The NFL schedule release has to be the silliest “event” in sports. We’ve known opponents for months. We’ve known the home teams. We’ve known the Super Bowl Champion Bucs are playing in the season kickoff, and we’ve known the Lions and Cowboys are playing on Thanksgiving. Literally the only mystery was when most teams are slated to play and who would win the coveted title of most prime-time games.
Yet here we are on Schedule Release Day (capitalized to honor the NFL’s ability to make this a thing). ESPN celebrated the day with THREE primetime specials, piggybacking on Good Morning America’s announcement of the Monday Night Football opener. Ravens at Raiders! NFL Network had wall-to-wall coverage with reporters galore.
All of the coverage is a signal that even though smug observers like me scoff at the idea of release day being anything more than concocted fluff, enough of us were glued. I was. You probably were. Maybe it’s not the mere announcement of the games themselves that makes our football hearts sing but the idea that we can deeper visualize the season ahead. So with thoughts of 75-year-old Tom Brady kicking off the season against the possibly improved defense of the Dallas Cowboys dancing in my head, and the schedule grid fully filled out, let’s take a stab athwart will be the most anticipated game in all 18 weeks.
Week 1 : (Five-way tie ) Jacksonville at Houston, New York Jets at Carolina, San Francisco at Detroit, Miami at New England, Chicago at Los Angeles Rams
There are juicier matchups from a football schematic standpoint but the debuts of the Fab Five (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones) – or some combination because all five may not be Week 1 starters – will be take center stage. How will “generational” god Lawrence thrive in a system that’s not yet a machine? What about Lance, who has only played in one game since 2019? Will Fields finally be that Bears quarterback who doesn’t make the fanbase want to hurl a baseball at the televisions? We’ll get some semblance of a preview in the first week.
Week 2: Kansas City at Baltimore, 8:20PM NBC
The Ravens are always in the AFC conversation but they’ll never reach the promised land if they can’t contain Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. That fiery Ravens defense will be looking to avenge for the four touchdowns they allowed Mahomes last season. And the Ravens defensive front will be an intriguing test for the Chiefs’ revamped offensive line which includes left tackle Orlando Brown (traded from Baltimore to Kansas City this offseason). But the big draw here is Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson. It’s a must watch.
Week 3: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 1PM ET, CBS
When these teams faced off last December, the Bengals stunned the Steelers, stifling Ben Roethlisberger in the second half, and walking away with a 27-17 win and one of the most badass troll tweets of the season.
That game was minus Joe Burrow who was on IR. Burrow will be back, this time with former LSU Tiger buddy Ja’Marr Chase.
Week 4: Tampa Bay at New England, 8:20 ET, NBC
The AFC East and NFC South don’t play often so it’s fun that the world gets to see Brady’s return to New England before he walks into the sunset. The actual game itself may not be as entertaining as the hype unless Mac Jones already looks like Brady 2.0 but all the reminiscing about Brady’s 20-year domination in New England should be fascinating, or deeply painful, depending on your perspective.
Week 5: Buffalo at Kansas City, 8:20 ET, NBC
If anyone is going to catch the Chiefs, there’s a decent shot it will be the Bills. Buffalo saw its early lead in the AFC Championship evaporate before getting pounded 38-24. Still, Josh Allen vs. Mahomes is as good as it gets from a marquee quarterback perspective.
Week 6: Green Bay at Chicago, 1PM ET, FOX
Ah, so many scenarios here! Perhaps Andy Dalton is struggling and Matt Nagy has to decide whether to try and save his job by inserting a not-quite-ready Fields. Perhaps Fields has already established himself as the most dominant rookie quarterback. Or perhaps Packers’ brass will be searching every corner of Chico, CA prepared to beg Rodgers for forgiveness and a return to action. Still, the NFL’s oldest rivalry has been so one-sided for what seems like 20 years now that any shift will be intriguing.
Week 7: Detroit at Los Angeles Rams 4:05 ET, FOX
Normally a Jared Goff-Matthew Stafford matchup would be as thrilling as an overused default Zoom background. But now the the two quarterbacks swapped teams and the Rams parted with two first round draft picks for Stafford’s services. Goff must want to win this one soooooo badly. LA better win.
Week 8: Pittsburgh at Cleveland, 1PM ET, CBS
The tide has shifted in this rivalry that had no firepower during the 25 years the Browns were NFL bottomfeeders. Now Cleveland is potent with a great top-to-bottom roster and a quarterback they believe in, plus they are still dripping with swagger after dismantling Pittsburgh in last season’s wildcard round.
Week 9: Green Bay at Kansas City, 4:25 ET, FOX
This will be the first regular season matchup featuring the star-studded quarterbacks assuming Rodgers is still a Packer. Rodgers is unhappy with the organization’s lack of fortitude in stacking the team, especially on offense. This is the type of loss that could really annoy no. 12.
Week 10: Seattle at Green Bay, 4:25 ET, FOX
A lot of Green Bay so far and a matchup against the Seahawks is no exception. These two have played some dramatic games over the years from the “Fail Mary” to the Packers’ epic collapse in the 2015 NFC Championship. No reason to think this game will be any different.
Week 11: Indianapolis at Buffalo, 1PM ET, CBS
The Bills have become a must watch and the Colts carry some intrigue of their own. They are handing the reins under center to Carson Wentz who is looking for a resurrection. But the Colts have also improved by filling several other team needs including pass rusher Kwitty Paye in the draft and left tackle and former no. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher. Both of these two teams are built to occupy the upper echelons of the AFC for many years.
Week 12: Cleveland at Baltimore, 8:20 ET, NBC
Excuse me while I kick back and watch highlights of last season’s Browns-Raves classic on a loop for the next 40 minutes. Jackson’s return from the locker to lead the Ravens to a 47-42 win was pure magic.
Week 13: Dallas at New Orleans, TNF, 8:20ET, FOX/NFLN/AMAZON
Come for the Sean Payton-to-Dallas rumors, stay for whatever drama is happening with Dallas at the time. (Or come ride the wave of a Cowboys turnaround, finally.)
Week 14: Buffalo at Tampa Bay, 4:25PM ET, CBS
Brady has tormented the Bills throughout his career racking up more wins (32) than against any other franchise. But now the Bills have some runway in the AFC East thanks to Brady’s departure. The Bucs’ stacked Super Bowl-winning defense should prove a formidable task for Josh Allen.
Week 15: New Orleans at Tampa Bay, 8:20 ET, NBC
NBC was awarded this game for a reason. IF James Winston has solidified himself as the Saints’ starter, this one is dripping with revenge.
Week 16: Jacksonville at New York Jets, 1PM ET, CBS
The Jags should be interesting either way because a) Trevor Lawrence is actually god and has already turned around the franchise or b) Lawrence has had trouble adjusting to losing. Either way, this is our first look at the Lawrence and Zach Wilson on the same field.
Week 17: Minnesota at Green Bay, 8:20ET, NBC
This has the making of a game with playoff implications, especially in year two of the expanded postseason berths. Who knows what Rodgers’ status and mindset will be at this point but at the very least Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson should be on the field.
Week 18: San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25PM ET, FOX
Another one that theoretically could have playoff predictions. Kyle Shanahan always brings some extra offensive playbook mojo when he faces Sean McVay. The result has been four straight wins fro San Francisco, the last three of which were decided by less than a touchdown.