LOS ANGELES: Today is the day leatherheads plan the next nine months of our lives. The National Football League 2018 schedule is now a reality. Leatherheads take your sharpies and place big circles around the key NFL games. While all 256 games matter, some matter more. In less than five months, the 2018 NFL season kicks off. In seven days, the NFL Draft is upon us. It all starts with the NFL Games schedule release.
This is no mere piece of paper. It is a football scheduling bible.
With that, here are the top 18 anticipated NFL games of 2018
1.) Week 1: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles —
The NFL got it totally right by kicking off the 2018 season with this Thursday night game. These two teams are more than the last two NFC Champions. They played a brutal slugfest in the playoffs last year that the Eagles barely survived, 15-10. The difference between who hoisted the Lombardi Trophy came down to one play from two yards out.
2.) Week 1: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders —
With zero apologies to the former San Diego Chargers, the Rams and Raiders are the real Los Angeles rivalry. The Rams are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Raiders have the return of Chucky, as Jon Gruden will be scowling on the sideline for the first time in a decade. Gruden will revitalize Derek Carr in what will be a key measure of both teams.
3.) Week 2: New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars —
The Jaguars should have won last year’s AFC Title Game. They collapsed on the road in the fourth quarter. Now they are at home. If Jacksonville loses this game, last year will be disregarded as a one-year wonder. Tom Coughlin knows Bill Belichick, and his defense will try to close out a game like good teams must do.
4.) Week 4: Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Rams —
Is Kirk Cousins for real? Is he the final piece of the puzzle? Will Ndamokung Suh and Aaron Donald pound him into the ground? We know that Mike Zimmer has the defense and the Rams have the offense. Just a reminder that Michelin Man Wade Phillips knows a thing or ten about defense as well.
5.) Week 5: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles —
This game would be more compelling if it was in Minnesota, given how badly the Eagles walloped the Vikings in last year’s NFC Title Game. This game will tell us if Kirk Cousins really is the upgrade to get the Vikings over the top.
6.) Week 7: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers —
The only team with as much hype around them as the Rams is the 49ers. Despite starting 0-9 last year, they went 5-0 down the stretch under Jimmy Garoppollo. This is another one of those measuring stick games for both teams, especially the 49ers.
7.) Week 8: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings —
The rematch of the Minneapolis Miracle is the epitome of must-watch television. The Saints still have pinball wizards Sean Payton and Drew Brees, but a great running game has them more balanced on offense. Again, we shall see if Kirk Cousins will just ride a great defense or be the team leader.
8.) Week 8: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills —
The Bills finally ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought by eking into the playoffs at 9-7. This game will tell us if they are serious about taking the next step or still one of three AFC East doormats for Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots machine.
9.) Week 9: Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers —
Despite playing only once every four years, these teams hate each other. Jon Gruden will face less pressure given that Mark Davis does not appear to outwardly consider this as much of a blood feud as his father, the late Al Davis did. Jimmy Garoppollo will be one of two wild cards. The second one will be if the Raiders finally improved their secondary.
10.) Week 9: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens —
Break out the defibrillators and the smelling salts. This game is still an old-school head-knocker. These teams have been mirror images of each other for some time, and John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin have a mutual respect that brings back memories of old-time football. As usual, this game could decide the AFC North.
11.) Week 12: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints —
Indoors, this could be a track meet. Both Matt Ryan and Drew Brees know how to sling it. This game could decide the AFC South.
12.) Week 14: Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers —
While Minnesota is Green Bay’s main rival, this game ranks higher because it occurs later in the season. Can the dome team win a cold weather game with the most rabid fan base cheering against them? Does Aaron Rodgers have enough weapons?
13.) Week 15: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers —
This used to be among the NFC’s nastiest rivalries before San Francisco fell on hard times when Jim Harbaugh left to go to college. The Legion of Boom is now dead. Richard Sherman faces off against his old team. This game will tell us whether the Seahawks need to reload or rebuild entirely. It could also determine whether Pete Carroll stays around or retires.
14.) Week 15: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers —
Normally this game would be considered overrated given that the Patriots always seem to beat the Steelers going back to 2004. However, the Steelers feel they were genuinely robbed last season. The NFL finally decided what a catch is, but that will not take away last year’s playoff game. Pittsburgh is burning for revenge, but the Patriots never seem to care.
15.) Week 15: Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams —
Last year this game became an instant classic as the top two draft picks faced off for the first time. Yet it also saw Carson Wentz get injured and replaced with Nick Foles. The Eagles won that game en route to winning it all, but the big story here is not Wentz or Foles. It is Jared Goff. The Rams lost this game at home. Now they get another short at home. A loss here would seriously damage them psychologically.
16.) Week 15: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers —
Lost in all the hype about New Orleans and Atlanta is a Carolina Panthers team that still has a star quarterback in Cam Newton and a nasty defense. Ron Rivera has been a great leader, but the Panthers must win this game to have a shot in the NFC South. Turmoil surrounding Carolina’s ownership could be an unnecessary distraction.
17.) Week 16: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders —
This Monday Night Football game brings Christmas Eve to the Black Hole. Did John Elway draft the right quarterback in 2018? Can Von Miller and the Denver defense wreak havoc now that Was Phillips is no longer the defensive coordinator? A loss at the hated Raiders could get Coach Vance Joseph fired on Black Monday. The Broncos are led by defense and the Raiders are by offense. If Denver gets their signal caller, we will see if the Raiders get their cornerbacks and safeties.
18.) Week 17: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs —
This could decide the AFC West. Derek carr has played some of his worst games against the Chiefs, but he was brilliant against them last year in Oakland. This will come down to whether Walrus Lite nay Reid truly has his quarterback of the future. Alex Smith was more than a dink and dunk game manager only when Reid took the shackles off. Patrick Mahomes looked great in a meaningless finale last year. This game could be for much higher stakes. Jon Gruden and Andy Reid know each other very well. for the players, familiarity breeds contempt. Khalil Mack is excited about greeting Mahomes and belting him to the ground.
Let the 2018 NFL Games begin.
Lede Image: Photo by Robert Villalta from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/football-stadium-during-night-200986/