Early this month, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced he will return for another season. No one truly expected him to retire. It was a relief nonetheless.
The NFL has too few great quarterbacks, and entering his 14th season at age 35, Roethlisberger still is among the league’s top five. Big Ben takes a beating and keeps bouncing back, hopefully for two or three more years.
When two Super Bowl-winning gunslingers get together for a shootout, the stage is set for one of the season’s most memorable games. That’s what we have here: Aaron Rodgers leads the Green Bay Packers into Pittsburgh for a showdown with Roethlisberger on Nov. 26. Circle the date.
When the Packers and Steelers — losers in last season’s conference championship games — play in Week 12 on a Sunday night, it will be their first prime-time meeting since 1998. How is that possible? It has been too long.
When two of the NFL’s most popular public teams square off, expect a huge wagering handle. It does not get much better than Green Bay-Pittsburgh and Rodgers-Roethlisberger. It will be a cold day on the banks of the Ohio River. The Steelers probably will be slight favorites, assuming both quarterbacks are in good health and ready to roll.
When he’s gone, Roethlisberger will be missed. The same cannot be said for Jay Cutler.
Appreciate the classic quarterback matchups, because there are some duds, too. Raise your hand if you’re excited to see Jacksonville-Houston and Blake Bortles-Tom Savage in Week 1? Seeing no hands, let’s move ahead.
The NFL announced its 256-game regular-season schedule on Thursday, and Packers-Steelers is one of the 17 must-see games of 2017. The others:
Week 1: Chiefs at Patriots
Kansas City can be a boring team. Andy Reid is a conservative coach, and Alex Smith is a checkdown passer. But the Chiefs, 23-9 the past two seasons, are dangerous. Will they go to New England on Sept. 7, the night the Patriots raise another Super Bowl banner, and steal one from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady? Probably not. The point spread (7½ or 8) makes the season opener more interesting. The public will be on the favorite. The wiseguys and bookmakers will need the underdog. It’s a familiar theme that sets up another eventful NFL betting season.
Week 1: Giants at Cowboys
For the third straight season, the Giants are opening in Dallas. This routine is getting old, but it’s still good. The Giants swept the 13-win Cowboys last season. Even while Eli Manning’s arm strength fades fast, he tends to play some of his best games in Jerry Jones’ backyard. New York opened as a 6-point ‘dog, and this will be a heavy two-way action game.
Week 2: Patriots at Saints
Belichick’s defense will pressure Drew Brees, the league leader in passing yards in five of the past six seasons. Brady will shred the New Orleans defense. The Saints are no longer a Super Bowl threat, but they could be live ‘dogs in the Superdome.
Week 2: Cowboys at Broncos
Is Dak Prescott the real deal, and will Ezekiel Elliott lead the league in rushing for a second straight year? Prescott and Elliott were sensational as rookies. Their sophomore season opens against last year’s No. 2 scoring defense (Giants) and No. 4 scoring defense (Broncos). But this game could have been so much better if Tony Romo was Denver’s quarterback.
Week 2: Packers at Falcons
One week after pulling off a playoff miracle at Dallas, Rodgers and the Packers were pummeled 44-21 by the Falcons in the NFC Championship. That was in the Georgia Dome. This will be in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Dome.
Week 4: Raiders at Broncos
It’s hard to forget Week 17. Without injured quarterback Derek Carr, the Raiders were crushed 24-6 in Denver. Oakland watched helplessly as the AFC West title, a No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye all slipped away. With a new coach and no proven quarterback, it’s hard to say how good the Broncos will be this season.
Week 5: Packers at Cowboys
These old NFC rivals split last season. The Cowboys dominated the Packers 30-16 at Lambeau Field in October. Rodgers got payback in a thrilling 34-31 win in January, in what was arguably the most dramatic game of the season … until the Super Bowl.
Week 7: Falcons at Patriots
With a 28-3 lead in the third quarter, Atlanta was en route to its first Super Bowl win. The first overtime game in Super Bowl history ended with Brady on top, again. Matt Ryan was a classy, tough-luck loser, and he’s not going to enjoy reliving that night. But he will be forced to relive the nightmare in the week leading up to this Sunday night rematch. Even if the Falcons win, it’s not revenge, not even close. Will the heartbroken Falcons be dealing with a Super Bowl hangover?
Week 9: Chiefs at Cowboys
It’s often said an NFL season does not really start until November. Well, this is the first Sunday in November. Will Prescott, Elliott and the Cowboys be crashing to reality? The Chiefs will go to Dallas with a lot of wiseguys thinking they are live underdogs. Bet on it.
Week 10: Cowboys at Falcons
This was so close to being last season’s NFC title matchup, just as Chiefs-Patriots was so close to being the AFC title matchup. Atlanta and Dallas are two teams that will test the Bounce Theory this season. (https://www.vsin.com/are-raiders-for-real-or-due-to-regress/)
Week 11: Patriots-Raiders
For some odd reason, this is not a Sunday night or Monday night game. Brady and Carr will duel in the afternoon sun in Mexico City on CBS. The Raiders will be the designated home team, and they will be underdogs. The Bounce Theory never applies to the Patriots, but it could apply to the Raiders, who are entering a brutal six-week stretch.
Week 12: Giants at Redskins
Of the three Thanksgiving games, the best is saved for last. American football fans will eat leftover turkey while Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman take turns celebrating, talking trash and acting foolish. In the end, which quarterback will blow the game by throwing a mind-boggling interception — Eli or Kirk Cousins? Washington football fans predict it will be Cousins, but it’s too close to call. (Three days later, we get to see two great quarterbacks — Rodgers and Roethlisberger — play in Pittsburgh.)
Week 15: Patriots at Steelers
An injury to Roethlisberger ruined this matchup last year. Instead, Landry Jones was called out of the bullpen, and he predictably lost to Brady. If the Steelers continue to play soft zone coverage, Brady will pick apart their defense yet again. It would be nice if Pittsburgh changes its defensive scheme and Big Ben and running back Le’Veon Bell are on the field this time.
Week 15: Cowboys at Raiders
It’s reasonable to wonder which team should get 3 points for home-field advantage. Dallas might be backed by more fans at Oakland Coliseum in mid-December, especially if the Las Vegas-bound Raiders are not winning up to expectations. It will be more intriguing if Carr has the Raiders headed for the playoffs. Carr’s middle name is Dallas, by the way. As of now, this shapes up as a potential prime-time thriller on Sunday night.
Week 16: Raiders at Eagles
Carr, a second-round draft pick in 2014, is an established franchise quarterback. Carson Wentz, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, looks like Philadelphia’s franchise quarterback. Will he have the Eagles headed for the playoffs? Don’t overlook this “Monday Night Football” game on Christmas when talking about the Raiders’ brutal stretch in the schedule.
Week 17: Cardinals at Seahawks
If he makes it this far, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer could be playing the final game of his career. The NFC West title also could be on the line. It’s to be determined, but there’s a shot this will be game No. 256, the regular-season finale.