Originally written on This Given Sunday  |  Last updated 9/1/13

With the preseason behind us, it’s time to turn towards the regular season, and right off the bat, there’s a handful of very important games that will have an impact on the standings in late December. In the NFL, it’s never too early to start thinking about the playoffs, and these games will have a strong influence on who is on the outside looking in at the end of the year. New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys The NFC East is a strong division with four teams looking to make postseason appearances. Sure all 32 teams aspire to make the tournament, but these four all make strong cases for themselves. This matchup is particularly interesting because it pits two quarterbacks with opposite reputations against each other. On one hand, Eli Manning has made his career based on his ability to make clutch plays. While Tony Romo has won plenty of games for the Cowboys, he’s known for collapsing in big moments. Well, this won’t be a do or die moment in the NFC East, but it’s a big game, and the loser starts the year in a hole. Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Probably the most intriguing matchup of the week, the Redskins will be rolling out Robert Griffin III while the Eagles will be rolling out their new, high-octane offense. RG III should be ready to go, but the entire football world will hold its collective breath when Griffin takes off downfield for the first time. On the other sideline, we’ll be watching to see if the Eagles’ new offense can hold up for sixty minutes against an NFL defense. The more the Eagles have the ball, the more effective their offense becomes because the defense will get more and more tired. This game isn’t short for story lines, and thanks to NFL scheduling, it’s a Monday night game too. Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos In a postseason rematch from a year ago, the Broncos enter the season as a favorite to compete for a championship. Many, myself included, think the Ravens will be hard pressed to make the playoffs, making this non-divisional game that much more important. As far as seeding goes, this game likely won’t be a factor in any tie-breaking procedures. I expect the Broncos to be a considerably better team, but for the Ravens, upset victories are needed to make the postseason and defend their title. That means a win against the Broncos would be huge in the grand scheme of the season. Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers This game is all about seeding. Both teams are in relatively tough division, yet both are expected to be the class of the field. While it’s hard to tell if they’ll be competing for a first round bye in the playoffs, this head to head tie-breaker could go a long way towards locking up a rest week to open the playoffs. Also considering how competitive both divisions are, an early loss could come back to bite the loser in a big way. Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions These teams enter the season with high expectations. The Vikings are coming off a playoff appearance, and with the continued development of quarterback Christian Ponder, many think they could be the breakout team of the year. On the other hand, the Detroit Lions were one of the most disappointing teams from a year ago, and suddenly their entire regime is on the hot seat. Divisional games are always more important than non-divisional matchups, but an early loss would be a terrible omen for the Lions, and it would put them behind the eight ball early in the season. [follow]

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