Go crazy, folks. The 2019 NFL schedule has been released, the week before the draft like always. We’ve known the opponents and locations, and now we have the dates set so we can all accurately evaluate and project what will happen in all 256 regular-season games.
For this post, I will highlight the top 2.56% of those games, and these are the ones you can’t miss. The ones that, as we sit more than four months from the start of the season, will bring good football and, at the very least, intrigue.
Week 2: Saints at Rams
The most controversial and consequential game from the postseason gets a redux, though a Super Bowl trip obviously won’t be on the line here. Call it the Nickell Robey-Coleman Game if you wish. Once that blatant pass interference call went missed in the NFC title game, Saints coach Sean Payton became the flag-bearer for a replay overhaul—and he got it. Drew Brees’s window to get back to the Super Bowl continues to get smaller (and this year’s Super Bowl goes back to Miami where Brees won his only ring), and a win against the defending NFC champs could go a long way to deciding whether the Saints get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs again.
Week 14: Chiefs at Patriots
The last two NFL MVPs square off in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game, this time in Foxboro. The last time we saw Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes together, the former was in the Chiefs locker room congratulating the latter on a great season before heading off to his sixth Super Bowl win in Atlanta. Brady carved up a Chiefs defense led by Bob Sutton in January, and this year the Chiefs will have new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo at the controls. For the past two years this late-season spot against the Patriots has been occupied by the Steelers, aka the most formidable AFC opponent for the Patriots. That balance of power has shifted to Andy Reid’s bunch in Kansas City.
Week 11: Steelers at Browns
With the Browns emerging as one of the most anticipated teams in football this season, football fans finally have the AFC North they deserve. The Steelers went 1-0-1 against the Browns last season, and Baker Mayfield will be looking for his first win against Pittsburgh. Can Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin get back to the playoffs without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell? Was this off-season truly addition by subtraction? Pittsburgh’s season will defined by two things: postseason success and AFC North standing. This Browns squad has all eyes on it. How can Pittsburgh cover Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry at the same time?
Week 1: Packers at Bears
It’s easy to declare the first game of the season a must-watch for obvious reasons, but a tilt between these teams was making this list regardless. How could we forget last year’s season opener between these two that saw Aaron Rodgers come back from an early knee injury and will the Packers to a 24–23 win? This will be the first regular-season game of new head coach Matt LaFleur, and I imagine network cameras will be all over LaFleur and his quarterback on the sideline after every series that doesn’t end in a touchdown. The Bears have won just three of the past 18 contests against Rodgers and the Packers, but Chicago is still the defending NFC North champs and looking to repeat in the division for the first time since the 2005 and ’06 Bears teams.
Week 5: Colts at Chiefs
After starting 1–5, seemingly destined to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the Colts turned around their 2018 season to finish 10–6 and lock up the No. 6 seed. Now Andrew Luck has a solid offensive line thanks to GM Chris Ballard and a coach in Frank Reich who isn’t at all afraid to take chances. Indianapolis’s scoring offense made the top five for the first time since Peyton Manning wore the horseshoe, and—probably more importantly—the Colts had a top-ten scoring defense since 2013. They’ll need every bit of that in Week 5 against Mahomes in this AFC divisional round rematch the Chiefs dominated in January 31–13. This should be a great barometer for a Colts team on the rise: they play five games against playoff teams from last season and four are on the road. Hello, Arrowhead.
Week 11: Patriots at Eagles
The last two Super Bowl winners face off in what will probably be Carson Wentz’s first-ever game against Tom Brady. The Super Bowl LII rematch, to be played in Philadelphia, will see Michael Bennett play his former team and Eagles coach Doug Pederson matching wits yet again with Bill Belichick. This time, Pederson will have even more weapons. The Eagles brought back DeSean Jackson in free agency, and tight end Dallas Goedert figures to get better in Year 2 with a healthy Wentz. And kudos here to the schedule makers in New York: this game falls after both teams’ bye weeks.
Week 16: Cowboys at Eagles
These two teams have combined to win the NFC East the past three years and five of the past six seasons. This contest could decide the division in 2019. The Cowboys are going to be coming off tough games versus the Bears on the road and hosting the Rams before going to Philly in the penultimate game of the regular season. Last year the Cowboys swept the season series after five straight years of the teams splitting. This one could be a prime candidate for a late-season Sunday Night Football flex.
Week 15: Seahawks at Panthers
These franchises have slipped a little since their mid-decade heights but Russell Wilson—currently the NFL’s highest-paid player—and Cam Newton always deliver a great game. They’ve met eight times since 2012. Six of those games have been decided by one possession, and five of those six were decided by five points or fewer. Wilson has only lost nine regular-season games in the month of December in his entire career and figures to have the Seahawks once again in the playoff hunt. Meanwhile, Newton’s surgically repaired shoulder is being treated with cautious optimism in Charlotte after going under the knife twice in the past three seasons. Newton’s shoulder gave out after the halfway point of last season, so the Panthers will be watching closely as the season wears on in 2019.
Week 11 Texans at Ravens
Two of last season’s playoff teams are led by two of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the league and two of the best defenses in the NFL. Houston will play at home just once between Week 6 and this game in Week 11, having road games in Kansas City and Indianapolis before playing overseas against Jacksonville, then returning for their bye before getting back on a plane to go to Baltimore (they host Oakland in Week 8). Whew. Lamar Jackson beat out Deshaun Watson in the Heisman voting in 2016. Can he edge him here?
Week 15 Jaguars at Raiders
Oakland doesn’t have Buffalo or Pittsburgh on the schedule, so we are robbed of any Antonio Brown fireworks against the teams (and cities) he spurned. But the Raiders do get Jalen Ramsey and the Jags. I’m aware this isn’t the sexiest game on the schedule, and it’s fair if you’re wondering why it cracks the top-10 list. But we so rarely get these receiver-cornerback matchups. Ramsey calls Brown the best at his position. Brown has returned the complement to the fourth-year player. In Pittsburgh, Brown caught nine of 13 passes thrown his way going against Ramsey for 155 yards but no touchdowns. Ramsey picked off two of the four passes that didn’t make it into Brown’s hands. Buckle up.
Honorable mentions: Week 11 Chiefs vs. Chargers (in Mexico City); Week 8 Browns at Patriots; Week 16 Steelers at Jets.
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