The NFL released its 2014 schedule Wednesday, so let the fun begin.
It starts in the West. The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl but play in a division that could have four teams with winning records. That makes things tougher for the AFC West, which had three playoff teams last year but faces the NFC West this year. Last year, Denver, Kansas City and San Diego piled on for 11 wins in 12 games against the NFC East.
Here are the five games I'm looking forward to most:
1. San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Dec. 14: Could this NFC West rivalry get any better? Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman went on a long rant aimed at 49ers WR Michael Crabtree after tipping a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Malcolm Smith to seal Seattle's victory in the NFC Championship Game. Crabtree, the intended receiver on that late drive, pushed Sherman after the play. The Jim Harbaugh-Pete Carroll rivalry goes back to their college-coaching days and continues to escalate. For winning the Super Bowl, Carroll was rewarded with a contract that could be worth as much as $9 million a year. Harbaugh, despite three consecutive trips to the NFC title game, is stuck at $5 million, and the 49ers might offer an incentive-laden deal to extend his contract, which expires after the 2015 season. The competitive Harbaugh must hate the fact that Carroll and the Seahawks have Super Bowl rings before his team. The teams don't like each other, which makes for a great rivalry. During the offseason last year, the 49ers and Seahawks were in a personnel arms race to improve their chances of going to the Super Bowl. The result was a great, close NFC Championship Game. The way this series works is that the home team usually prevails. Last January, the 49ers gave their most competitive effort in Seattle and almost pulled out a victory. But the Seahawks crowd might have gotten to the 49ers. These were the best two teams in the NFC last year, and they are still at the tops of their games.