The NFL schedule finally came out and it is time to discuss it. To be honest, this kind of came at me as a bit of surprise until a few days before it happened, just because of how COVID-19 threw the timeline off, but it is here now. We don’t know for sure how everything will look like – if we even seen all 16 games, if some of them may be postponed or whatever, but I tried to look at the schedule as it is set right now and point out my favorite matchups to watch.
I look at certain coaching staffs facing each other, rematches from last season, historic significance to some degree and of course individual players going up against each other. There are so many great quarterback matchups this year and I don’t want to hear any of that bullcrap about how quarterbacks don’t play versus each other, but rather against the respective defenses – you see them go back and forth trying to put points on the board and their play simply is the biggest factor in the outcome of the game. I tried to pick ten out of 256 total games that stick out to me the most and I already have circled on my calendar, plus I have quite a few honorable mentions before I get into the actual list.
You can also listen to my breakdown of all the games on Youtube!
Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints (Week 3 – SNF 8:20)
Why I considered it: Pretty obvious one here. You have Aaron Rodgers versus Drew Brees, who have battled for league MVP in multiple years, and these are two teams that both went 13-3 last season. This year, even though both teams have tight competition to defend their division crown, the result of this matchup could have influence on the playoff seeding ultimately, also in terms of tie-breakers.
Why I left it off: First of all, I would have liked this game to be a little later in the year – which is a theme throughout the schedule. More importantly, this is a matchup I remembered as a more glorious one. We actually haven’t seen them go up against each other since 2014 and that was a 21-point victory for the Saints.
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers (Week 9 – TNF 8:20)
Why I considered it: The Packers are seeking revenge after they were blown out by a combined score of 74-28 in their two matchups against the eventual NFC champs. Can the Packers run defense finally slow down that bludgeoning ground attack of the Niners? Can Aaron Rodgers make big plays versus this stingy defense?
Why I left it off: We saw this story twice now – When San Francisco gets rolling and the Packers can’t match them physically, these games become very one-sided. Green Bay didn’t give Rodgers any help in terms of wide receivers this offseason and they didn’t add any beef to their D-line. I’m not looking for potential blowouts.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Miami Dolphins (Week 13 – 1:00)
Why I considered it: These are two rebuilding teams and while the Dolphins are certainly ahead in that process, at that point of the season both of them will want to ensure they aren’t picking in the top five again. More importantly however, this could be the rematch between Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, which we saw last season in a 46-41 shootout between LSU and Alabama.
Why I left it off: First and foremost, both these teams could be pretty bad once again, as Vegas has their Over/Under at 5.5 and 6 respectively – two of the five worst marks. In addition, we don’t even know for sure if Tua will be playing at that point, as Miami may want to redshirt him a full year.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans Saints (Week 15 – 4:25)
Why I considered it: Unless they find a way to meet each other in the Super Bowl, this is basically the only time we will see Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees battle it out. Both these offenses should rank in top five at that point of the season and secure their spot in the seedings of either conference. It will be interesting to see how much interior pressure the Chiefs defense can put on Brees, while that retooled Saints secondary will try to stick with KC’s track team of pass-catchers.
Why I left it off: Pretty simple. I think there are three better games the Chiefs will be part of than an interconference matchup without any tie-breaker implications, when you have another great game right after it on Sunday Night and week 16 & 17 filled with so many meaningful division clashes. It hurt not putting this game up there, but I just couldn’t quite fit it in.
San Francisco 49ers @ Dallas Cowboys (Week 15 – SNF 8:20)
Why I considered it: This is just a classic playoff rivalry from the 80s and 90s renewed. While these teams were not on the same level last season, they have two of the most talented rosters in the entire league. Kyle Shanahan is the game’s premiere all-around offensive mind, while we have yet to see how Mike McCarthy has changed his approach in a year out of the league, after being labelled an uncreative play-caller. To me this may come down to how much Dallas’ defense can improve from 2019.
