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The five must-see games of the 2014 NFL season

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Sep 28, 2013; London, UNITED KINGDOM; General view of a NFL shield logo sign at the NFL on Regent Street block party in advance of the NFL International Series game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NFL schedule was released earlier this week — and not a moment too soon. The NFL Narrative Machine, despite its overall immunity to the existential threat of having its reservoir of fuel entirely depleted, was struggling along, every angle from which to approach its next big event — the 2014 NFL Draft — having been exhausted (I could’ve sworn I saw a desperate mock draft where Jadeveon Clowney, due to his lack of motor, as in his actual corporeal absence of mechanical parts, was dropped down to the third round by a blogger who, depleted of fresh ways to approach the eighth iteration of said mock draft, decided to say, “Screw it, let’s rank prospects by the ease with which they’ll assimilate into the culture of our soon-coming cyborgian overlords”).

Having a dearth of narratives in popular sports discourse, especially the discourse surrounding our country’s second-most-popular sport (behind only telling fast-food workers they should just, like, try harder to be CEOs) isn’t good, because a smooth-running Sports Narrative Machine, in this case specifically the NFL model, is what allows there to be an updated-by-the-second news industry focused on discussing a sport still months away from being relevant, which in turn buoys the industry of reaction pieces, listicles, and rumor mongering.

Without the consistent generation of narratives with which to occupy ourselves, we as fans run the dire of risk of “having to find a new sport to care about for a few months” or, worse, “having to face the realization there are other topics more worthy of daily attention than football.” Do you shudder at the thought of such hells? I do.

It is a blessing, then, that the 2014 NFL schedule came out when it did. The NFL Narrative Machine can continue chugging along uninterrupted, subsequently freeing us from the burden of having to learn about, say, our global economy’s systematic and orchestrated collapse (or baseball).

See, when you know the 2014 NFL schedule, you can start making lists of “must-see” games, and those lists can be debated — “Disqus below!” — by readers. Hello, new content!

Sure, a spate of freak injuries, a slew of surprising trades, and/or an outbreak of a flesh-feasting bacteria could render a Week 13 matchup that looks good in late April meaningless by late November, but as long as you humorously hedge a bit when designating must-see games — “Of course, we all know things will be wacky and the AFC playoff race will come down to a game involving the Jacksonville Jaguars LOL (I also do jokes about secretaries using mascots to pick March Madness winners. Follow me on Twitter)” — you should be fine.

Remember, you’re marking these games as “must-see” because the players involved fit a pre-established narrative structure — The Rivalry, The Return Home, The Rematch, Anything Involving Tony Romo — and the power of narratives absolves you from feeling ashamed if your predictions of quality prove inaccurate.

All that considered, here are the five must-see games of the 2014 season. Or to put it another way, here are the five games set within a framework of opinions, projections, and analytical avenues you already find familiar and comfortable, which means you can justify your excitement for these games via a they’re-important-because-they’re-important,-duh tautology, which isn’t harmful or bad or a sign that you’re stupid, but is admittedly a touch silly when you step back and consider why it is you’re excited for these specific games over other games. (That’s not exactly a good SEO title, though, so we’re going with “must-see.”)

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