NFL schedule-makers wasted no time getting to some of the intriguing matchups of the 2019 season, and fans deserve nothing less for the league’s historic 100th year.
Are you ready for some football?
“We are thrilled to be kicking off the 100th season of football in the NFL. As a charter franchise, we cannot think of a better way to begin our centennial season by hosting our long-time rival in prime time at Soldier Field,” Chicago Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said.
From a throwback Thursday rivalry opener pitting the Bears against the Green Bay Packers, to a modern-day classic featuring defending champions the New England Patriots against the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off “Sunday Night Football,” the league has more than a few treats in store for the first weekend.
But there are plenty more exciting games to look forward to down the road this season. It is 256 fixtures over 17 weeks, beginning Thursday in Chicago and ending on December 29.
Remember, it is a marathon not a sprint. With that in mind… Here are five circle-the-calendar games in 2019:
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams, Week 2
Sunday, September 15
The bad blood is still brewing in New Orleans, so the NFL is getting this game out of the way early.
It’s hard to forget the infamous no-call in which officials missed Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman interfering with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis in the final minutes of last season’s NFC title game. Because of the blown call, the matchup went into overtime, where the Rams kicked a field goal to win, 26-23, and punch their ticket to Super Bowl 53.
Revenge is a concept often spoken about in professional sports, but much less frequently applicable in the regular season on the pay-for-play level.
The Saints, however, undoubtedly will be out for revenge after being robbed of a shot at Tom Brady and the Patriots for the championship.
Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks, Week 7
Sunday, October 20
The last time we saw Earl Thomas in a Seahawks uniform, he was flipping the bird at his Seattle sideline while being carted off the field with a broken leg in an air cast.
Now, he is set to lead a Ravens defense in need of a voice after losing long-time franchise veterans like Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis over the years.
Baltimore are already building offensive momentum under second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, and it will be interesting to see how he compares to the NFL’s highest-paid player in Russell Wilson.
Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers, Week 8
Sunday, October 27
Eric Reid will return to Levi’s Stadium to face his former team for the first time since he signed with the Panthers last September.
The safety has stayed in the social consciousness spotlight since taking a knee in protest beside Colin Kaepernick, drawing both praise and criticism (not to mention numerous drug tests) since his return to the football field last October.
But the Niners look a little different since Reid last played with them, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is poised for a comeback season after a knee injury spoiled his first year in San Francisco. His new weapons could even help get the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots, Week 14
Sunday, December 8
Settle in, because this game is guaranteed to be a treat.
The last time these teams met was the AFC championship in January, when Brady and company battled at a roaring Arrowhead Stadium for a narrow 37-31 overtime win to advance to Super Bowl LIII.
The teams had built up excitement during their high-scoring regular-season thriller last October when the they combined for 946 total yards and 30 points in the fourth quarter alone before New England sealed a 43-40 victory on a last-second field goal.
Is this Playoff Preview v.2? Maybe.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets, Week 16
Sunday, December 22
Le’Veon Bell’s departure was not quite as loud as Antonio Brown’s, but the Steelers certainly suffered without their star running back, especially after fellow rusher James Conner went down with an injury late last season.
To Conner’s credit, he filled in admirably for Bell during his holdout as Conner compiled a total of 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns.
On the other hand, it was Bell’s locker that got looted by his Steelers team-mates when he opted not to show up midway through last season, and he gets the penultimate week of the campaign when playoff implications could be at stake for his own shot at retribution.