The 2018 NFL schedule was released, which means we have more than four months to ponder the specifics of matchups that almost certainly will hold nowhere near the same amount of weight they carry now. To predict what game is the best game of each week -- or at least which game I want to watch the most is an exercise in futility. Fortunately I've got a gym full of it, so let's hit the treadmill.
The goal here is to pick the game I would not miss, the game where, if I could only watch one game that week, this would be the game I choose. Pretend you're stuck in 1984, have a single television and are going to get locked into one game. That's all you get. No Red Zone, no multiple televisions, no bouncing around channels. One game.
For instance, in Week 1, I basically had to pick between Patrick Mahomes' debut as the Chiefs full-time starter against Jimmy Garoppolo going against the Vikings, while Kirk Cousins makes his Minnesota debut. It was close, but ultimately Jimmy G won out.
The end result, because we're doing this in the 12 hours after the schedule is released and a full week before the draft, is that it skews towards recency bias. The teams who were successful last year, particularly in the NFC, make for easy targets to watch. There will be surprises along the way and there will be teams who I have no interest in seeing that looked like contenders at this time (see: the Packers in 2017).
And there will be matchups -- like some random Bills vs. Jets game -- that ultimately feature young quarterbacks that will be must-watch games for football junkies. It's just too big a gamble to predict right now. And I'm not worried about overloading, within reason, on certain teams. There's a lot of Rams games on here, but that's perfectly OK unless they magically turn into a toad.
Here's how I would lean for each week of the season:
Week 1 - 49ers at Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Fox)
It's a random game, but there's no chance I'll miss this action. We're talking about a situation where Redskins drafted him. Cousins will have an easier defense to deal with, but he is also going up against a coach in Kyle Shanahan who helped turn him into the quarterback he is today. Shanahan knows Cousins as well as anyone, and this offseason .down the stretch last year -- Jimmy Garoppolo -- going against one of the best defenses in football as the 49ers start up what many believe could be a surprisingly special season. On the other side, -- Kirk Cousins -- suiting up in purple for the first time in his career, trying out new digs for the first time since the
The Vikings open as 4.5-point favorites per the Las Vegas Westgate SuperBook.
A rematch of the AFC Championship Game featuring two teams who should be just as good or close to as good as they were last year. Assuming Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski don't up and retire, the Patriots will be fine. They lost Nate Solder and Dion Lewis, but they're the Patriots. They'll figure it out. Jacksonville should be pretty good again as well, especially with their addition of Austin Sefarian-Jenkins in the passing game and the growth and development of young players on the defensive side of the ball. Even if Blake Bortles becomes a problem again next year, everyone shouldn't be freaking out just two weeks into the year. In theory the Jags receivers should all be healthy here as well. Jacksonville will have revenge on the mind and could even be favored here. This could easily be a Jim Nantz-Tony Romo special too.
Week 3 - Chargers at Rams (4:05 p.m. ET CBS)
This is kind of annoying because of the way the NFL is shoveling Los Angeles down our throats. Did you know they have two teams there?? They're going to share a stadium but they're playing against each other right now! L.A. Baby! Still, these are two teams who could be in the championship hunt next year. The Chargers looked great down the stretch, have Philip Rivers and a lot more experience that should help them from stumbling out of the gate. This could be a huge game for them after opening up against the Chiefs in Week 1. The Rams have Jared Goff returning, added Brandin Cooks, have Todd Gurley and brought in Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib on the defensive side of the ball.
Week 4 - Vikings at Rams (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, Fox)
I mean, look, this is a lot of Minnesota and a lot of the Rams, but they should be good again. I wanted to go with Texans-Colts because it could be Deshaun Watson vs. Andrew Luck, but there's no way that right now, in the middle of April, I can honestly tell you that if I could only pick ONE GAME to watch this week it would be that. It could be Tom Savage-Jacoby Brissett for all I know. I really hope it's not. Instead give me a rematch of what was an excellent regular season game last year and what could be a preview of the NFC Championship Game with a pair of really stout defenses.
Honorable Mention: Texans at Colts
Week 5 - Vikings at Eagles (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)
AGAIN WITH THE VIKINGS. Here's the reality: they're a really good team that was in the NFC Championship Game, they just added Kirk Cousins and they clearly have a strong schedule, which will feature them playing two of the other top NFC contenders on the road in back-to-back weeks. If something has gone awry by this point, or if they get scattered, smothered and covered by the Rams, it's possible this is a mistake. But an NFC Championship rematch is hard to pass up when debating the best game of the week.
Week 6 - Chiefs at Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC)
I really will have been waiting all day for Sunday night in this case, and I've been waiting all post to include the Chiefs as a must-watch team. That Week 1 debut for Patrick Mahomes in Los Angeles was tempting, but I can't let my feelings on the Chargers sway the choices here. This, however, is an outstanding matchup of coaches -- Andy Reid vs. Bill Belichick -- and might really tell us how Mahomes is doing. He has a murderer's row to open the season, with road games against the Chargers and Steelers to open, followed by home against the 49ers, road against the Broncos, home against the Jaguars and then this matchup against Belichick's defense. Brutal.
