Published On: Thu, Apr 18th, 2019

Take 5: Can’t-miss NFL games in 2019

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Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams
NFL Football – Super Bowl LIII – New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. – February 3, 2019. New England Patriots’ Tom Brady before the match. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

April 18, 2019

The NFL’s schedule release is like Christmas morning — that is, if after unwrapping all of your gifts, you sat and stared at them for 4 1/2 months before unboxing the goods.

With Wednesday night’s unveiling, we can finally start circling the calendar, counting the days and drooling over the best 2019 battles to come.

You don’t need me to tell you to watch the rematches of last season’s conference championships — Saints at Rams in Week 2, Chiefs at Patriots in Week 14 — but here are a few others you absolutely should not miss.

1. Patriots at Eagles — Week 11, Sunday, Nov. 17

Not only is this a rematch of Super Bowl LII, a battle of the last two Super Bowl winners and the first meeting between Tom Brady and Carson Wentz, but it’s also the next installment of a very strange head-to-head history.

These teams have faced each other just 14 times total, with two of those coming in the Super Bowl. The five meetings since 2003 have pitted Brady against five different quarterbacks, with very odd results.

Brady outlasted Donovan McNabb in Super Bowl XXXIX but needed a fourth-quarter rally to keep 2007’s perfect season alive against A.J. Feeley, of all people. The Patriots rallied from a 10-0 deficit to beat Vince Young (!) and the “Dream Team” Eagles in 2011, then blew a 14-0 lead at home to Sam Bradford, Chip Kelly & Co. in 2015, as Philadelphia scored three non-offensive touchdowns.

Of course, Nick Foles & Co. won Super Bowl LII — which featured the most combined yards (1,151) in a game in NFL history — despite Brady throwing for 505 yards and the Patriots never punting.

The star power at quarterback is reason enough to watch. The possibility of something strange happening only makes it more fascinating.

2. Colts at Chiefs — Week 5, Sunday night, Oct. 6

This game is a rematch from January’s divisional playoffs. Let’s also hope it’s the second of many installments in a Patrick Mahomes vs. Andrew Luck rivalry.

When Father Time eventually ousts Brady in a 12-round split decision, not only will there be a superstar vacuum to fill, but the battle for AFC supremacy will be more open than it’s been in two decades. These two quarterbacks (ahem … Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson also would like a word) are the most likely future rulers of the conference. We can only hope Mahomes vs. Luck becomes a rivalry half as historic as Manning vs. Brady.

As for meeting No. 2, the Colts should be awfully dangerous. Luck is further removed from his lost 2017 season, and a coaching staff that was duct-taped together on the fly last January (thanks, Josh McDaniels) has had another year to jell after an outstanding debut season. With former Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston aboard and Chris Ballard’s war chest of draft picks, Indy’s defense should make major strides under rising coordinator Matt Eberflus.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have a ton to prove despite an excellent 2018 campaign. Almost no offense that reached the level they did last season has been able to sustain it year after year, while the defense lost Dee Ford and Eric Berry in addition to Houston.

3. Rams at Browns — Week 3, Sunday night, Sept. 22

This will be the Browns’ first time hosting a non-Thursday night prime-time game since 2015, and their first time hosting a Sunday night game since — amazingly — 2008.

It’s easy to forget because they’ve had so little to cheer for in ages, but Cleveland fans are among the most devoted in football. With the Browns’ expectations suddenly pointing skyward, FirstEnergy Stadium will be electric when the reigning NFC champions come to town.

Freddie Kitchens and Mayfield will try to break down Wade Phillips’ scheme while hoping Joel Bitonio & Co. can hold up long enough against reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. On the back end, the team that tried to trade for Odell Beckham Jr. last offseason will be tasked with slowing him down, likely with heavy doses of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.

Meanwhile, Steve Wilks’ defense faces one of its toughest tests of the season against Sean McVay, as freakish young star Myles Garrett battles crafty veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth to get to Jared Goff.

4. Cowboys at Saints — Week 4, Sunday night, Sept. 29

This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but last year’s Thursday night meeting in Week 13 at Dallas was like a bar-room brawl you couldn’t turn away from. The Cowboys’ defense, led by blossoming star linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, battered the previously red-hot Saints offense and delivered the first major blow to Drew Brees’ MVP candidacy.

New Orleans getting robbed of a Super Bowl LIII appearance overshadowed a suspect finishing stretch from Brees, who averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns and five interceptions from Week 13 through the postseason. No one is arguing he’s washed up, but when the end arrives for quarterbacks, it does so swiftly and with little warning.

Jared Cook gives Brees his most dynamic tight end since Jimmy Graham was traded in 2015, but trusted center Max Unger retired, and Mark Ingram is also gone. The Week 4 rematch with Dallas’ defense should be an excellent barometer for where Brees stands early in his 19th NFL season.

5. Vikings at Chiefs — Week 9, Sunday, Nov. 3

It’s easy to overlook Minnesota after 2018 went sideways, but the Vikings still have one of the NFL’s best rosters. If they can piece together a respectable offensive line, they could be a juggernaut.

Most fascinating in this battle is the clash of Andy Reid’s offense and Mike Zimmer’s defense. Zimmer’s unit dictates terms to opposing offenses more than any other NFL defense, using a terrifying front four, finely tuned coverage rotations and a litany of blitzes to punish opposing quarterbacks.

But trying to dictate to the Chiefs’ offense is dangerous because Reid has so many answers. He routinely creates six- and even five-man boxes to run against through spread formations and packaged plays. He also feasts on zone coverage by getting Tyreek Hill inside against linebackers and safeties.

There should be fireworks against Zimmer’s aggressive, flat-footed zones, but Harrison Smith & Co. should also force Mahomes into a few turnovers.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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