Pats-Bengals: AFC title preview?

Merril Hoge gives an early breakdown of the 2007 MNF schedule.

Updated: April 11, 2007, 4:58 PM ET
By Merril Hoge |

This is one of the best "Monday Night Football" schedules in quite some time. The schedule-makers have littered this telecast with a great mix of intriguing matchups, great storylines and divisional rivalries, highlighted by the final three weeks of the season where three divisions could be won and lost. Here's a breakdown of each MNF matchup:

Sept. 10 - Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (Game 1): This could be the key matchup for this division. The Bengals always match up well against the Ravens no matter who they trot out there. They aren't intimidated by the physical nature of the Ravens' defense. It'll be a great test for the Ravens' offense.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (Game 2): These teams could be the surprises of the '07 season. The 49ers went out and complemented their offense with excellent defensive acquisitions. The Cardinals are going to start playing more physically now that former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is head coach.

Sept. 17 - Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles: This has always been a clash of styles, with great offensive and defensive schemers on both sides of the ball. Philadelphia showed a much more balanced approach at the end of last season, and I fully expect that to continue this season. It can't go away from it now that they know that Brian Westbrook can handle the load.

Sept. 24 - Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints: We'll finally get to see who was the true Rookie of the Year last season with Reggie Bush and Vince Young on the same field. This is a game of questions for both teams. Can the Saints keep building on last season's success? Can the Titans handle losing one of their best offensive players with the departure of RB Travis Henry? Will Young be able to handle the pressure of having a team all to his own? Can Reggie Bush build upon last season's remarkable finish to the season?

Oct. 1 - New England Patriots at Cincinnati Bengals: This is a matchup of two of the best quarterbacks in football and a potential preview of the AFC Championship Game.

Oct. 8 - Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills: Wade Phillips returns to face his former team, and we'll get a good look at last season's most improved quarterbacks in J.P. Losman and Tony Romo.

Oct. 15 - New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons: This is the "Potential Bowl" as both teams have quarterbacks who have the potential to be great, but haven't grasped it yet. The Tiki-less Giants will have to find a way to get Eli Manning in a comfort zone without a dominant running back, and Michael Vick must grasp yet another new offense for the umpteenth time in his career.

Oct. 22 - Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: Another great divisional game. Jacksonville has always played the Colts tough. The Jaguars have found ways to make Peyton Manning earn every yard. Their physical nature combined with the speed of their defense poses problems for Manning. This could finally be the year the Jaguars take over the division.

Oct. 29 - Green Bay Packers at Denver Broncos: This is a great test of just how good the Packers are because they are a good team that could be a major surprise. This could be Denver QB Jay Cutler's coming out party because he has the potential to be a fantastic quarterback. The game should slow down for him by this point of the season.

Nov. 5 - Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers This is the backyard brawl of the AFC. We'll get to see if the Steelers have retained their physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth style under new coach Mike Timlin. Also, we'll get a chance to see if Ben Roethlisberger has fully recovered from last season's myriad problems.

Nov. 12 - San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: This could be a game for the divisional lead because the 49ers have the ability to challenge Seattle. It wouldn't surprise me if the 49ers ended up the kings of this division.

Nov. 19 - Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos: It's Travis Henry playing against his old team, and I think he's going to have a big year. He'll be looking to prove a point.

Nov. 26 - Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers: The return of Joey Porter highlights this matchup. Does it get any bigger than that? It'll be interesting to see just how much intensity and bravado he brings on the field.

Dec. 3 - New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens: Adailius Thomas returns to Baltimore, where he received his start. At this point of the season, both defensive units will be battling for the right to be called the best in the league. It's going to be a grind-it-out game that will definitely turn on a defensive play.

Dec. 10 - New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: You can't discount the importance of a late-season divisional game. These two are huge rivals, and it could be for the outright lead in the NFC South if Vick has a grasp of this offense. Of course, the Saints could also be going for their fourth straight win over Atlanta.

Dec. 17 - Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: We should know by now if the Bears are still the cream of the crop in the NFC North. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered concerning both teams' quarterback situations, so it'll be interesting to see how this shapes up.

Dec. 24 Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers: This game could very easily be for the divisional title as you have two up-and-coming quarterbacks, stout defenses and fantastic running games. What a great early Christmas present!

Former NFL fullback Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. An eight-year NFL veteran, Hoge spent 1987-93 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and joined ESPN in 1996.

Former NFL fullback Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. An eight-year NFL veteran, Hoge spent 1987-93 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and joined ESPN in 1996.