Honorable Mention: 49ers at Packers
Week 7 - Titans at Chargers (London, 9:30 a.m. ET, CBS)
Not every International game is one where you have to set your alarm, but this one is for me. It features two teams that are really interesting to me. Both teams have franchise quarterbacks, even if we need to see Marcus Mariota take another step in his first year under Mike Vrabel and Matt LaFleur. The Titans have quietly put together a nice little defense that could make some noise in the AFC South this year, even though they're being largely counted out. This isn't even the top International matchup on the docket this year, which is particularly impressive.
Week 8 - Eagles at Jaguars (London, 9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network)
Because this game is. Honestly, I wanted to pick the Jets-Bears game, which sounds insane, but might very well be a matchup of Baker Mayfield and Mitchell Trubisky, a game that features two young franchise quarterbacks and is a nice halfway point check-in on those two teams. But it's impossible to pass up brunch with Carson Wentz and Blake Bortles. In theory, these two teams should have pretty good records heading into this game. The league has to be giddy about such a marquee game overseas on its own network.
Honorable Mention: Jets at Bears, Packers at Rams, Saints at Vikings
Week 9 - Packers at Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, CBS)
This is too easy. Unless Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are injured, retired or kidnapped, you're locking in on this game no matter what is going on in your life.
Honorable Mention: Rams at Saints, Steelers at Ravens
Week 10 - Seahawks at Rams (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)
Very tempting to pick Bills at Jets here, because we could want to watch Josh Rosen vs. Baker Mayfield. That's a great selling point even if it's late in the season and both teams are struggling record-wise and looking way up at the Patriots. But I'm going to take the Rodney Dangerfield-esque Seahawks, who are getting NO respect heading into 2018, going to Los Angeles against America's New Team, to try and take back their division crown they lost in 2017. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson will be fired up for this and I think they could surprise some people.
Week 11 - Eagles at Saints (1 p.m. ET, Fox)
Two potential Super Bowl contenders out of the NFC square off in a day game that should feature plenty of fireworks but also a surprising amount of defense. It's hard not to see either of these teams being in the mix late, what with the depth both teams have built up. This was a really good week for football games, at least as it looks good in April.
Honorable Mention: Chiefs at Rams, Steelers at Jaguars
Week 12 - Redskins at Cowboys (Thanksgiving, 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
We'll see just how good these two NFC East rivals are, but this has all the makings of a "hey sorry I can't help clean up, I need to go watch this game" situation on Thanksgiving day. I'm personally pumped up about the Bears-Lions game on CBS during the day, but there's real fireworks potential here. Plus, the worst-case scenario is both teams are awful and it's just shot after shot after shot of Jerry Jones in his box. If Dez Bryant signs with the Redskins watch out.
Week 13 - Chargers at Steelers (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Lots of options this week, including the Vikings headed to Foxborough for a potential Super Bowl preview. But don't sleep on this matchup happening in late January either. I love it when two members of the vaunted 2004 NFL Draft class get together for a game, and Philip Rivers vs. Ben Roethlisberger should be appointment television, especially if both teams are competitive late in the season, as I expect them to be.
Week 14 - Falcons at Packers (1 p.m. ET, Fox)
The Falcons haven't gotten any love here, and that's dumb because I like watching the Falcons. I think we see Matt Ryan improve on last season in his second year with Steve Sarkisian and the Atlanta defense is primed to make a leap forward as a unit either this coming year or the year after because of how the young talent is developing. The Packers, as always, have Rodgers.
Week 15 - Patriots at Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
MUST-SEE TV. Remember the last time the Pats and Steelers got together? Things got wild, with New England storming down for a touchdown followed by Pittsburgh storming down for a touchdown followed by the Catch Rule stepping in and ruining the Steelers season. They never really recovered, walking out of that game stunned and then losing in their first playoff game. The Patriots used the game as a springboard to host the AFC Championship Game and make another Super Bowl. This game will be circled on the Steelers calendar. And yes, it was Week 15 last year as well.
Week 16 - Steelers at Saints (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
This reeks of a Nantz-Romo game too, with two big-time teams squaring off. It's two straight weeks of seeing the Steelers and I do worry they might have some kind of hangover from the Patriots game, but I'm not interested in that Christmas Eve Broncos-Raiders matchup and this is clearly the best game on the schedule.
Week 17 - Jaguars at Texans (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
It's impossible to predict which Week 17 games will be watchable -- this is a division matchup and could either be for the division title, or the Jaguars could be resting players if they're locked into a No. 3 seed in the AFC. Or one of these teams could stink; last year at this time, this would have been considered a potentially good game, then the Texans looked terrible, then they were amazing with Watson, then he got hurt and they were terrible again. It sums up the impossibility of predicting the NFL schedule pretty nicely, especially before the draft.