With less than a week remaining until the 2018 NFL Draft, football fans are beginning to sing that ol’ September Song (albeit not as pleasantly as the late, great Frank Sinatra).
In any case, the 2018 NFL Season Schedules have been set.
While it is far too early to determine the significance of these games, it is never too soon to raise an eyebrow at some of the potentially great matchups that the NFL will serve up in 2018.
In an attempt to facilitate your search, here are the ten most intriguing contests of 2018 (with a couple of added bonuses.)
Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers: Thursday, November 1, 2018
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo enters the 2018 NFL season with high pedigree and even higher expectations. With the addition of cornerback Richard Sherman in the secondary, the Niners are suddenly rich with start power. When taking into account the return of Jon Gruden to the Raiders’ sideline, this one has the makings of a classic ‘Battle of the Bay Area.’ If the Raiders hope to halt Jimmy G’s hot streak, their secondary must step up. As a whole, the unit was fairly bad last season. The Raiders allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 101.8 passer rating. They also finished the season at the bottom of the league with only five interceptions. Gruden and his staff face a tall task in hoping to fix these problems, especially against a prolific talent like Garoppolo. Shareece Wright, Marcus Gilchrist, Leon Hall and Rashaan Melvin will need to bring their ‘A’ game in this one. If they do not, it might be a gold strike in San Francisco when these teams meet.
Philadelphia Eagles at Jacksonville Jaguars: Sunday, October 28, 2018 (London)
The Eagles will attempt to become the first repeat champions since the Patriots did so in 2003 and 2004. Jacksonville could very well be the team that stands in Philly’s way come February. The Jaguars surprisingly found themselves within an eyelash of earning a trip to Super Bowl LII. Can they finally break on through to the other side (as Jim Morrison would say)? That might depend on the progress of their signal-caller. The Jags invested in Blake Bortles, both literally and figuratively for 2018. If the Jags hope to become the AFC’s elite team, Bortles must play viable enough to keep Jacksonville in games. In short, he must make plays when necessary and not press when it’s not necessary. Of course, that is easier said than done. As for the defending champions, it will be interesting to see if Carson Wentz can assume his pre-injury form. The Jags’ defense will be a tough, but intriguing matchup for Wentz and Philadelphia’s offense. The Wembley Stadium crowd in London will be treated to a great game.
And now, without further ado, here are the Top Ten Most Intriguing Match-Ups of 2018:
10.) Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams: Monday, November 19, 2018 (Mexico City)
Monday Night Football will return to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City as the Los Angeles Rams take on the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs now employ ex-Ram Sammy Watkins at wide receiver, while the Rams secondary will feature former Chief Marcus Peters. The Rams have also added a great deal of big-name talent in Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, and Aquib Talib. The Chiefs have added Watkins to prolific weapons such as Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill. New starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes has finally be given the keys to the Chiefs kingdom. The Chiefs offense versus the Rams defense might be one of the marquee matchups that we see in 2018. Mix in the ‘south of the border’ flair of Mexico City, and this one has a great deal of intrigue and appeal.
9.) Los Angeles Chargers at Tennessee Titans: Sunday, October 21, 2018 (London)
The Los Angeles Chargers ended their 2017 season having quietly emerged as a ‘team to watch’ in 2018. The Chargers have legitimate potential. In boasting arguably the NFL’s most potent pass-rush duo in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Titans will have their hands full in this contest. Can the agile and mobile Marcus Mariota keep the Bolts off-balance? If he can do so, Tennessee can win this game. On the defensive side, newly acquired cornerback Malcolm Butler is looking to avenge his dismal 2017. If he can contain wide receiver Keenan Allen, quarterback Philip Rivers might be in for a long day in Jolly Ol’ England. The Chargers acquisition of center Mike Pouncey should help to stabilize the Chargers offensive line and give Rivers the time he needs to run an effective offense. Think the Chargers win this sucker. Much like the aforementioned Eagles-Jaguars contest, this will be another exciting game at Wembley.
8.) Houston Texans at New England Patriots: Sunday, September 9, 2018
Whether you love it or hate it, the collective eyes of NFL Nation always gravitate towards Foxboro, Massachusetts and the New England Patriots. This may be one of the most memorable season-openers in the team’s history. That is saying a lot, considering that the Pats have hosted five in which they have unveiled a new championship banner. However, with all of the offseason drama surrounding Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Bill Belichick, Alex Guerrero, Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola (and the list could go on), this might be a bit more intriguing than usual. In the interest of focusing on football, this game will not disappoint in the least. In what will be his first start back from a season_ending injury in 2017, Deshaun Watson will look to add to the success he had against the Patriots last year. Watson went toe-to-toe with Brady, throwing for over three-hundred yards against the Pats in just his second NFL start. Watson also proved that he could use his legs as well, by adding several quality runs to keep the Texans in the game. The Texans were considered a potential threat to the Patriots’ supremacy in the AFC East last year. With Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus all healthy in 2018, they might just have the formula to set the tone for what is sure to be a close contest in New England on September 9th.
