The 2020 NFL schedule is set to release one month from today at the latest, and the schedule release is definitely one of my favorite days of the year for obvious reasons. We still have to see when teams will actually be playing and where rookies land, but these are currently 15 of the top non-divisional matchups I’ll be searching for when the NFL schedule is released.
15. Texans at Chiefs
A rematch of one of the wildest postseason games in league history, the Texans will return to Arrowhead this regular season after losing an early 24-0 lead in the AFC Divisional Round in January. Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are two of the NFL’s brightest young stars, so this is an easy sell.
14. Bengals at Dolphins
I’m assuming the Bengals will draft Joe Burrow No. 1 overall while the Dolphins take a quarterback of their own at No. 5 (likely Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert), so we could see two top-five quarterbacks immediately square off in their rookie seasons. And who knows? Maybe Miami will make an enormous offer for the top overall selection and end up with Burrow, which would make the contest even more intriguing.
13. Bills at 49ers
We’ll see if the Bills can take the next step and become an undeniable top-tier squad in 2020, but a matchup in the Bay Area could be similar to the 49ers-Ravens regular season slugfest from last season. The Patriots, Ravens, Bears, and others might have something to say about it, but this game could certainly boast the top two defenses in football.
12. Raiders at Patriots
One reason Raiders against Patriots is ranked as one of the top NFL games to look forward to in 2020 is that I’d imagine Jon Gruden is going to be thrilled with the idea of not having to face Tom Brady in Foxboro, which he might have nightmares about. After the “Tuck Rule” game in 2002, it’ll be interesting to see how the game feels as New England moves forward with the post-Brady era.
11. Chiefs at Bills
If the Bills want to get to where they want to be as a team, they might have to go through the defending Super Bowl champions and show they can beat them at home. Both teams are likely happy with how things turned out (the Bills have an All-Pro cornerback and a promising young franchise quarterback), but the Patrick Mahomes draft-day trade was between Kansas City and Buffalo, which will be discussed a lot. This has playoff preview written all over it.
10. Buccaneers at Raiders
Jon Gruden won’t have to face the Belichick and Brady pairing again, but he will have to play each of them separately this year after Brady joined the franchise that he led to a Super Bowl over a decade ago. I’m expecting the Raiders will be good in their first year in Vegas, and the Bucs should be an elite team with Brady at the helm. This should be a primetime matchup in the brand-new Death Star-looking Allegiant Stadium.
9. 49ers at Saints
Many expected the Niners and Saints to be on a crash course to the NFC title game last season, but it was not to be after New Orleans was upset by Minnesota. Still, the rematch from 2019’s classic regular season shootout will get a ton of hype, and it’ll include veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders moving from one side to the other after he signed with the Saints in free agency.
8. Patriots at Chiefs
The greatest quarterback of all-time is gone, but the Patriots are still fully expected to be an excellent team under Bill Belichick and a superb defense. The gameplan Belichick uses in an attempt to limit Kansas City’s offense—knowing that his own offense might be somewhat limited compared to previous seasons—will be must-see television.
7. Saints at Eagles
“The Battle of Pennsylvania” will be another matchup to watch for the Eagles, but I went with the Saints-Eagles game instead. Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins will be returning to Philadelphia after a peculiar exit from the franchise, and he might be looking to prove general manager Howie Roseman wrong for letting him go. Meanwhile, Carson Wentz will look to have a better performance at home than he did in New Orleans a couple of seasons ago when the Birds lost by 41. Also, while Nick Foles was under center at the time, this is a rematch of a close postseason game from the 2018 campaign, so there’s a lot going on for this one.
6. Buccaneers at Bears
Speaking of Nick Foles, if he wins the starting quarterback job for the Bears over Mitchell Trubisky, he’ll be facing Tom Brady after the two were on opposite sides of a shootout in Super Bowl LII. The Bucs and Bears should both have strong all-around teams in 2020, and this could be a matchup of first-place teams late in the season depending on when it’s scheduled.
5. Packers at 49ers
In a rematch of the NFC Championship Game from last season, the Packers will be going to Levi’s Stadium for the third time in two seasons this fall/winter. Neither game was particularly close, so you could make a case that Packers-49ers does not belong in the top 15. However, Aaron Rodgers again returning home to the Bay Area will be a storyline, and hopefully things will play out differently after he appeared to get more comfortable facing the tough San Fran defense in the second half of the conference title game.
4. Chiefs at Buccaneers
The order could vary, but these final four games are probably my clear top non-divisional matchups to look out for in 2020 as things currently stand. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes have already had multiple classic matchups in just two seasons, and we’ll get to see their teams battle again despite Brady moving from the AFC to the NFC. Chiefs versus Bucs should be a lock for Sunday Night Football.
3. Packers at Buccaneers
Aaron Rodgers versus Tom Brady was just an every-four-years occurrence when they played in opposite conferences, but there’s a chance we start seeing it every year (or multiple times per year if they meet in January) over the next few years. As usual, both Rodgers and Brady should be sharp in a well-played close game.
2. 49ers at Patriots
This would have been better if Tom Brady remained with the Pats, but Jimmy Garoppolo facing Bill Belichick for the first time is still going to be great. For the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan will be playing Belichick for the first time since Super Bowl LI, so unfortunately that’s going to talked about nonstop leading up to the contest. As stated for the Bills-Niners matchup, this game could also feature the league’s top two defenses.
1. Chiefs at Ravens
Chiefs-Ravens will have the previous two league MVPs on arguably the two best teams in the league entering the season, so it probably won’t get much better than that in 2020. Patrick Mahomes (most notably with his arm) and Lamar Jackson (most notably with his legs) are absolutely electrifying, but both guys can beat you multiple ways. And the solid defenses shouldn’t give up anything too easily despite battling elite offenses on the other side. Football is great at any time of day, but you can bet Chiefs versus Ravens will not be played in the early Sunday timeslot.