Why I left it off: These teams can absolutely put points on the board, but the Niners had one of the elite defenses last season, while the Cowboys could not stop anybody when they needed and they lost Byron Jones and Robert Quinn. While Dak Prescott & company did put up big numbers in 2019, they also struggle to score in big spots and I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt at this point.
Indianapolis Colts @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 16 – 1:00)
Why I considered it: I really don’t know why the schedule-makers didn’t have more confidence in this matchup to make this a 1 pm kickoff. You obviously have the two remaining quarterbacks from that 2004 draft class going up against each other, with Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, but you also have what many consider the best offensive line going up against the best defensive line in football.
Why I left it off: Do we really know Big Ben will be healthy in week 16? Are we sure Rivers can rebound from a horrendous 2019 campaign? I personally see them both as part of the playoff picture for now, but there are some question marks surrounding these teams and we aren’t guaranteed a matchup between two contenders.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys (Week 16 – 4:25)
Why I considered it: These games just seem to always decide the winner of the NFC East and last season we had everything line up to perfectly to determine who will make the playoffs and who won’t. Vegas has them both sitting at 9.5 wins and I believe it will be a tight race for the division crown, with both teams having reloaded.
Why I left it off: As always, this should be an intriguing game with high stakes, but when was the last time one of these matchups was actually a quality watch? When I look at the history of this series in recent years, either one of the teams always seems to come out flat. In the seven matchups over the last three years plus, only two games have been decided by fewer than seven points.
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers (Week 17 – 4:25)
Why I considered it: This was one of the best series we saw in all of 2019. In week 10 we had overtime field goal drama in a 27-24 win for the Hawks and in week 17 they came a couple of inches short on a goal-line stop in Seattle to win the Niners the West and the conference’s number one seed. Russell Wilson against that defense is just a pleasure to watch.
Why I left it off: I personally just don’t believe this game will decide the winner of the NFC West. I feel like I underrate the Seahawks every single year and am amazed at the rabbits Russ pulls out of his hat to will this team to double-digit wins, but unless Jadeveon Clowney comes back, I just don’t believe in their defense and their O-line only got worse. I’m much more interested in the up-start Cardinals.
The top ten:
10. Week 16 (MNF) – Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
Week 16, Monday Night football with everybody watching, you have a team that hasn’t been in that primetime slot much over the last 20 years going to an organization that has dominated not only them, but pretty much the entire league during that stretch. Since 2001, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, they have lost to Buffalo just four of the 34 times they have met, while in the two most recent ones Tom Brady was suspended and played only one half in a meaningless game respectively. Even without Tom Brady the Patriots are slight favorites to win the division as for right now according to Vegas odds, with Bill Belichick and “Stid the Kid”. I have plenty of questions about this New England team, but they should still be around the .500-mark at the very least and Buffalo is fighting some demons. A lot of this will be about how Josh Allen can mature in year three, because he has shown stretches of brilliance, but he also tossed three picks in their first matchup versus New England last year before he got knocked out and he made some stupid decisions late in the second half of their Wildcard game in Houston. GM Brandon Beane has surrounded the young signal-caller with more weapons via the Stefon Diggs trade and in the draft, after his receivers were plastered last season by those Patriots DBs. On the other side you have a first-year starter going up one of the most well-coached defenses in the league under Sean McDermott, which gave them some trouble already and has now retooled as well. Can the Bills snatch the crown off the head of Belichick and possibly mark the end of that dynasty he has sustained over the last two decades at Gilette Stadium?
