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How do you get on "Monday Night Football?" The best way, at least according to the 2014 schedule released Wednesday night, is simple: If you made the playoffs last season, you're on.
All 12 teams that played last postseason will play at least once on Monday night this coming season. The defending world champion Seattle Seahawks will play at Washington in Week 5. New England, which lost at Denver in the AFC title game, will play at Kansas City in Week 4. The Broncos, who lost to Seattle in the Super Bowl, will play at Cincinnati in Week 16.
The 17-game Monday night schedule kicks off with a Week 1 doubleheader on Sept. 8 with the New York Giants at Detroit followed by San Diego at Arizona. It also includes five interconference matchups, three division games and four games between 2013 playoff teams.
Are you ready? Here are the three Monday night games I'm looking forward to seeing the most:
Chip Kelly introduced his fast-paced offense to the NFL in Week 1 on "Monday Night Football" last year. With its no-huddle attack led at the time by Michael Vick, Philadelphia caught Washington flat-footed and out of breath in a first half during which the Eagles ran a dizzying 53 plays, made 21 first downs, scored 26 points and amassed 322 total yards.
Kelly made his point. He doesn't care about the NFL norm. His brand of football, brought to the league from Oregon, could work. And it did work. A year after going 4-12, the Eagles finished 10-6, won the NFC East and hosted a playoff game.
There have been two key departures since then: Vick, whom Kelly benched midseason for Nick Foles, is now battling with Geno Smith for the Jets' starting job, and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, cut by the Eagles in March, is now in Washington.
Indianapolis is coming off consecutive 11-5 playoff seasons with Andrew Luck under center. In 2012, the Colts lost a wild-card game on the road against the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Most recently, they beat the Chiefs at home in the wild-card round before losing to New England on the road.
This game will pit two of the more creative offenses in the league and two teams that will enter the season with the playoffs in their sights.
No list of must-see television would be complete without the Seahawks, who are coming off one of the most dominant Super Bowl performances in history. Think Seattle played with swagger and confidence during the regular season last year? Imagine how the Seahawks will be after beating the Broncos by 35 points -- tied for the third-largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl -- at the Meadowlands in February.
The Seahawks won what Daniel Snyder has not since he purchased the Redskins in 1999: a ring. And Seattle did it with a quarterback Washington certainly could have selected in 2012 -- twice. Washington traded with St. Louis to move up to No. 2 to select Robert Griffin III, lost its second-round pick in the process and then selected guard Josh LeRibeus at No. 71 overall, four picks before Seattle took Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin.
Wilson no doubt has not forgotten.
While Griffin certainly is not a finished product, and he helped Washington win the NFC East as a rookie, Wilson already has proven that he can lead a team to the ultimate prize. He and the Seahawks beat Washington in the playoffs two years ago, too.
This game will be the first time the two teams have played since that January night when Seattle emerged with a 24-14 victory and Griffin left the game with a torn ACL.
|Peyton Manning might be making his final "Monday Night Football" appearance in Week 16.|
While Peyton Manning has said he would like to continue playing for the foreseeable future, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that 2014 could be his last season in an NFL uniform. If so, this would mark the final time in Manning's illustrious career that he performs on "Monday Night Football."
By the time the Broncos get to this point in their season, Manning (assuming he remains healthy) will have thrown more touchdown passes than any quarterback in league history. He needs 18 to break Brett Favre's record of 508. Last season, Manning set the league's single-season record with 55, so it is safe to say by this point in the season he will be only padding his record.
Even so, the Broncos should also be playing for playoff seeding, maybe a first-round bye and the possibility home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Just as Seattle will be fueled by the confidence that being a defending Super Bowl champion can bring, the Broncos will be fueled by the desire to get back to the big game and, this time, do what Seattle did: Win it.