The list of the 10 most anticipated games of the 2020 NFL regular season could have been one of two obvious answers.
It could have been a list of 10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers games. The networks felt that way, considering the Buccaneers will have five prime-time games in a seven-week stretch. Or a 256-way tie for first place because we’re all desperate for any games to return to our lives.
The Buccaneers will be the must-watch team of the 2020 NFL season, if there is a season. Tom Brady signed with the Bucs and convinced Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and join him. It’s a team with a ton of offensive weapons, and the curiosity of how a 43-year-old Brady plays in his second NFL home.
Brady, Gronk and the Bucs will take center stage all season, but there are plenty of other fascinating games to look forward to in the 2020 NFL schedule, which was released Thursday.
Here are the top 10, though truth be told, we’ll be looking forward to all of them:
10. Week 13: Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins
No, this won’t be a game between two great teams. But if you want to see the top two quarterbacks from the 2020 draft, they should both start this one. We know No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow will be the starter all season for the Bengals. The status of Tua Tagovailoa is less certain due to his hip injury. Maybe the Dolphins bring him along slowly, though it would be a surprise if he’s not starting by Week 13. Hopefully, we can see two of the NFL’s rookie quarterbacks face off.
9. Week 16: Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers (Sunday night)
It’s not like there’s much history between these two teams. But the teams that lost in conference championship weekend are interesting as they try to take the next step. There will be endless conversations about the financial investment the Titans made in Ryan Tannehill and the draft investment Green Bay made in Aaron Rodgers’ successor. These are two good teams with a clear goal in 2020.
8. Week 1: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
The Cardinals are suddenly one of the NFL’s most exciting teams. They have new star DeAndre Hopkins, a fun offense led by Kyler Murray and should be in plenty of shootouts. The opening-week meeting against the defending NFC champion 49ers will be a good measure of how much the Cardinals have improved over the offseason. Arizona played San Francisco close in both meetings last year.
7. Week 15: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. gets to face his old team ... assuming he isn’t traded or hurt. It’s also a matchup between young, exciting quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Daniel Jones, and both teams will hope to still be in playoff contention for this late-season game.
6. Week 12: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (Thanksgiving)
One of the NFL’s best rivalries takes center stage on Thanksgiving. The Houston Texans and Detroit Lions face off on the holiday’s opening game, then the Washington Redskins visit the Dallas Cowboys for the second Thanksgiving game. Another divisional showdown caps the day, with reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson facing the Steelers and presumably Ben Roethlisberger, who is coming off elbow surgery.
5. Week 2: New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders (Monday night)
This was going to be a fairly normal first home game in a new city and stadium. The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas has been in the works for a while and we’ve all gotten a bit used to it. But coronavirus shutdowns have hit Las Vegas hard, turning a city that never rests into a ghost town. The pictures of an abandoned Las Vegas Strip are jarring. What type of market will the Raiders be going into? One that is looking for its new NFL team to lead its economic comeback? Or a city that is still on the mat from a health crisis that has crippled the tourism industry? What we do know is that the Raiders get a fantastic opponent for their first game in Las Vegas.
4. Week 4: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
What a role reversal. The Chiefs are on top of the mountain, and the Patriots are reinventing themselves. These teams have played some fantastic games in recent years, and Andy Reid is one of the few coaches who can reasonably match wits with Bill Belichick. The Patriots might not have Tom Brady anymore, but don’t count them out yet. Their meeting against the Chiefs will be a good measure of how far the Patriots have fallen, if they do at all.
The Patriots have a Sunday night date at the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 and that will be a good look at Jarrett Stidham (or whoever the Patriots choose to replace Brady). Stidham has four career attempts for 14 yards and an interception. He might be the most anonymous starting quarterback in the NFL, which is ironic considering the glaring spotlight of being Brady’s replacement. If Belichick finds a gem in this 2019 fourth-round pick, the NFL will be beside itself. We’ll get a couple chances early in the season to see how Stidham handles tough road environments.
3. Week 1: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
The opening of SoFi Stadium is only one subplot for the first “Sunday Night Football” game of the season. Will Dak Prescott be on the field or holding out after the Cowboys gave him the franchise tag? Can the Rams rebound after losing key players over the offseason? The NFL gave the Rams a marquee opponent for the first regular-season game in the new stadium.
2. Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens (Monday night)
This is the AFC championship game we should have gotten. The Tennessee Titans spoiled that party by upsetting the Ravens in the divisional round. The last two regular-season MVPs, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, take center stage. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. ESPN gets a phenomenal matchup for “Monday Night Football.”
1. Week 1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
In 2008, we had months to get used to Brett Favre being on the New York Jets. And still, in Week 1 when he threw a long first-quarter touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery at Miami, it was weird. There’s no way to prepare for seeing Tom Brady in pewter. When he takes his first snaps for the Buccaneers, the first time he has played for a team other than the Patriots since the 2000 Orange Bowl, it is going to be a shock to the system.
And the NFL isn’t easing Brady into his new home, giving him a tough trip to New Orleans in Week 1. That’s a dream matchup between two all-time great quarterbacks.
Drew Brees has 547 career touchdown passes. Brady has 541. They’re 1-2 on the all-time list. They’re also 1-2 in career passing yards, with Brees holding a lead of a little less than 3,000 yards. We’ve seen only five meetings between the two legends, and two meetings came when Brees was a member of the San Diego Chargers (which seems like a few lifetimes ago). Now the two get to face off twice a season, as long as they’re both playing. Enjoy these meetings. The second one comes on “Sunday Night Football” in Tampa Bay on Nov. 8.
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