9. Week 11 (TNF) – Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks
The NFC West might be the most intriguing division in football. You have the reigning champs in the 49ers who have that mantra of a Super Bowl hangover looming over them, the Seahawks being a couple of inches away from winning the West and looking to take that next step, the Rams trying to recapture what catapulted them to an NFC title just a couple of years ago and the Cardinals entering year two with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, looking to revolutionize the league. This was an interesting series last season, as the Seahawks stomped them 27-10 In week four in Arizona, but then the Cardinals came back in week 16 and gave their high-flying divisional foes a reality check in form of a 27-13 upset. You have Russell Wilson versus Kyler Murray, who are often compared to each other and I believe could both be part of the MVP race. They will be going up against somewhat questionable defenses, ranking bottom ten in both yards and points allowed respectively. The Cardinals I thought really improved on that side of the ball, with number eight overall Isaiah Simmons as an incredible chess piece and a lot of beef on the D-line day three, after struggling to stop the run last season. They Seahawks did go defense-heavy in the draft, but they also likely lost their second-best player in Jadeveon Clowney. With DeAndre Hopkins added to the mix, the Cards could give that secondary a lot of trouble, while I could see Simmons spy on Russ quite a bit to take away those scramble plays with his ridiculous closing speed. You obviously still have the 49ers as reigning division champs, but this could kind of be a passing of the torch for that second team competing for the West.
8. Week 16 (FNS) – Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
First of all, this is a Friday night special on Christmas Day – so I already love an extra day of football. There have only been ten games on a Friday since the league merger in 1970, so that is something unique and it kicks off an awesome NFL weekend. Even better – this is actually great matchup. The Saints are seeking revenge after two ugly playoff exits on the hands on the Vikings. They did win their regular season meeting in 2018, but we all remember the “Minneapolis Miracle” and the Kyle Rudolph push-off controversy in overtime of their most recent Wildcard meeting. In that game you saw Mike Zimmer put Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen over the Saints guards and make Drew Brees uncomfortable with that interior pressure, while you could argue that Taysom Hill was the best player on the field that day. Well, Griffen is still a free agent and it looks like the Vikes are counting on some young D-linemen to recreate his production. Hill on the other hand just signed maybe the biggest contract ever for a QB3 on the depth chart, but that probably also means Sean Payton could utilize his skill-set even more in 2020. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the offensive mastermind and Drew will try to slice up that inexperienced secondary with basically three new starters at the corner spots, with Mike Hughes really being the only one with any experience to speak of (45.7 percent of the snaps in 2020). Another thing I’ll be looking at are Minnesota’s personnel groupings. The Vikings used 12 or 21 personnel on 53 percent of the offensive snaps last season (second-most in the entire league) and the teams that gave New Orleans trouble last season, were the ones that could run those sets.
7. Week 10 (4:25) – San Francisco 49ers @ New Orleans Saints
Man, that might have been the best matchup all of last season. The 49ers went into the Superdome tied with the home team at 10-2 and the game delivered what it promised. While San Francisco’s defense had been wreaking havoc for pretty much the entire year, this duel was about two offensive masterminds in Kyle Shanahan and Sean Payton trying to best each other with creative designs and trick plays, but also some great individual performances, highlight by George Kittle literally dragging three defenders to set up the game-winning field goal. We got to see reverses, wide receiver passes and even fullbacks playing option QB. What stood out to me about the Niners offense in last year’s matchup was how often Shanahan found ways to open up the middle of the field for Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel, while routinely created favorable matchups for Michael Thomas, working against Ahkello Witherspoon & company. Jimmy G also had his best game of the season and he will have to defeat some demons this year after not being able to come through at the end of the Super Bowl. Coming off a devastating loss in the Super Bowl, the Niners seem hungry to get back there, as they have basically replaced all the players they lost this offseason. The Saints have a bitter taste in their mouths themselves, after exiting in the first round of the playoffs on the hands of the Vikings. Many people thought these were the top two teams in the NFC last season and it looked like they might be on pace to meet in the conference championship. This will be a huge test for both of them and a potential preview of this year’s playoffs. For the Niners it is nice to head into their bye week right after that.
