NFL Schedule Release – Ultimate Road trip

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Is it just me, or is there a feeling in the air? A feeling that the return of football isn’t as far off as it once seemed. The NFL schedule was released today, and while we’re all dreaming of what matchups will be the best or which games we’ll try to attend in person, why not dream a little bigger? If you had the funds, and time off from work or school to travel around the country watching football, what should your route be? Here is my suggestion:

17 weeks. 19 stadiums. 20 games. 10,234 miles. One unforgettable road trip.

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START: NFL Kickoff Game – Denver, CO

Baltimore at Denver – Thursday, September 5, 8:30pm EST

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Naturally, your journey will start with the kickoff game, featuring a rematch of the stellar AFC divisional game from last season. Peyton Manning will be out for revenge. The Ravens will be amped up to prove they can still contend after losing numerous key players.

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TRAVEL from Denver to Seattle (1,315 miles)  

San Francisco at Seattle – Sunday, September 15, 8:30pm EST

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The first journey is a long one, but it’s worth it. Hop in the van (any good road trip needs a van) and head to the Pacific northwest to watch the first matchup of the NFL’s best rivalry today: the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. You’ll also be treated to the city of Seattle, so enjoy good coffee, craft beer and rain before joining the 12th man at CenturyLink Field to watch an old-fashioned slug-fest.

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TRAVEL from Seattle to San Francisco (808 miles)

Indianapolis at San Francisco Sunday, September 22, 4:25pm EST

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You’ll double up on the Niners this week, but for good reason. The journey down the coast will be one to remember, as you can visit the Avenue of the Giants and see the massive beauty of the Redwoods. Oh, and once you get to San Francisco you’ll be treated to a bevy of tourist options (Alcatraz, for one) as well as a great game between two of the elite young signal-callers in the game today: Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck.

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TRAVEL from San Francisco to Oakland (12 miles)

Washington at Oakland – Sunday, September 29, 4:25pm EST

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A short trip now, and a chance for you to further enjoy/explore the bay area before a hopefully fully-healed RG3 and company come to Oakland for a week 4 clash. If RG3 isn’t back, you’ll still have an interesting game to watch as Kirk Cousins takes his place for the time being.   For the Raiders, Matt Flynn tries to prove his worth by turning around the franchise of the silver and black.

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TRAVEL from Oakland to Glendale, AZ (739 miles)

Carolina at Arizona – Sunday, October 6, 4:05pm PST

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Back to the van! This time you begin the journey back to middle America with a stop in Arizona to watch Bruce Arian’s new-look Cardinals take on Cam Newton and company.  A solid game in the early portion of your journey that you’ll at least have some fantasy players to watch if the matchup itself doesn’t interest you. If you’re feeling bold, take a detour to the Grand Canyon before or after the game. You won’t be disappointed.

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TRAVEL from Glendale to Dallas (1,075 miles)

Washington at Dallas – Sunday, October 13, 8:30pm EST

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Another long trip, but at the end of the road is a ticket to Jerry World to watch another great rivalry game, Redskins vs. Cowboys. The Redskins handled the ‘Boys in Dallas on Thanksgiving last year, so revenge will likely be a key theme heading into this one. If you missed out on RG3 in Oakland, here’s another good chance to see the electric young superstar return to action. Also, while in Dallas you can enjoy some fine southern eats. If your timing works out, brush up on your manliness by checking out the Mesquite Rodeo just west of Dallas.

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TRAVEL from Dallas to Kansas City (555 miles)

Houston at Kansas City – Sunday, October 20, 1pm EST

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A must-stop on any NFL road trip is Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The fact that you get to see Andy Reid’s Chiefs take on the rock-solid Houston Texans is just a little more glaze on the barbecue. Speaking of barbecue, trips to Gates BBQ are a must while you’re in town. Notice how I said trips and not “trip.” You can thank me later.

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TRAVEL from Kansas City to St. Louis (248 miles)

Seattle at St. Louis – Monday, October 28, 8:40pm EST

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In what equates to your bye week, you take a short sojourn across Missouri for a stop in St. Louis to catch another fierce NFC West bout between the Seahawks and the Rams on Monday night. Take the extra time to soak in more of the KC culture, or get to St. Louis early. If you’re lucky, the Cardinals might be playing in the postseason.  If not, there are enough tourist options in St. Louis to keep you busy as you recover a bit. The road trip isn’t even halfway through yet!

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TRAVEL from St. Louis to Green Bay (489 miles)

Chicago at Green Bay – Monday, November 4, 8:40pm EST

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Back-to-back Monday night games, but the second one is under the lights at historic Lambeau Field to witness the latest contest in the NFL’s oldest rivalry – Bears vs. Packers. There’s really no place like Lambeau Field, but be sure to take advantage of the surrounding features before gameday like the Packers Hall of Fame and the plethora of pubs full of friendly Midwesterners. Tailgating is a must prior to kickoff, as few places do it better than Green Bay. For the record, you’ve now crossed the 5,000 mile mark on the road trip!

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TRAVEL from Green Bay to Minneapolis (278 miles)

Washington at Minnesota Thursday, November 7, 8:25pm EST

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Thankfully, as the great white north temperatures drop your next stop is in Minneapolis where the warm confines of the Metrodome will treat you to a Thursday night matchup between the Redskins and the Vikings.  Before leaving be sure to check out Mall of America to scoop up some good, cheap souvenirs for all of your relatives that will be clamoring for a handout after your epic journey.

