NFL 2019 schedule: the 17 must-watch games of the upcoming season

The draft is a week away and players are months away from strapping on pads, meaning Wednesday’s schedule release was the best opportunity for NFL fans to dream of autumn Sundays.

Week 1

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (Thursday 5 September, 8.20pm ET)

It must have been easy for the schedule czars to fill in the matchup that produced the best game of Week 1 in 2018. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers left last year’s game in the first half with an apparent knee injury, only to return to throw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to stun Chicago, 24-23, at Lambeau Field. Each team’s season would diverge from that week; the Packers spiraled into such ineffectiveness that they fired head coach Mike McCarthy in early December while the Bears won 12 regular-season games for the first time since 2006. The Bears are now the prohibitive divisional favorite while the Packers enter a season with a new head coach, Matt LaFleur, for the first time since 2006.

Honorable mentions: Colts at Chargers, Steelers at Patriots

Week 2

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams (Sunday 15 September, 4.25pm ET)

The state of Louisiana probably still hasn’t gotten over the pass interference call that wasn’t, but the Saints will get an opportunity to avenge their heartbreaking NFC championship game loss to the Rams in Week 2. Nickell Robey-Coleman’s interference with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis was so obvious to anybody except the officials that a Louisiana congressman raised the issue during a session and commissioner Roger Goodell even penned a letter to Louisiana governor John Bel-Edwards about the matter. The no-call even inspired a rare rule change in the NFL: pass interference will now be reviewable by replay. A Week 2 win won’t mend the broken hearts of Saints fans yearning for a return to the Super Bowl, but it may be cathartic.

Honorable mentions: Browns at Jets, Bears at Broncos

Week 3

Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns (Sunday 22 September, 8.20pm ET)

The defending NFC champions’ trip to Cleveland will be a hallmark exhibition of the NFL’s young star power. Between two No 1 overall picks starting at quarterback (Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield), two former of offensive rookies of the year (Todd Gurley and Odell Beckham Jr) and two offensive-minded head coaches (Sean McVay and Freddie Kitchens), the Sunday night matchup in Cleveland is an attractive matchup for those looking for potential fireworks.

Honorable mentions: Ravens at Chiefs, Saints at Seahawks

Week 4

Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers (Thursday 26 September, 8.20pm ET)

Without Nick Foles backing him up any longer, Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz will be under scrutiny not just to perform, but to complete a season. The fourth-year starting QB has had the last two seasons ended prematurely by injury. In 2017, Wentz tore his ACL, which triggered Foles’s rise to Super Bowl MVP. In 2018, a back injury derailed his season after 11 games. He’ll face off against Rodgers, who will be under scrutiny working under the first new head coach of his professional career.

Honorable mentions: Cowboys at Saints, Vikings at Bears

Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz and the Eagles will travel to Lambeau Field in Week 4. Photograph: via ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Week 5

Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders in London (Sunday 6 October, 1pm ET)

In an ESPN interview last year, Jon Gruden stated explicitly that Khalil Mack didn’t want to be in Oakland, which is why the Raiders shipped the All-Pro linebacker to the Bears. After Oakland finished 4-12 in Gruden’s first season back from the Monday Night Football booth, Gruden said he cried once he found out Mack was gone. Mack will take on his old team for the first time on a Sunday night at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as the leader of a defense that many think is the best in the NFL. It may cause concern for Mack’s old teammate, QB Derek Carr.

Honorable mentions: Colts at Chiefs, Rams at Seahawks

Week 6

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday 13 October, 1pm ET)

Patrick Mahomes wasn’t the household quarterback name in the 2017 NFL draft class. That was Deshaun Watson, who led Clemson to consecutive national championship games and ended his career as one of the most productive college quarterbacks in history. Now, Mahomes is a defending MVP while Watson is the centerpiece of Houston’s future. Fame is fickle, and it’s Mahomes who looks like the NFL’s future when Watson was once supposed to be that player.

Honorable mention: Steelers at Chargers

Week 7

Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks (Sunday 20 October, 4.25pm ET)

Richard Sherman may have been the most recognizable face on Seattle’s notorious Legion of Boom defense, but safety Earl Thomas may have been its heart. The hard-hitting safety was evolutionary at the position, but ended his tenure as one of the franchise’s best players flipping middle fingers toward his coaches. Thomas broke his leg before he was able to sign a long-term contract extension, and he returns as a member of the Baltimore secondary. The fans will likely applaud, but expect Thomas to play angry.

Honorable mentions: Patriots at Jets, Eagles at Cowboys

Week 8

Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday 27 October, 8.20pm ET)

The NFL likes identifying a primetime “old guard v new guard” game, and the 2019 edition will be between the game’s most talented quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) against the best young talent in football (Patrick Mahomes). Considered the early favorite for Game of the Year, the points should come easily with two phenomenal talents under center (regardless of their generational gap).