6. Week 12 (4:25) – Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While the Patriots-Chiefs matchups these last two seasons to me were more about Bill Belichick playing chess against Patrick Mahomes, you can’t deny that Brady-Mahomes is a very intriguing storyline and we are lucky that the year Brady finally leaves New England, we still get this battle of all-time legend and young phenom. Brady & New England came away with the victory in their two showdowns in 2018, including an epic AFC Championship, but last year it was the Chiefs trying to avoid the comeback. Brady went 19-36 for under 200 yards and one TD compared to one pick against KC’s defense. Obviously the Bucs are a completely different team however. While the Patriots were devoid of talent at the wide receiver position last season, Brady now has what may be the premiere duo with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, to go with a talented group of tight-ends, which now includes his old buddy Rob Gronkowski. While the Tampa Bay defense wasn’t even comparable to New England’s last season, as they ranked 29th compared to first respectively, I think this may be an underrated unit. They pretty clearly finished number one versus the run and they bring back everybody from last season now at full strength in their second year under DC Todd Bowles. While Tyrann Mathieu looks to be a thorn in the sight of Brady, the Bucs might found their version of that player in the second round of the draft in Antoine Winfield Jr., to surprise Mahomes & company. I think Bowles could use him in a multitude of ways, similar to what he had in Jamal Adams with the Jets. I also love the matchup of two of the most aggressive play-callers on offense going up against two creative defensive coordinators trying to give them different looks to decipher.
5. Week 12 (Thanksgiving) – Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
This AFC North clash has been one of the great rivalries in the league over the last decade plus, It doesn’t quite feel like these two teams are in the same tier right now with the Ravens earning the number one overall seed in the entire playoffs at 14-2, while the Steelers lost their final three games of the season to take away hope for that final Wildcard spot due to the worst quarterback play in the league. However, Ben Roethlisberger returns from injury and if he is back to his usual self, there is a lot to like about this team. Their defense is elite, with a ferocious pass rush, a dynamic young linebacker in Devin Bush and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Minkah Fitzpatrick really brought that secondary around when he came over from Miami. They will have to play at their best to slow down reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and that downhill rushing attack the Ravens present. Offensively the Steelers still have one of the better O-lines in the league, some interesting young backs and several talented receivers around Juju Smith-Schuster. They will be challenged by what I think is the premiere trio of cornerbacks and Baltimore has retooled that D-line with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe to keep first-round Patrick Queen from LSU clean to run around and make plays. Lamar did have his worst game of the season at Heinz Field, but the Ravens still pulled off the W in overtime thanks to nothing in the passing game from Mason Rudolph. Baltimore has added some quick-strike weapons around the reigning MVP, while Pittsburgh also goes from incapable backups to a Hall of Fame-level QB. The Ravens should certainly be considered the favorites, but the Steelers could make some noise this year. To get such a physical, scrappy brawl to finish up Thanksgiving is better than any sweet potato pie.
4. Week 9 (SNF) – New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You could be looking at this matchup in week one already and it will be very interesting to see Tom Brady for the first time in that Bruce Arians offense, but I think their rematch in the middle of the season will make for an even better game. Both teams will have caught their rhythm at that point and we have a better idea of who they are. The Bucs already were the number one passing offense and ranked third in points scored, but thanks to Jameis Winston’s famous 30 interceptions, they only finished 7-9. While Brady won’t push the ball down the field quite the same way, the offense should be much more successful in situational football, as they lost just two games by more than one score (one thanks to a pick-six). Even outside the quarterback position, their offense improved. However, the Saints did reload themselves in terms of their defensive backfield and receiving crew. Obviously the quarterbacks will be the main attraction, but I also love seeing that elite Saints O-line trying to create holes against last year’s top-ranked run defense as well as reigning sack leader Shaqil Barrett & JPP rushing against their stud tackles. With all the moves both teams have made in free agency and the draft, I just see them as double-digit win squads, which will be right there in the mix for the NFC. Whoever manages to sweep the series or if they tie it up here, that will have huge stakes in the race for the South and who needs to go on the road in the playoffs. It will also be interesting to see how the surrounding games will influence this matchup. The Saints will be coming off a trip to Chicago and host San Francisco the following week. For the Bucs on the other hand this is right in-between more manageable trips to New York and Carolina.
3. Week 13 (SNF) Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs
I really believe these Broncos-Chiefs matchups will be some of the best on the entire schedule. Yes, I might be a little higher on Denver than most people coming into 2020, but when you look at this roster, they are going to surprise some people with how good they actually are. That group of skill-players is so damn talented now with wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler via the draft and they really upgraded the interior of the offensive line with free agent Graham Glasgow and LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry. The Broncos D gave Patrick Mahomes some trouble in 2018 and they could be even better this year. Yes, they lost Chris Harris and Derek Wolfe, but they also acquired Jurrell Casey, A.J. Bouye and some interesting rookies, while getting back Bradley Chubb from injury, who looked to be in line for a monster season. The Chiefs on the other hand kind of try to run it back, with 20 of last year’s 22 starters being brought back. Both these teams have so much firepower and it will all come down to how much Drew Lock can grow in his second year in the league. If he can take that next step like a Carson Wentz did in year two, look out for these Broncos. The Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champs for a reason, but I could see Denver seriously challenge them for the AFC West. This will be a huge clash to kick off December and the Broncos will look to make a statement to the league as they travel to Arrowhead and try to prove they are for real. And both squads will leave it all out there, as the Broncos go into their bye after the game and the Chiefs host the Jets and Panthers the two following weeks.
2. Week 6 (4:25) – Green Bay Packers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Very seldom have we gotten the treat of Aaron Rodgers versus Tom Brady. We have actually only see them go up against each other twice in their careers, with Rodgers taking over in 2008 and missing their meeting two years later. The Packers got the best of the Patriots in Green Bay in 2014 and the home-team equaled evened the series in Foxborough. Now in the NFC, Brady is looking to win those battles against other great quarterbacks without Belichick coaching the defense. While one team has done everything to make things as comfortable as possible for the incoming legend, the other one just drafted the eventual replacement of their 36-year old star and didn’t select a single receiver in a historically great class. Brady definitely has the upper hand in terms of weapons around him and we could see Rodgers get upset in that game if his receivers outside of Davante Adams don’t show up. With a film junkie like Brady, Packers DC Mike Pettine will have to get away from of the tendencies he showed last season in certain down & distances and against certain personnel packages, to not see them get taken advantage of. The Bucs massive front on the other hand likely won’t allow Matt LaFleur to get his zone-rushing attack going, putting more pressure back on the quarterback. However, Tampa also has a very young secondary, that could receive a lesson from the uber-talented Rodgers. A lot of this will depend on if Green Bay’s Smith Brothers can influence Brady and if anybody outside of Kenny Clark emerges for them to push the pocket on the inside. The one advantage Green Bay will have is the fact they are coming off a bye at that point, while Tampa is in the middle of a three-out-of-four game road stretch.
1. Week 3 (MNF) – Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens
Only a couple of weeks into the season, we get to see the AFC Championship that never was last year. Baltimore was riding high at a league-best 14-2 record, but suffered a disappointing loss to the Titans in the Divisional Round. Kansas City on the other hand needed to some help down the stretch to finish second behind the Ravens for the conference’s number two seed and went all the way to a Lombardi trophy. Once again this year, this could absolutely be a preview of the AFC title game, with both teams locked and loaded. You have the two most recent league MVPs battling it out. Patrick Mahomes stands at 2-0 versus Lamar Jackson. This time around the Chiefs travel to M&T Bank stadium, where the Ravens have lost just once over these last one-and-a-half seasons with their dynamic young QB at the helm. Kansas City’s defense really turned it on late last season with timely stops and takeaways. That’s what cost Baltimore a chance at the AFC title, as they were stopped twice on fourth-and-one by Tennessee after being almost perfect in those spots over the course of the regular season and they turned the ball over three times in that matchup. I don’t think that was an appropriate representation of the Ravens offense and I didn’t think Lamar had a horrible game, as several of his passes were badly dropped. They have added some game-breakers around him in the draft, but KC’s first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be the X-factor as well, because he will give them more of a physical presence in the run game and help them convert in crucial situations. This matchup should give us an idea early on who the conference’s front-runner could be. Can Mahomes pull a rabbit out of his hat once again, even though the Ravens are all over him with those different pressure looks, or can Lamar put his stamp on that series?
For more coverage around the NFL and college football go to halilsrealfootballtalk.com
You can also find me on Youtube now! – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxjwwcjGcWpjlDyDj-pY5wQ