While I’ve been focusing on my draft recap videos these last couple of weeks, I just wanted to quickly look at the recently released schedule here and talk about the games I have already circled on my calendar (metaphorically). I picked out my ten favorite contests throughout the season and then listed another 25 chronologically, that I already know I’ll be watching, because of some of the storylines, certain matchups or their meaning as it pertains to the playoffs. We got 18 games on slate this year for the first time, so there were even more great games to choose from.
Here’s my personal list:
10. Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals (Week 4 – TNF)
It’s the battle of the number picks from this and last year, but really also a test to see which of these talented young teams is on the fringe of emerging. I’m not saying either one of them will be in the hunt for a playoff spot, even though the AFC South could easily have like a 9-8 team win it, but they both have some underrated rosters, that are starting to take shape, they both have highly promising signal-callers and under-the-radar play-makers on both sides of the ball. The defenses are a bit questionable at this point, but there’s some talent, that we’ve already seen impress at times. And the coaching staffs are very interesting to me as well, since Urban Meyer and company will be the new thing in the NFL, while Zac Taylor’s group are in kind of a prove-it year, but looking at those schedules, either team could easily be 1-3 after this game and have some criticism coming their way.
9. San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Week 18 – 4:25 pm)
So the NFC West is going to be interesting once again. This has been a division, that outside of the Cardinals had all three teams with two-year runs as champs this past decade, with Arizona having one season where they made a run at the conference in-between, while we’ve had three different winners in each of the last three years. It always seems hard to predict, who will emerge, but I believe if Trey Lance can acclimate quickly enough, the NFC West will be a blood bath, and these are the two teams that it will really come down to for me. Looking at the history between Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, the Niners coach has had the upper-hand so far, especially getting the sweep this past season, despite their injury-riddled campaign. For these two squads to battle it out in the season-finale with the division on the line potentially – and in that case, probably getting flexed to Sunday Night – could create the setting for another classic like 49ers-Seahawks in 2019.
8. Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team (Week 12 – MNF)
I think this is a really underrated game, because Washington isn’t a big-name team at this point, but I think they should be the favorites to win the NFC East and when you look at that roster, there’s really nothing missing. Ryan Fitzpatrick may have his ups and downs, but he can get as hot as any passer in the league pretty much to match Russell Wilson, who will be facing one of the most talented defensive lines in the league. The Seahawks are going to be an interesting team as well, even though I just talked about how I think the 49ers and Rams could be battling for the NFC West title in week 18, because of the tension between the organization and their franchise QB and the fact that they will need some of their young players to step up, if they want to keep pace in that division. When these two teams squared off last season, Dwayne Haskins had the Football Team at the brink of the red-zone, with a chance to take the lead late. So this could come down to the wire.
7. Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (Week 3 – SNF)
Just like Seattle with Russell Wilson, the relationship between the Packers and their MVP quarterback will be one to monitor, but assuming we get at least one more year, this could be a highly-contested matchup. Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay got their chance for revenge last season, after the 49ers handed them two really bad losses in 2019 and kept them from going to the Super Bowl, but it must not have felt totally right, going up against Nick Mullens and a injury-decimated roster overall. San Francisco might have a rookie quarterback starting for them, but no excuses this time around. The bludgeoning run game and the ferocious defensive front that gave Green Bay trouble are still there. The thing to watch will be DeMeco Ryans stepping in for now-Jets head coach Robert Saleh as defensive coordinator and how well he will fare playing against Rodgers on the other end, coming off another all-time great season.
6. Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens (Week 2 – SNF)
This was the game that I had at number one a year ago, after everybody was waiting for these two teams to match up against each in the AFC Championship game, but the Titans had different plans. When we did get to watch this proclaimed “preview”, it was a rather underwhelming affair, as Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy tore apart Baltimore’s blitz-heavy defense. It was a week three Monday Night edition back then and this year we get it even a week earlier on Sunday. So while I’d prefer to see both teams in mid-season form, this could definitely be a tone-setter. We get the 2018 and ‘19 MVPs, who front-runners again this season to earn those honors, and as Lamar Jackson said himself the Chiefs have been their kryptonite so far. The Orlando Brown trade gives us an interesting angle, but I will really be watching how much both Ravens coordinators have learned from their prior approaches.
5. Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 14 – 4:25 pm)
Brady just can’t give up the AFC East and while the trip back to Foxborough will be the biggest event on the slate, going up against the new standard for quarterback play in that division and giving Josh Allen a chance to still beat the Patriots legend should be highly entertaining. Plus, these are two of the final four teams from last season and it could easily be a Super Bowl preview I believe. Allen and that group of receivers will be looking to spread the field and neutralize Tampa Bay’s ferocious pass-rush, while the Bucs will test Buffalo’s defensive interior, which finished dead-middle in terms of rushing yards allowed, but was helped out by their offense forcing the opposition to get into catch-up mode, as they surrendered 140 yards in nine different games altogether, with Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette and others. The fact that this game is in warm Florida rather than Western New York in December is a big factor, but I think the biggest key will be the development of those young linebackers for the Bills.
4. Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (Week 12 – SNF)
So of course, when you get these divisional matchups, you always have two options to choose from. For the most part, you want to choose the later one, since more will be on the line, especially with the Browns being notorious for being slow starters at this point, but we don’t see these division foes square off against each other until week twelve, and I’m going with the Sunday Night battle in Baltimore, rather than a 1 pm kickoff two weeks later. Just this past season, we started with a 38-6 blowout in Baltimore, while the week 14 version of this matchup was the best game all of last season, according to most people. We saw 89 combined points, a lot of back-and-forth and a heroic “comeback” by Lamar Jackson from the locker room/pooper. I’ll be looking forward to what Lamar can do with improved weapons around him, against a Browns team, that heavily invested into their defense this offseason.
3. Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 5 – SNF)
Alright, let’s get an obvious here off the board. With the New Orleans actually winning the NFC South last season, we don’t get the rematch between the Buccaneers and Packers, but we do get to watch the AFC Championship game rematch. While the 14-point difference in that contest would suggest a fairly competitive game, after the Bills quickly went up 9-0, it never felt like the Chiefs lost control again, with an offensive gameplan that was built around protecting Patrick Mahomes’ injured foot with a quick-rhythm passing attack and KC’s secondary was punking Buffalo’s receiver with a ton of press-coverage. Their week six Monday afternoon matchup actually was closer, but was kind of an odd game, as both quarterbacks struggled with ball-handling and accuracy in the rain, while Clyde Edwards-Helaire led the way for a 245-yard rushing day by the Chiefs. This upcoming season, we will get both teams, right as they are hitting their groove, and the Bills will want to prove they are still contenders for the conference, as they head back to Arrowhead.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots (Week 4 – SNF)
There’s not much of an explanation needed here. We have Tom Brady going home and facing the team, which he played two decades for and won six Super Bowls with. People will probably make way too much about determining, who was most responsible for the Patriots’ dynasty, based on just one game. However, this will be fascinating watch between Brady coming off winning a ring his first year at his location, where he’s now tossing Lombardi trophies rather than doing the “New England way”, and the best football coach in NFL history, trying to build up a new winning organization, and this being the first time they really made a splash in free agency. The chess-match between these two GOATs will be poetry for fans of the game. This will also be Gronk’s return to Foxborough and it could be a major prove-it matchup for Cam Newton, with a first-round signal-caller ready in line.
1. Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 9 – 4:25 pm)
This all comes down to one thing – hopefully, we will finally see this matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. We were robbed of that experience in consecutive years now, as the Packers lost in NFC Championship game, with the Chiefs sort of awaiting them, and when we were supposed to see these guys square up in the regular season a couple of years ago, as Mahomes wasn’t able to play host, missing one of two games with that seemingly-dislocated knee cap. And I don’t always want to make it about the quarterbacks, but when we get the best signal-caller of the last decade going up against who I believe will be top guy for the 2020’s, we have to make them the focal point here. Rodgers beat up Mahomes for MVP last year, while the latter one was able to get to his second Super Bowl already, which has eluded Rodgers since he won his lone ring in 2010. Unless the situation in Green Bay can’t be resolved – even though that would probably mean we get to see this QB duel twice with Denver – we get these two teams exactly in the middle of the season, and if the football gods are very generous, we’ll see them again in L.A. mid-February.
Best of the rest:
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 1 – TNF)
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 1 – 4:25 pm)
New York Giants at Washington Football Team (Week 2 – TNF)
Los Angeles Rams at Indianapolis Colts (Week 2 – 1 pm)
New York Jets at Denver Broncos (Week 3 – 4:05 pm)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams (Week 3 – 4:25 pm)
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (Week 5 – TNF)
Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns (Week 6 – 4:25 pm)
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans (Week 6 – MNF)
Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Rams (Week 7 – 4:05 pm)
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (Week 7 – MNF)
San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears (Week 8 – 1 pm)
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings (Week 8 – SNF)
New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers (Week 9 – 1 pm)
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (Week 10 – 4:25 pm)
Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders (Week 10 – SNF)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers (Week 11 – SNF)
New York Giants at Miami Dolphins (Week 13 – 1 pm)
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (Week 13 – MNF)
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (Week 15 – TNF)
Green Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens (Week 15 – 1 pm)
Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers (Week 16 – SAT 4:30 pm)
Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals (Week 16 – SAT 8:15 pm)
Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans (Week 17 – 1 pm)
Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens (Week 17 – 4:25 pm)
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