Down time in the NFL is a myth as there’s always something going on and two of the biggest offseason events are once again happening nearly back-to-back this April between the league releasing the full regular-season schedule and the draft finally kicking off down at AT&T Stadium. While we’ve known who’s playing who for a few months now, the path to the playoffs is finally set for all 32 teams to take in and digest between now and September.
What are the best matchups on the schedule this year? From the annual NFL kickoff to Game No. 256, here are the 10 must-see games of the regular season (and a few more to keep an eye out for this fall):
1. Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams (Week 15, Sunday Night Football)
This was probably the regular season game of the year in 2017. There was the wild back-and-forth scoring of course, and who can forget about the impact it had on the eventual Super Bowl champions with Carson Wentz’ devastating knee injury. Both teams look plenty capable of making this Coliseum rematch an NFC title game preview a few weeks later and this contest will, at the very least, have significant playoff implications for both sides.
2. New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 15)
Be prepared to see Jesse James’ (no) catch replayed about four dozen times in the lead up to this one but the AFC clash between perennial division winners never seems to get old — and always seems to deliver. This should once again be a determining factor in home-field advantage in the conference and you never know if this might be one of the last times we get to see Tom Brady (above, right) take on Big Ben.
3. Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders (Week 1, Monday Night Football)
Welcome back Chucky! Jon Gruden is back on the sidelines after years in the booth and naturally his first game as Raiders coach will be on “Monday Night Football” in Week 1. The NFL schedule-makers did him no favors however, as the loaded Rams are coming to town in a bit of a homecoming for former Cal QB Jared Goff. Oakland signal-caller Derek Carr is hoping to start a bounce-back campaign on the right foot though so this could be quite the entertaining (and high-scoring) affair.
4. Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (Week 1, NFL Kickoff Game)
The first regular season game of the year is naturally a must-watch but there’s a little extra juice in this one with the defending champions opening at home against a foe they needed a late stand to get by in last year’s NFC divisional round. The Eagles won’t be underdogs this time around with the debut of guys like Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata but you can bet that Matt Ryan and company will be looking to ruin the pregame festivities and let the league know they’re aiming to get back to the Super Bowl just as much.
5. Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles (Week 5)
Naturally an NFC Championship Game rematch is going to make this list but this one is going to be a little different with Kirk Cousins on the big stage for the Vikings and Carson Wentz likely back starting for the Eagles. That quarterback battle is reason enough to tune in but don’t discount two of the best defenses in the conference trying to contain them either in a crucial early matchup that will go a long ways in the standings a few months down the line.
6. Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots (Week 9, Sunday Night Football)
Brady vs. Rodgers, need we say more? Unless those two future Hall of Famers meet in the Super Bowl soon, this might be the last time we’ll get to see them square off mano-a-mano. The pair played a thriller in 2014 during their only other meeting so hopefully this mid-season tilt brings the goods.
7. New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (Week 8, Sunday Night Football)
Look away Saints fans, if you haven’t blocked out that final play from your memories already. We’re talking, of course, about the “Minnesota Miracle” and the most incredible play in a playoff game, maybe ever. Case Keenum is no longer in the building but the Vikings are still loaded and New Orleans made plenty of offseason moves to keep the team and Drew Brees’ window open for another Lombardi Trophy. Hopefully for the internal organs of fans on both sides, this one doesn’t come down to a Hail Mary on the final play.
8. Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers (Week 7, Sunday Night Football)
If you want to talk about going for it, few teams made more offseason moves than the Rams did to close the gap between being very good and great. The 49ers didn’t sit pat either, bringing in Richard Sherman and ponying up the big bucks for QB Jimmy Garoppolo. This meeting could well decide the division title and if nothing else will be one of the most interesting games of the year.
9. Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Rams (Week 4, Thursday Night Football)
Yet another game that could be an NFC title game preview, this one is a bit different coming so early in the season with the Vikings heading west for a huge matchup between two of the biggest names in the offseason. While the offenses will get most of the press, this might be a meeting of the two best defenses in the NFC when you look at the two-deep and Wade Phillips clashing against Kirk Cousins and company will be just as fun to watch as Mike Zimmer trying to contain Sean McVay’s group.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 11, Sunday Night Football)
Congrats Jags, you know you’re turning the corner when you’re starting to appear on these kinds of lists. These two teams put together a wild 45-42 divisional round game that had big play after big play and wound up with Jacksonville grabbing one of the biggest wins in franchise history. Revenge will surely be on the minds of the Steelers as a result in what should be another fun meeting between Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell going up against Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Fournette.
Don’t forget about:
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings (Week 1)
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (Week 1)
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (Week 2)
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (Week 2)
New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 2)
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 2)
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (Week 2, Sunday Night Football)
Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams (Week 3)
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (Week 5, Thursday Night Football)
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings (Week 6)
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (Week 12, Sunday Night Football)
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (Week 13)
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.