tease.

With the uncertainty of whether there will even be a season given the NFL labor situation a mess and now in the courts, the NFL released the 2011 schedule Tuesday.

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Scan it, dissect it and even plan some trips. Just don't put deposits down anywhere.

This might be a schedule full of games we never see.

I, for one, don't think it will come to that. Cooler heads will prevail. There should be a 2011 NFL season -- barring a disaster.

So to help prepare you, or maybe tease you even more, here's a list of the 10 can't-miss games from the 2011 season.

Let's just hope the two stubborn sides in this labor dispute are smart enough to end this labor mess and make it so we get to see all the games.

Week One

New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers (Thursday, Sept. 8) -- This opening-night game matches the last two Super Bowl champions. Even better, it matches two of the league's best passing quarterbacks in Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees of the Saints. Look for a lot of points here -- first one to 40 wins. Good sidebar: Packers passed on Saints coach Sean Payton to hire current coach Mike McCarthy.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens -- Two physical football teams that hate each other. That makes for great theater. Not only that, but the Steelers beat the Ravens late to win the division, then knocked them out of the playoffs last year. Ben Roethlisberger has owned Baltimore in terms of won-loss record. The Ravens have to flip that to win the division and stop getting into the playoffs as a Wild Card team. It's great this is a Week One game.

Week Five

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons -- The Falcons went into the playoffs last season as the top seed in the NFC. But the Packers blew them out in Atlanta and went on to win the Super Bowl. The Falcons couldn't stop Rodgers in the divisional playoffs. He did what he wanted. The Falcons couldn't keep up. This is a chance for a bit of revenge, even if it won't have the same meaning.

Week Seven

Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints -- This will be their first meeting since the Saints beat Indy in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Peyton Manning threw a horrible interception late in that game that Tracy Porter returned for a touchdown to ice it. Manning is also from New Orleans, which brings more intrigue. And anytime two great quarterbacks like Manning and Brees face off, the scoreboard should light up.

Week Eight

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers -- The Patriots went into Pittsburgh last season and blew out the Steelers. Tom Brady was sensational, throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns. But the Patriots offense isn't a good matchup for the Steelers, in large part because the Patriots can spread them out and Brady gets the ball out quickly. It will be interesting to see what tricks Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has up his sleeve this season.

Week 11

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers -- Why is this here? The Bucs will be good. That's why. Rodgers cemented himself as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks last season. This might be Josh Freeman's chance to show he's moving up there with him. Freeman, the Bucs' third-year quarterback, is coming off a 25-touchdown, five-interception season.

Week 13

Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos -- The return of Jay Cutler to Denver. Can't wait. Former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels jettisoned Cutler to the Bears, where he led the team to the NFC championship last season. Now Cutler comes back to face a team in transition. He played there in 2009 in the preseason, but this one counts. Former Broncos great John Elway now runs the team, and he has to cringe at the uncertainty with his team's quarterback position, knowing full well Cutler could be a Bronco. It will be fun seeing how the Denver fans welcome Cutler back for a game that counts.

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots -- We see this game every year, it seems. Thankfully. I love it. Anytime you get to see Manning against Brady, it's a treat. Their duels over the past 10 years will be something we talk about for years. Last season, Manning almost rallied the Colts from 21 down in the fourth quarter, but threw an interception late. After the game, he was as down as I've ever seen him. He hates to lose. He really hates losing to the Patriots. Bill Belichick matching wits with Manning is always fun to watch. How many more of these will we get to see? So let's enjoy them while we can.

Week 15

New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles -- Brash Jets coach Rex Ryan will have his hands full trying to get his defense to contain Michael Vick. Ryan is a big believer in playing an attacking style of defense. They will likely blitz Vick the entire game. That could lead to a lot of fun plays with Vick outside the pocket. Blitz him and look out.

Week 16

New York Giants at New York Jets -- The perception is the Jets have taken over the city with Rex Ryan's mouth and their recent success. The Giants probably can't wait for the chance to show that isn't the case in this Christmas Eve matchup. Can you have two more different head coaches than Ryan and Giants coach Tom Coughlin? This is a Jets home game, so everything will be green. Is this the battle of New York? More like Battle of New Jersey.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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