The NFL has at long last revealed the 2018 regular-season schedule, and much of Thursday night – and likely into Friday – on the league’s network and its partners will be spent dissecting each team’s schedule, where the bye week falls, and how many prime-time games each club will play.
We’re no different.
Players always say that there’s something special about those prime-time matchups: they’re the only game happening, so anyone who wants to watch an NFL game is watching. There’s a pretty good slate of night games this season, and here’s our top 10 picks for the ones worth staying up late for (yes, we know it’s April, so this list might look a lot different in, say, September):
10. Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears, Week 2 (Monday night): The Bears cut Mike Glennon this offseason, telling the world that the franchise is in Mitchell Trubisky’s hands. And the rest of the country won’t have to wait long to see how Trubisky handles things, as Chicago welcomes the new-look Seahawks to Soldier Field.
9. New England Patriots at Detroit Lions, Week 3 (Sunday night): The other coaches who have left Bill Belichick’s side to become head coaches elsewhere by and large haven’t fared that well. Bill O’Brien is hanging on in Houston, but Josh McDaniels was a disaster in Denver, and Charlie Weis struggled in multiple other places. It’s Matt Patricia’s turn to see if he can start to turn the tide, welcoming his longtime mentor to Ford Field for an early-season game.
8. San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers, Week 6 (Monday night): One of the NFL’s rising stars, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, returns to primetime. Garoppolo led the Patriots into Arizona for a Sunday night game to open the 2016 season, and held up well. Now he’s headed to one of the game’s hallowed grounds, against one of its best quarterbacks.
7. Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans, Week 5 (Sunday night): Just as many of us were starting to fall in love with Deshaun Watson as the Texans’ quarterback – it was a loss, but his performance in Seattle was breathtaking – he suffered a torn ACL in practice, leaving us to wonder how his rookie season may have ended. But barring any setbacks Watson will be back, as will J.J. Watt, as the Texans host their in-state rivals.
6. Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders, Week 1 (Monday night): Twenty years ago, when he was first hired as the Raiders’ head coach, Jon Gruden was just 34 years old. Now, Gruden is returning to the sidelines for the first time in a decade, again in silver and black, and on the opposite sideline will be the new hot young NFL head coach: the Rams’ Sean McVay.
5. Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Rams, Week 4 (Thursday night): This might be the best Thursday night matchup we’ve seen in years (excluding the kickoff game). The Vikings went 13-3 last season with Case Keenum at quarterback, pushed into the role after a Sam Bradford injury, and won the Kirk Cousins Sweepstakes with a three-year fully-guaranteed contract. The Rams also made the playoffs last season, the first time in 13 years, and have made tons of move to try to insure they return.
4. New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings, Week 8 (Sunday night): Who can forget the last-second, Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs, 61-yard touchdown play that put the Vikings in the NFC Championship game? The Saints likely haven’t, and while the stakes aren’t the same, will be looking to get a measure of revenge.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars, Week 11 (Sunday night): Speaking of epic playoff games…87 combined points, 923 combined yards of offense, and the day we learned that Blake Bortles shouldn’t be a punchline anymore. The Jags have swag, and will want to show Pittsburgh that their Divisional round win wasn’t a fluke.
2. Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams, Week 15 (Sunday night): Yes, it’s a long way away. But right now, it’s easy to believe this game will be a late-season preview of the NFC Championship game.
1. Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles, Week 1 (Thursday night): What other pick is there other than the now-traditional kickoff game for our top spot? For one thing, it marks the return of the NFL, the Eagles will be celebrating their Super Bowl LII win (again), and Carson Wentz will likely be back under center. Oh, and the Eagles knocked the Falcons out of the postseason last year.
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