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TRAVEL from Minneapolis to Nashville (882 miles)

Jacksonville at Tennessee Sunday, November 10, 1pm EST

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Not the sexiest of matchups, but still a necessary stop.  Plus, you get the benefit of visiting the Music City. Check out a set of some up-and-coming talent at the Blue Bird Café, or visit any of the other myriad music history spots. As for the game on Sunday, you can make jests about which 2011 quarterback will wash out of the league first  – Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker. Unless one of said quarterbacks is on your team. Instead you can join together with fellow fans and wallow in self-pity.

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TRAVEL from Nashville to Cincinnati (271 miles)

Cleveland at Cincinnati  – Sudnay, November 17, 1pm EST

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Now, before you scoff at this matchup, take another look. The Bengals have been to the playoffs the last two years, and the Browns have slowly been adding young talent to the roster to make themselves more competitive in the AFC North. This could actually be a pretty great game. And if not, downtown Cincinnati has plenty to offer.

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TRAVEL from Cincinnati to Atlanta (461 miles)

New Orleans at Atlanta Thursday, November 21, 8:25pm EST

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A healthy trip down I-85 leads you to one of the better games on this trip: Saints at Falcons. For years these two have battled for the top spot in the AFC South, and with Sean Payton back in the fold for New Orleans this becomes a can’t miss game.  Thankfully, you’ll be there. While you’re in Atlanta check out Daddy D’s for some more delicious barbecue. Are you sensing a trend here? And is anyone else getting hungry?

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TRAVEL from Atlanta to Miami (662 miles)

Carolina at Miami  – Sunday, November 24, 1pm EST

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This is the middle of a tough, but necessary stretch on the road trip. But it’s mostly downhill after this. With three teams in Florida, it’d be criminal not to make at least one trip to the Sunshine State. This stop will feature two talented young quarterbacks again, and a nice plus in November – some warmer weather. Spend a little time outdoors after the game, but don’t dawdle. There’s more NFL to get to.

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TRAVEL from Miami to Charlotte (729 miles), and get on a flight to Baltimore (437 miles)

Pittsburgh at Baltimore – Thursday, November 28, 8:30pm EST

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This is the longest leg of your journey, that’s why I suggest getting the 10 hour drive from Miami to Charlotte out of the way before you catch a flight so you can sleep. If you want to do this NFL road trip right, you need to see a game on Thanksgiving. And while the Steelers and Ravens don’t have the tradition of the Lions or Cowboys on Turkey Day, it’s still a great rivalry and should provide you with some stellar entertainment. So Skype with your families from the road and get ready for some football.

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TRAVEL from Baltimore to Charlotte via plane (437 miles)

Tampa Bay at Carolina – Sunday, December 1, 1pm EST

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Back to South Carolina, and your van! You will not have seen four NFL games in a span of 11 days. Pat yourself on the back! Relax and watch another NFC South bout, this time between the Buccaneers and the Panthers.  Afterwards, take a mental break and visit Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte for some simple fun.  Then grab some grub and pile back into the van.

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TRAVEL from Charlotte to Philadelphia (538 miles)

Detroit at Philadelphia – Sunday, December 8, 1pm EST

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At this point, games will start carrying serious playoff implications. Well, maybe not this one, but it should be loaded with offensive fireworks with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson squaring off against Chip Kelly’s unique new offense. While in Philly, be sure to stop at Chickie’s and Pete’s which is just around the corner from Lincoln Financial Field. It was voted the Best Sports Bar in America by ESPN after all, so it’s at least worth a look.

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TRAVEL from Philadelphia to New York City (96 miles)

Seattle at New York Giants – Sunday, December 15, 1pm EST

Cleveland at New York Jets – Sunday, December 22, 1pm EST

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Whew, another short travel stint to one of the greatest cities on earth. Get comfy too, because your next two games will be at Metlife Stadium (don’t make the mistake of staying in New Jersey, however). First up is a sure to be entertaining game between the Seahawks and Giants. Playoff seeding will likely be on the line, making the game even better.

You then get a week off to enjoy New York in December. Check out the Rockerfeller Center Tree, which will be already be lit. Visit Central Park, the NFL offices, Times Square and whatever else your little heart desires. After you’ve had your fill of tourism, head back to Metlife for the Browns vs. Jets. Playoff implications will likely be non-existent in this one, but take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come 19 games in 16 weeks. And only one more to go.

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TRAVEL from New York City to Foxboro, MA (202 miles)

Buffalo at New England – Sunday, December 29, 1pm EST

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You did it. You’ve completed the ultimate NFL road trip and are watching Tom Brady destroy the Buffalo Bills, ensuring the Patriots at least get the 2nd seed in the upcoming playoffs. Whoops, it looks like you missed Christmas this year, but your family will understand. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity after all. You’ve traveled across the country for 17 weeks, witnessed 20 NFL games and had the time of your life. Move over Lewis and Clark, there’s a new great American adventurer.

Now… sadly this trip is ludicrous and would be outrageously expensive. So start saving your pennies now, forget about sending your kids to college, and find a reliable van (again, a must). There’s one incredible road trip waiting on the horizon.

PS – For those of you who actually made it through this outrageously long piece and kept score, only one NFL franchise was not included in the road trip. My apologies to said fan base, it just didn’t work out this year!

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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