With the NFL operating a “business as usual” policy amid the world’s current climate, it proceeded with the next stage of its off-season program on Thursday evening; the schedule release. Each year, teams and their fans wait in anticipation of their clubs schedule for the year, getting the red pen out and circling all the key dates on the calendar and ear marking any prime time games they might have.
Not long into the New Year, teams are made aware of their opponents, but it’s the schedule release that really allows the season to take shape. Signature match-ups each week and playoff storylines that start to develop are all at the fate of the schedule makers.
The 2020 schedule has produced another great slate of games, giving us plenty of high quality match-ups and interesting storylines to follow. Can the Bills survive their tough slate of games and claim the AFC East crown? Or can the Chiefs avoid the Superbowl hangover and pick up right where they left off?
Below I’ve picked out a key game (In some cases, a couple) from each week and penned my thoughts as to why they’re crucial in the storyline of the 2020 season;
Mahomes and Watson take centre stage for the opening slate game of the 2020 season. The Texans travel to Arrowhead with hopes of righting the wrongs of last season’s divisional round nightmare. After falling behind 24-0, Mahomes lead the Chiefs to 7 touchdowns and blew the Texans out of the water finishing 51-31.
Watson and the Texans will have more than a point to prove, and what better stage than a primetime week one match-up with the current Super Bowl champions?
The headliner for week one will no doubt be Tom Brady vs Drew Brees in the Superdome. Two of the greatest to ever play the game, in the twilight years of their careers, are making one final push for the Lombardi trophy and what a way to start that venture.
Perhaps two of the most talented teams in the NFC, Brady’s Bucs will hope to be firing on all cylinders as they travel to one of the more notorious venues in the NFL for this first of two match-ups this season. With Brees and the saints adding veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, along with a solid run game and reassured offensive line, this is the perfect opportunity to lay down a message to the rest of the league.
Perhaps not a game that jumps off the page at you, but with a revamped offence and new signal caller, the Colts welcome in the Vikings along with Kirk Cousins who signed a new $66 million dollar extension earlier this year. With both teams opening the season with inter-divisional match-ups, this is the perfect opportunity for both sides to stretch the legs and get an early cross-conference win.
All such wins add up and could be extremely valuable come playoff time. Keep an eye out for Phillip Rivers first game at Lucas Oil and the first look at the QB in a different uniform for the first time since 2004.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens
The previous two league MVP’s meet for the second time in as many seasons. Meeting at the same stage as last season, the Chiefs travel to Baltimore in the reverse of last year’s fixture which went the way of the eventual Superbowl Champions.
Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson put on a show stopping performance in last season’s week 3 match-up which saw the Chiefs run out 33-28 victors. With the Chiefs adding Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Ravens bolstering their run-game with the addition of J.K Dobbins, this elusive match-up will undoubtedly produce early season fireworks under the Monday Night Lights.
Assuming Tua Tagovailoa starts, this could be a QB match-up to behold. Tagovailoa had been regularly compared to Russell Wilson during the pre-draft process and their playing styles are unquestionably similar. Seattle will be hoping their aerial attack can be sustained this season and with the addition of Phillip Dorsett to an already busy receiver room, we should see exactly that.
It won’t exactly be the easiest of trips to the pan handle for the Seahawks as the Dolphins will hope their newly rejuvenated defence can make a name for themselves against an MVP hopeful in RW3.
Las Vegas Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs
Often a spectacle between these two teams, we have another division instalment in the AFC West. Some of the stories and expectations write themselves for this match-up, looking back to last season as an example when the Raiders beat the Chiefs in a week two match-up that had one of the wilder endings in recent memories with the final playing being re-played three times before a Derek Carr touchdown sealed the deal for the Gruden Boys. This time in arrowhead, expect to see similar fireworks.
Green Bay Packers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brady. Rodgers. A setting for this showdown like we’ve never seen before, Brady in the NFC and the Packers first trip to Tampa Bay since week sixteen of the 2014 season.
As mentioned earlier, the Bucs made leaps and bounds this off season. The Packers however, did not. With the opportunity to surround Aaron Rodgers with skill position weapons, the Packers took his future successor, Jordan Love. The 2020 Packers will be Rodgers, Adams and Jones and week six will be a huge task for them taking on “Tompa Bay”.
Two of the more elusive offences in football take centre stage on Monday Night Football.
Murray, Fitzgerald and Hopkins travel to the house that Jerry built to take on the high powered offence of Dak, Zeke, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallop and the new rookie in town donning #88 – CeeDee Lamb. With key defensive acquisitions to the tune of Isaiah Simmons, the Cardinals now have a versatile weapon at their disposable and one that they will hope can slow down America’s team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Las Vegas Raiders
The Brady Bunch hit the Vegas strip in this exquisite week seven match up. Gruden and Mayock are slowly creating their masterpiece in Vegas and there will be no better measuring stick than going up against the greatest of all time as he brings his new armoury to town.
With Gruden having deep routes embedded in both these teams, I have taken the privilege of dubbing this game the “Spider 2 Y Banana” Bowl (If you know, you know).
San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
The words of Al Pacino echoed the through the walls of CenturyLink field after last season’s week 17 David vs Goliath showdown. “Football is a game of inches”. The last ditch Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner tackle saw Jacob Hollister fall short of the goal-line in what was the final play of the 2019 regular season. The significance being that with that win, the 49ers secured the #1 overall seed and thus paved their own path to the Superbowl. Meeting at the midway point of the 2020 season, this NFC West match-up will showcase some of the conference’s best talents and is guaranteed to be an explosive fixture. With countless historic moments between these two celebrated franchises, it’s safe to say, the west does it best.