7.) Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars: Sunday, November 18, 2018
The 2018 meeting of the Steelers and Jaguars features two bona fide Super Bowl contenders. This makes it an intriguing matchup, in and of itself. However, no one can forget their riveting Divisional Round playoff battle back in January. Most had anticipated that the Jaguars (though defensively stout) would not be able to match the point total of a much more prolific Steelers offense. Conversely, the contest went markedly different from their regular-season meeting at Heinz Field. The Jaguars beat the Steelers 45-42, en route to earning a spot in the AFC Championship Game. The Jags come into 2018 riding a wave of momentum. Also, they usually play much better defensively in Jacksonville. On the other hand, the Steelers went an impressive 7-1 on the road last year. While it is unlikely that we will be treated to another video game-like showing from these two teams, the relevance of this matchup cannot be underestimated.
6.) Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints: Sunday, November 4, 2018
The Rams will be subject to many ‘defense versus offense-type’ promotions this season. Despite having a pretty impressive offense with the likes of Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and newcomer Brandin Cooks, the Rams defense is likely to be the gold standard to which all others are compared this year…at least, on paper. In last season’s meeting of these teams, Saints running back Alvin Kamara charged through the Rams defenders for 188 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches. That’s 17.1 yards per touch. He also scored twice. Despite that performance, the Rams were victorious. However, This matchup is important for Los Angeles. In order to earn their projected status as an NFC-frontrunner, they must be able to defeat premium conference opponent. This was not an easy task for the Rams in 2017. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is never one to shrink form a challenge. Therefore, one can bet that he will be ready for the tall test which is sure to be provided by the Rams defense.
5.) Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots: Sunday, November 4, 2018
With the wealth of NFL experience between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, it is hard to believe that this will be only the second time the two future hall-of-fame quarterbacks have dueled. Given Tom Brady’s age (41 in August), and the logistical fact that the AFC East and NFC North only play each other once every four years, this might be the last time these two square off…unless, they meet in Super Bowl LIII. For years, fans have clamored for a Brady-Rodgers Super Bowl matchup. With the window rapidly closing on this possibility, each team will be playing to make this fantasy a reality. In 2014, which was the last time these two teams met, the Pats fell to the Packers at Lambeau Field 26-21. This year, the battlefield shifts to Gillette Stadium in what might be the most anticipated game on the 2018 NFL slate, at least from a fan’s perspective.
4.) Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles: Sunday, October 7, 2018
An NFC Championship Game rematch is always intriguing. Although January’s Conference Championship did not quite live up to expectations, it should be different this time. Why, you ask? Enter new Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. With Cousins taking over for former Case Keenum, the Vikings offense should be able to move the ball a bit better against the Eagles defense. It is worth a mention that NFC Championship Game standout, Patrick Robinson is no longer in Philadelphia. While that should not be enough to derail Philadelphia’s hopes of a repeat, he did create matchup problems for the Vikings and Case Keenum. Cousins is a more prolific passer, and he might look to expose some of the cracks in the defense of the defending champs. The Eagles will once again be formidable. However, look for the Vikings to be a force, as well. This one will be circled on many a calendar of NFL fans everywhere.
3.) New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars: Sunday, September 16, 2018
This AFC Championship Game rematch got the slight nod over its NFC counterpart due to how close the Jags actually came to dethroning the Patriots. For this contest, Brady and the Patriots will head south to Jacksonville. Despite the challenges presented by a formidable Jacksonville defense, Brady and company will be ready for this contest. If the Jags hope to exact some revenge , Blake Bortles must be better than he was back in January. In all fairness, Bortles played a decent game and was certainly not the reason for the Jaguars loss. However, a lack of confidence in his ability to extend plays down the stretch led the Jags to play it more conservatively as the game continued. Either way, it should be fascinating watching the Pats’ offense once again line up against the most talented defensive unit in football…and this time, hopefully with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski back on the field.
2.) New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: Sunday, October 28, 2018
Unlike the NFC Championship game that would follow, this Divisional Round contest between the Saints and the Vikings met, and exceeded expectations. Even moving past the Stefon Diggs home-run ball from the Divisional Round of the playoffs, Saints at Vikings presents a fascinating matchup between a finesse-offense and a hard-hitting defense. Kirk Cousins’ arrival in Minnesota makes this game even more intriguing. AS a member of the Redskins in 2017, Cousins torched the Saints defense for 322 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in the 34-31 loss. If he can do the same to the Saints this year, it is a safe bet to assume that the Vikings defense should give him greater assistance than that of his former teammates in Washington. As a result, this 2018 showdown very well could be another classic.
1.) Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams: Sunday, December 16, 2018
The premier matchup of 2018 could end up being an NFC Championship game preview. The formidable champion versus an improved and talent-loaded challenger. It sounds like the plot of a movie starring Sylvester Stallone as Philadelphia’s favorite son, Rocky Balboa. Well, in this contest Philadelphia’s favorite football team will be attempting to defend its throne against the hungry Los Angeles Rams. In December 2017, these two teams had a memorable duel. Nick Foles replaced the injured Carson Wentz. In what looked to be the end of the Eagles’ championship aspirations, Foles led the Eagles on two scoring drives. Philly’s road win was integral to Doug Pederson’s squad achieving home-field advantage for the 2017 playoffs. The loss partially cost the Rams a chance to get a playoff bye. This year, Wentz will be battling Goff, in what will hopefully be a full and productive start. The Eagles will be eager to show the Rams that they are still the class of the NFC. However, with the Rams’ improvements at corner and defensive tackle, they might be poised for a similar run in 2018 to that of the defending champions of 2017.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the NFL and the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC