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These Will Be the Best Games of the 2019 NFL Season (We Think)

We knew the matchups, but now we know the dates. Circle your calendars for the AFC and NFC championship rematches and a whole lot of Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes II.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 2019 NFL season is here. Kind of. The NFL released its 2019 schedule on Wednesday evening. We have known which teams would play each other this year since the moment the 2018 regular season ended, but now we know when they’ll play each other. After we take part in the annual tradition of looking at our favorite team’s schedule, deciding exactly which games will be wins or losses, and somehow deluding ourselves into a playoff appearance, we can turn our attention to the rest of the league. So without further ado, here are the games to circle on your calendar in 2019.

Thursday, September 5: NFL Kickoff—Packers at Bears

Only 141 days away! The first game of the NFL season—and the first opening-night game to not feature the reigning Super Bowl champion since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened on Sunday night in 2003—is one of the handful of games we knew ahead of time. This was the Sunday Night Football opener last year and featured a wrecking-ball start to Khalil Mack’s Chicago career in the first half and then one of the best comebacks of Aaron Rodgers’s career in the second half. After being carted off with an injury midway through the second quarter, Rodgers returned in the third quarter visibly limping and down 20 points before sealing an absurd comeback victory that was voted the moment of the year at the NFL awards. A lot has changed since then. Mike McCarthy has been fired, Bleacher Report reported Rodgers’s receivers lived in fear of pissing him off and getting frozen out, and the Bears double-doinked their way out of the playoffs. A full 60 minutes of Rodgers dodging Mack is a worthy way to open the year.

September 8: Football Is All the Way Back—Steelers at Patriots on Sunday Night Football

If Packers-Bears is the Week 1 appetizer, this is the main course. Pats-Steelers has been one of the best regular-season games of the year for two years in a row. For the first SNF broadcast of the year, we’ll see the Patriots host the Steelers in Foxborough at a time of great uncertainty for the Steelers. In last year’s matchup, Antonio Brown scored Pittsburgh’s go-ahead touchdown to give them a lead they never relinquished.

September 15: NFC Championship Do-Over—Saints at Rams

We knew we were getting the rematch, but it is so sweet that it comes so soon. The Rams were in the Super Bowl largely because of a refereeing debacle, and the Saints have now had two straight horrifying endings to their seasons between this year’s no-call and last year’s Minneapolis Miracle. After Sean Payton’s binge of Jeni’s ice cream and the Ted Bundy Tapes following the Saints’ loss to the Rams, the league (largely prompted by Payton) went so far as to change the rule book to make pass interference penalties reviewable, even if a penalty wasn’t called on the field. Still, there is a zero percent chance the Saints are over losing that game, and they’re going to take it out on the Rams. To get the Saints hyped for the NFC championship game, Sean Payton brought $200,000 in cash (and three armed guards to escort the money) to a team meeting to motivate the players for the bonus that came with a Super Bowl appearance. Lord knows what he’ll do to motivate them ahead of this matchup.

September 16: The “Wow, That Escalated Quickly” Bowl—Browns at Jets

This time last year, the Week 3 Thursday Night Football matchup between the Jets and Browns was dubbed by us as the worst prime-time game of the season, and for good reason. But in that game, first overall pick Baker Mayfield replaced Tyrod Taylor near halftime down 14-0 and led Cleveland to a 21-17 comeback victory to give the franchise its first win in 635 days. A year later, the Browns are the sleeper team du jour, and this contest between the no. 1 and no. 3 picks in last year’s draft will be featured on Monday Night Football.

September 29: This Guy Might Take That Guy’s Job—Cowboys at Saints

The Cowboys defense dominated the Saints offense when these teams played on Thursday night in Week 13 last year, but the story surrounding the last Sunday Night Football game of September may be off the field. Payton was the assistant head coach in Dallas for three seasons under Bill Parcells before leaving to take the Saints head coaching job. Rumors of Sean Payton possibly replacing Jason Garrett as the Cowboys head coach have lingered for years, and if the Cowboys don’t enter this game with a winning record, the conversation could be unavoidable. Payton brushed off the rumors this month by saying he has “fleur-de-lis tattoos that can’t be erased.” They can’t be erased, but they could definitely be reworked into a Dallas star. Perhaps he can ask Rex Ryan for advice on that front.

Oct. 10: One Last Eli Manning–vs.–Tom Brady Game—Giants at Patriots

The New York Giants head to Foxborough, and it will likely be the last time that Eli Manning faces Tom Brady. With Brady and Bill Belichick now cemented as the greatest of all time, this game will serve as a week to remember the team that pierced their armor on the biggest stage—twice.

October 27: You Vike Awkward Reunions??—Kirk Cousins vs. Washington

Kirk Cousins keeps meticulously detailed, color-coded calendars that detail how he will spend every minute of every day. I promise you this game is going to earn a massive circle in the brightest highlighter he owns in both his daily planner and his month-by-month calendar. Washington kept Cousins in franchise-tag limbo for two seasons before letting him walk in free agency after lowballing him on long-term contracts. Now, the Vikings will host Washington for Cousins’s first crack at revenge against the team that kind of believed in him, but not really.

October 27: The Full Circle—Browns at Patriots

This narrative is too juicy not to squeeze. The Browns fired Bill Belichick in 1996, and he proceeded to build the greatest dynasty the sport has ever seen in New England while the Browns have been one of the worst teams in league history. Though the Browns’ original franchise fled to Baltimore, that won’t get in the way of the narrative: Two decades later, Cleveland looks like the Super Bowl contender that could dethrone Belichick’s Patriots in the AFC. From Baker Mayfield to Odell Beckham Jr. to Jarvis Landry to Myles Garrett, Cleveland’s hype versus New England’s hegemony could be the game of the year.

October 27: Generational Quarterback Showdown—Packers at Chiefs on Sunday Night Football

Patrick Mahomes II usurped Rodgers as the best quarterback in football last year. If Rodgers wants the title back, he’ll have to come into Kansas City in Week 8 and take it on Sunday Night Football. This is a matchup of the two most special passers in football between Mahomes’s no-look passes and cannon throws and Rodger’s ludicrous launch angles on deep passes. There is also the subplot that Mahomes is considered to be this era’s Brett Favre, and Rodgers is the Favre usurper. Not to be Brannie Downer, but the next time the Chiefs and Packers are scheduled to meet will be in 2023. This might be the only time these two meet with both at (or near) the peak of their powers.

October 28: Worst Prime-Time Matchup—Dolphins at Steelers

These two teams played the worst NFL game of the 21st century on Monday Night Football in 2007, when Pittsburgh beat Miami 3-0 on a field so drenched that punts ended with the football wedged into the turf. This game likely won’t be that bad, but, well, it might evoke some of those memories. The Dolphins are in prime contention to be the worst team in football. They have 250-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl (no other team has lower than 150-to-1) and 40-to-1 odds to win the AFC East (the next worst odds for a division winner are the Arizona Cardinals with 25-to-1). The Steelers lost their most interesting stars in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but they still have the talent to destroy Miami. The only ones watching this will be people either living in Pittsburgh or needing James Conner to win their fantasy football matchups. There’s a reason the league chose the worst MNF matchup of the year for when the World Series will be in full swing.

November 17: Patriots vs. Eagles

The Giants are not the only Super Bowl rematch for the Patriots. These teams have not met since Philly beat them in Super Bowl LII, and Eagles fans will surely spend the entire week reminding Pats fans of that. Nick Foles is gone, but the Philly Philly jokes are forever.

November 18: The Mea Culpa Game—Chiefs vs. Chargers in Mexico City

The Rams’ 54-51 victory over the Chiefs in Week 11 last year will go down as one of the most legendary regular-season games in NFL history, but it was supposed to happen in another country. The game was originally slated for Mexico City but was moved because of poor field conditions. Mexico City is roughly 1.5 miles above sea level, so these teams may try to practice at altitude as the Rams did in the week before the game by training in Colorado Springs.

December 8: AFC Championship Game Rematch—Chiefs at Patriots

As you can tell by now, there looks to be a lot of great Patriots games this year. This is a rematch of the AFC championship game where the Patriots prevailed 37-31 in overtime, though the Chiefs offense never touched the ball. Nielsen estimated nearly 54 million people watched that game in January, which itself was a rematch of their epic Week 6 tilt that the Patriots won 43-40 and during which the two teams combined for 946 yards. Mahomes has been denied the passing of the torch from Brady twice, but perhaps the third time will be the charm, especially considering home-field advantage in the AFC could be on the line.

December 22: Bad-Blood Bowl—Le’Veon Bell vs. Pittsburgh

Le’Veon Bell hasn’t played for the Steelers since January 2018. In the time since, Bell sat out an entire season, his offensive line ragged on him to reporters, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs, and Bell said Ben Roethlisberger was one of the reasons he left. If there is any chance these two teams are competing for a wild-card spot, this game could produce the most ludicrous sound bites of any this season.