Honorable mentions: Chargers at Bears, Patriots at Browns

Week 9

New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday 3 November, 8.20pm ET)

Yes, the Patriots are a regular on this list. It’s the advantage they get for winning yet another Super Bowl. One week after seeing football’s future in the Browns, they get a throwback side in John Harbaugh’s Ravens. While most teams are looking to play more like the Rams and adopt Sean McVay’s high-flying style, Baltimore is rewinding to an older strategy: ground-based attacks and a punishing front seven. That’s no surprise to Bill Belichick, seemingly an expert of every style. This one will be for the throwbacks.

Honorable mentions: Packers at Chargers, Vikings at Chiefs

Tom Brady

Tom Brady and the Patriots head south to Baltimore in early November. Photograph: Adrian Kraus/AP

Week 10

New York Giants at New York Jets (Sunday 10 November, 1pm ET)

The last time these two teams met was when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 390 yards in a 23-20 overtime win for the Jets. Fitzpatrick has played for two other teams since that game, but Eli Manning remains at the helm of the Giants offense. The two teams share the same stadium and have fan bases who actively dislike one another. Sometimes, it’s OK to embrace the novelty games even when there’s a strong chance that both teams will finish under .500 this year.

Honorable mentions: Vikings at Cowboys, Chargers at Raiders

Week 11

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers in Mexico City (Monday 18 November, 8.15pm ET)

It’s the marquee game of the AFC West divisional race and it will take place in Mexico City. While Kansas City found the spotlight because of its multifaceted offense and exhilarating young quarterback, the Chargers made the AFC divisional round behind a 36-year-old veteran in Philip Rivers. Remember that the game supposed to occur in Mexico City in 2018 was the Rams-Chiefs shootout that was the best game of the year (it was moved because of poor field conditions). If Estadio Azteca is ready this year, the result should be fun.

Honorable mentions: Steelers at Browns, Patriots at Eagles

Week 12

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (Thursday 21 November, 8.20pm ET)

Behind a revamped offensive line and a foundational rookie linebacker in Darius Leonard, the Indianapolis Colts were seen as a team ready to compete in 2019. If they want to make a serious run at the AFC championship game or Super Bowl, they’ll have to win convincingly against the division rival Texans. Andrew Luck v. JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney is they kind of matchup designed to sell tickets, after all.

Honorable mentions: Packers at 49ers, Ravens at Rams

Week 13

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (Thursday 28 November, 8.20pm ET)

This will be the late game on Thanksgiving night, meaning most of us will be recovering from an overload of tryptophan and exhausted from any familial or political dinnertime arguments. That’s ideal, because nobody actually argues about this rivalry except the teams’ respective fan bases. The Falcons are looking to avenge a 31-17 loss during last year’s Turkey Day, a score that New Orleans fans will be sure to remind their Atlanta rivals of after scoring a quick joke about the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. At least Atlanta fans can needle the enemy Saints supporters with jokes about pass interference.

Honorable mention: Browns at Steelers

Drew Brees

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is out to redeem a Saints season that ended in disappointment. Photograph: Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports

Week 14

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (Sunday 8 December, 4.25pm ET)

Rematches of championship games are always welcome, and all NFL fans are clamoring for another tilt between Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, who submitted one of the most memorable AFC title games in history last season.

Honorable mentions: Seahawks at Rams, Cowboys at Bears

Week 15

Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints (Monday 16 December, 8.15pm ET)

Colts QB Andrew Luck is an extremely intelligent player who invests in future technologies and other ambitious intellectual ventures. Perhaps he can be the one to solve the difficulties of playing in a dome in New Orleans as an opposing quarterback. It’s bound to be a loud environment during a game likely to have significant playoff implications for both teams. With Drew Brees potentially in his final year and the Colts trying to re-enter the NFL elite for the first time since Peyton Manning left for Denver, this game has a subtly thrilling feel about it.

Honorable mentions: Vikings at Chargers, Bears at Packers

Week 16

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets (Sunday 22 December, 1pm ET)

LeVeon Bell sat out an entire season in an attempt to get himself a contract that he felt reflected his star power. He never got it from the Steelers and signed with the Jets instead. Perhaps Bell can be the complement to Sam Darnold that he was to Ben Roethlisberger. Or maybe he’ll be like so many Steelers before him and not be the player they once were without having received the money that they probably deserved. The scene would probably be more colorful in Pittsburgh than it will be in New Jersey, but the vengeance factor in this game will be as high as it will be in any game this season.

Honorable mentions: Chiefs at Bears, Saints at Titans

Week 17

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday 29 December, 1pm ET)

It’s a good idea for the NFL to pit divisional rivals against one another on the final week of the season, especially ones bound to be fighting for a playoff spot. These two veteran teams hate one another and are led by veteran head coaches who play a throwback style at odds with the increasingly popular trend of high-flying offenses and young coaches. We’ll learn if Lamar Jackson is the best player for the direction of the Ravens and whether Ben Roethlisberger is even competing for the playoffs without the best weapons he has ever had in LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown.

Honorable mention: Chargers at Chiefs


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