The world may be wallowing in uncertainty, but as far as the National Football League is concerned, it’s business as usual on the gridiron.
The NFL released its schedule last night, and for the moment, and fans can expect an exciting slate of games if the league begins on time as is planned. Here are five prime-time games to get hype about, in no particular order.
Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens, Sept. 28, 8:15 p.m.
This is an easy one. Quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes could shape out to be the new faces of the NFL, and the two teams will face off in a grudge match after the Chiefs bested the Ravens 33-28 last year at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Ravens may have been disappointed last year after getting bounced early in the divisional round, but the team is still young and looking to prove that it’ll be contenders in the league for years to come. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are coming off a Super Bowl victory and have retained 20 of the team’s 22 starters from last year.
This game will certainly be a shootout, and it showcases a budding rivalry that could be at the forefront of the league for years to come.
Week 7: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Las Vegas Raiders, Oct. 25, 8:20 p.m.
Lay down the aces and spin the roulette wheels: The NFL is hitting Sin City.
The Raiders have moved from their long-time home in Oakland to fabulous Las Vegas, and the highlight of their schedule has head coach Jon Gruden facing off against his former team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the addition of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, however, the new-look Bucs will have more than enough weapons to avenge their loss in 2016, when the Raiders broke the record for most penalties in a single game and still emerged victorious.
The world will get its first glimpse of Allegiant Stadium when Vegas plays New Orleans in Week 2, but the allure of Tom Brady and the Raiders’ two first-round picks in wide receiver Henry Ruggs and cornerback Damon Arnette are sure to make this one an electrifying showdown.
Week 9: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, Nov. 5, 8:20 p.m.
The NFC Championship Game didn’t go well for the Packers. With its loss to the 49ers last year, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 1-5 in NFC Championship Games, and with the Packers drafting Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round to possibly replace him, he definitely has something to prove.
He’ll have a chance to do that in this Week 9 game, but it won’t be easy. San Francisco’s vaunted defense returns in 2020 with pass rusher Nick Bosa as its anchor, and it is doubtful it’ll be any easier to throw against this time around. The 49ers offense, however, has lost the likes of Emmanuel Sanders, Matt Breida and Joe Staley, but offensive weapon Deebo Samuel will be back and ready to wreak more havoc in 2020.
Rodgers still has wide receiver Davante Adams at his side, and he’ll look to make a statement to the league and possibly his own team when the Packers march into the Golden State.
Week 10: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans, Nov. 12, 8:20 p.m.
We couldn’t forget about Thursday Night Football, could we?
This divisional rivalry features a Colts team with Philip Rivers at the helm, who will look to prove that he has more left in him than his below-average season in 2019. The Titans, meanwhile, are coming off a run that ended with them as AFC runner-ups, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has much to prove after a big contract extension.
Safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro were one of the NFL’s best safety tandems last year, but the departure of cornerback Logan Ryan leaves a hole in the secondary Rivers could be apt to exploit. Meanwhile, T.Y. Hilton and rookie Michael Pittman Jr. offer some weapons for Rivers on the Colts, and Indianapolis’ addition of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in the offseason could cause loads of trouble for Tennessee’s offense.
This game could well decide who sits atop the AFC South throne, so be sure to tune in when these two go at it.
Week 16: Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints, Dec. 25, 4:30 p.m.
Enter your favorite Christmas present.
It’s no secret that the Saints and Vikings aren’t exactly buddy-buddy. Minnesota has crushed New Orleans’ playoff hopes twice in the last three years, and the two budding rivals will face off on Christmas Day in Week 16. This game will almost certainly have playoff implications, and one of the two squads could get a chance to play the Grinch and steal the other’s playoff hopes.
This could be Drew Brees’ final year in the league, but as long as he’s equipped with wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara, he’s still one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league. Quarterback Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, is armed with talented running back Dalvin Cook and lethal possession receiver Adam Thielen.
There will be no holiday cheer between these two NFC squads, and that’s precisely why it’s one of the league’s best showdowns this year.
Follow River on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected]