Despite the uncertainty surrounding the sports world, the NFL went ahead with a full 2020 schedule release on Thursday night.
That means, for the second time in the last two weeks, football fans are offered a bit of a distraction and can get excited about what could be coming this September if the circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic allow the league to return to action on time.
While there’s a possibility the NFL is forced to make changes to its schedule at some point in the future, we’re going to work on the assumption the NFL is able to kick off on time in four months and gets in a full 17-game season in 2020 (*Fingers crossed*).
With that in mind, here are seven games football fans will not want to miss in 2020.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Sept. 13 at 4:25 p.m. ET
None will be as big, however, as the pair of contests against Brady’s new rival in the Big Easy and reigning division title winners, the New Orleans Saints. Arguably next season’s juiciest new rivalry, Brady vs. Drew Brees is the epic quarterback showdown that was always missing during TB12’s time in the AFC East. The Saints are undoubtedly a top-five team, are arguably the class of the NFC, and represent the biggest threat to Brady’s consecutive division titles streak, which currently sits at 11.
We won’t have to wait long to see the first clash between Brady’s Bucs and Brees’s Saints – the two kick off the 2020 campaign at the Superdome on Sept. 13.
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
Sept. 13 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Coming off one of the best individual college football seasons of all time, Joe Burrow kicks off his NFL career at home with a meeting against the Chargers.
Burrow’s first action as a pro is intriguing for a couple of reasons. First, how will such a dominant season at LSU immediately translate into the NFL? We all know what a coin flip the No. 1 pick is in all sports, and most NFL teams don’t have to look too far into the past to find a high selection they’d love to do over. And what makes Burrow’s case all the more interesting are the two quarterbacks selected after him in Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert – the latter of whom could start in this game should he beat out Tyrod Taylor for L.A.’s starting job. How will the order these three quarterbacks were selected in look in four or five years?
Secondly, the Bengals had themselves quite an off-season, overhauling one of 2019’s worst defences, bringing back star receiver A.J. Green and drafting Tee Higgins to give Burrow a pair of quality passing options. If Burrow continues to be the star we saw at LSU last year, Cincinnati could be much closer to competing than many of us realize.
New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders
Sept. 21 at 8:15 p.m. ET (Monday Night Football)
While we don’t know what form fan presence will take in 2020 due to COVID-19, the first NFL regular-season game in Las Vegas is bound to be a spectacle – with or without fans.
The Raiders joined the Rams and Chargers this off-season as the third NFL team of the millennium to relocate, making the move from Oakland to Sin City. The success of the NHL’s Golden Knights in Vegas has eased all previous concerns about sports franchises in the city, and the move solves the Raiders’ long-standing stadium issue as the team moves into the jaw-dropping Allegiant Stadium.
The Raiders’ first home opponent only adds to the hype of the NFL’s Las Vegas debut as Brees and the Saints come to town in what should be a stiff test for Jon Gruden’s team as it tries to break out of its rebuilding cocoon and emerge as an AFC contender.
Of course, the Raiders aren’t the only team moving into a new stadium this season. The Rams and Chargers have a new (shared) home, too, and are scheduled to debut in SoFi Stadium against the Cowboys (Week 1) and the Chiefs (Week 2), respectively.
Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens
Sept. 28 at 8:15 p.m. ET (Monday Night Football)
It’s the AFC Championship game everyone wanted in the 2019 playoffs but never got because of a shocking run from the Tennessee Titans last January.
For the third straight year, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, the NFL’s last two MVPs, will square off in the regular season, and while the Chiefs are 2-0 in those games, they were both barn burners.
The first clash between the two rising stars on Dec. 9, 2018 was Jackson’s fourth career start and saw Mahomes lead the Chiefs to a last-minute touchdown before Harrison Butker kicked K.C.’s game-winning field goal in overtime. Last September, Jackson’s Ravens stormed back from a 17-point first-half deficit but ultimately fell five points short in a 33-28 thriller.
This time around, the defending Super Bowl champions will be visitors in Baltimore, where Jackson is 12-3 in his time as starter.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Nov. 1 at 4:25 p.m. ET
It would be hard to argue there was a better pair of divisional games last season than the two between NFC West rivals Seattle and San Francisco.
The first was a Week 10 battle that saw the Niners bounce back from down 24-10 entering the final quarter only for it to be decided by a game-winning boot from Seahawks kicker Jason Myers.
Thanks to that Seattle win and the fact both of these teams were among the league’s best all season, their second matchup was for the division and would shape the NFC playoff picture: winner gets home-field advantage while the loser would travel to Philadelphia for a wild-card game. With so much on the line, the game was flexed into Sunday night and was the last regular-season game of 2019.
And it lived up to the hype, with 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw stuffing Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister at the goal-line to secure the win, the division title and a path to the Super Bowl on their own turf – a path the 49ers took, of course.
It’s almost unfair to expect 2020’s 49ers-Seahawks clashes to live up to those of 2019, but these two teams (and all NFC West divisional games, for that matter) rarely fail to deliver.
Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. ET
The Browns are garnering far less hype and much more skepticism compared to this time last year, but this game at MetLife Stadium is sure to attract plenty of viewers if only to see Odell Beckham Jr. line up against his old team for the first time.
OBJ made his return to MetLife Stadium last season in a woefully sloppy 23-3 win over the New York Jets to help calm the nerves of Browns fans after a Week 1 beatdown at the hands of the Titans. Despite the nap-inducing nature of the Week 2 Monday nighter, Beckham woke up Browns fans who made the trip with an 89-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter to seal the win for Cleveland.
Now we finally get to see if No. 13 will get the chance to do the same against the franchise that deemed him expendable a year ago but is now a much different team than the one Beckham played for, led by sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones and rookie head coach Joe Judge.
Whether this game will be an improvement on Beckham’s first game back at MetLife is a mystery, but the lead-up won’t lack drama.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Dec. 28 at 8:15 p.m. ET (Monday Night Football)
For many football fans, it’s difficult to remember a time when the Bills have entered a season as favourites to win the AFC East. Buffalo hasn’t won a division crown since 1995, but Tom Brady’s move south means the Bills have their best shot in a long time to end that streak.
The problem is Bill Belichick is still in New England and he’s made life tough for Bills Mafia in his time with the Patriots. Belichick is 35-5 against the Bills as New England’s head coach and hasn’t lost to Buffalo since Oct. 2, 2016.
What’s most notable about that Week 4 game in 2016? Tom Brady wasn’t the starter.
Now, with Brady in Tampa, the Patriots start a new era and the Bills look to be the most likely beneficiaries. Can Sean McDermott, Josh Allen and company take advantage? A Week 16 clash on Monday Night Football could very well be for all the AFC East marbles and the perfect stage for a passing of the torch in a division long dominated by Belichick – if the Bills are up for it.