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers continue their tough stretch of games with a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship. These two teams met twice last season and in both instances the 49ers ran out healthy victors. With father time standing over Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder, he will be on a “prove-it” mission and will be seeking revenge against the team who left him sitting in the lonely 2004 draft room.
Houston Texans @ Cleveland Browns
Up until now, I’ve let several other noteworthy Browns games slip under the radar as I’m trying to correct my own mistakes of diving head first into last year’s off season hype.
With the Texans coming to town it’ll prove as a perfect opportunity for Baker Mayfield to prove that he can be considered in the same bracket as some of those drafted in the 2017 draft class – Mahomes, Watson.
Last year wasn’t good in Cleveland. In fact, it was awful. But, with the addition of Kevin Stefanski and a new analytics based approach, it’s these types of games that Cleveland need to win to prove they have made progress since last season.
Note: I didn’t forget the 49ers and Saints in this slot, I just opted against hyping up the 49ers three straight weeks in a row. (I could do their whole season if I picked all their key games).
Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sean McVay will get his chance to get one back on Tom Brady after his failures in Superbowl 53. Brady and Gronk connected on a devastating game winning drive to seal the deal in Atlanta a couple of years ago.
McVay is entering a crucial year of his tenure in LA, with one trip to the SB already done, some would say he peaked too soon and with his current roster it doesn’t look there will be another peak any time soon (Football! Football Peaks! Wash your hands people!) The Rams need to turn things around amidst an ever improving NFC West.
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Treated to our usual three game slate on Turkey Day, this one emerges as the pick of the bunch at the late night slot. A deep divisional rivalry broadcast on national television for all to see will boast the Lamar led Ravens fighting to replicate their 14-2 2019 season.
The resistance comes from a Steelers team who will benefit from the return of Ben Roethlisberger and a defence that played lights out last season. Mark Ingram spoke on the NFL Network’s schedule release show of “…wanting to get that turkey leg!” at the end of this game and if they can keep up last season’s form, his plate will be well filled.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The “pièce de la résistance”. The Brady and Mahomes saga continues on. With many people slating Mahomes to be the heir to Brady’s NFL throne, we are in for a treat with this one. Brady will have more explosive weapons, and an offensive minded head coach who will be helping him to prove to the young buck that he’s still got it.
Having gone head to head on several previous occasions, and Brady getting the better of Mahomes and each of those occasions, the Chiefs will want to go to Raymond James Stadium and lay down a message that there is a new king in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys @ Baltimore Ravens
I’ve detailed the dynamic ability of each of these offences and I’ve spoke of their ability to score points, but what will matter most in this match-up will be the perseverance and team ability to grind out those mid-to-late season wins when it matters the most. Dallas, under new head coach Mike McCarthy, will be looking to prove that they have improved during the off-season and they can now hang with the bigger teams in the league – something they haven’t done in a few years.
One to watch: Bengals @ Dolphins – Burrow & Tua face off for the first time?
Perhaps a bit left field on this one, but my reasoning is timing. I think this fixture falls at the perfect point of the season when playoff implications will be sky-high. With the availability of a 7th seed in each conference both teams will be doing all they can to make sure they punch their ticket to wildcard weekend.
The Falcons are playing in perhaps the toughest divison in football and will be fighting to beat off the Saints and Bucs for the playoff spots. The Chargers share a division with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs and will have more than their work cut out to ensure they are playing in the post season. Off topic but this is the new uniform bowl and I am BEGGING to see the Falcons throwbacks jerseys against the powder blue home unis of the Chargers. Pleaseeeeeee.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans Saints
Patrick Mahomes will get his first taste of the Superdome in this mouth-watering week fifteen match up. The Saints will no doubt be on their late season charge, working their way towards securing the number one seed in the NFC, while the Chiefs will likely be trying to distance themselves from those chasing them in the AFC pack.
This has all the makings of a high scoring, fast paced 48-43 game that will light up highlight reels for seasons to come. Fingers crossed.
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
We’ve all seen this one before, haven’t we? From the Minneapolis Miracle to last year’s “You like that?!” Part 2 in the upset playoff victory in NOLA. In recent years the Vikings have proved themselves to be the thorn in the side of the Saints, causing more heartbreak to the Saints than perhaps any other team in the league (I’m giving Nickell Robey Coleman and the Rams a bye ball, that one was on the refs!). Expect to see a feisty Sean Payton draw up a tactical masterpiece to try and win over this bogey team.
Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
Benefitting from the missed field goal by Greg “the leg” Zuerlein, Seattle saw off the Rams in the C-Link last season. Always a tough battle, this one will carry a little extra weight so late in the season as the race for the NFC West top spot will be raging on.
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
With perhaps most other divisions wrapped up at this stage, or at least a foregone conclusion, this week 17 match-up will pull the most weight in determining the playoff picture of not only the NFC South but the NFC as a whole.
With other teams relying on results elsewhere to do them a favour it will be imperative that both teams come away with a win here. I have the Panthers ranked significantly lower than the Bucs and Saints – but close to level with the Falcons. This match-up could determine the 7th seed and I would not be surprised if the battle for 7th place was between the Falcons and the Panthers. Matt Rhule will be hoping that is defensive renovation can stop Brees and the Saints from prematurely ending his debuting season in the league.
Each year we get surprised by games that turn out to be much better than we expected and sometimes the ones hyped up so much are the ones that let us down. This is the beauty of the NFL. What game are you most looking to this season? Did your team draw the short stick or are you already planning playoff parties? The new wave of talent is starting to wash upon our leagues shores and it’s time for us to strap ourselves in and enjoy. Have an opinions on this article? Tweet me @Michaellavery98 – I want to hear your opinions!