The schedule is out, and our popcorn is ready!
The NFL is better, more competitive and more unpredictable than ever before. In a related note: This year’s prime-time schedule is off the charts. Whittling that pool of games down to the select list of five gems that you’ll find below was no easy task. So many compelling matchups, so many enticing teams and players.
Related: Top Superbowl Contenders for 2020
Here’s my ranking of the best NFL primetime games in the 2020 season, presented in countdown style:
Best Primetime Games in the 2020 NFL season
5) San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
I love NFL history, and this game oozes it. In the regular season and playoffs, these two teams have faced off 36 times, with Dallas holding a slight 18-17-1 edge. Furthermore, this particular Week 15 matchup could — check that: should — feature major playoff implications, as I expect these two teams to win their respective divisions.
These were two of the most prolific offenses in the NFL last season — Dallas ranked first in total yards, while San Francisco scored the second-most points — and each added an enticing playmaker in last month’s first round. CeeDee Lamb, as mentioned above, was highway robbery for the Cowboys at No. 17. Eight picks later, the 49ers scooped up Brandon Aiyuk, who brings even more catch-and-run ability to Kyle Shanahan’s already-explosive offense.
The storied franchises, the classic uniforms, the loaded rosters — it’s all here in this Sunday night beaut.
4) New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 21 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Vegas, baby! Vegas!!! Yes, on the second Monday of the regular season, the NFL officially kicks off in Las Vegas. I can’t wait for the sights and sounds, the glitz and glamour. And you know Drew Brees and Sean Payton will want to spoil Jon Gruden’s housewarming party.
And then there’s the Derek Carr angle. Is he really Gruden’s guy long term? After opening up the season on the road (at Carolina), Carr will be squarely in the spotlight in this prime-time bout. Will the 29-year-old be able to keep up with his 41-year-old signal-calling counterpart? After this game, the Raiders visit New England, host Buffalo and travel to Kansas City. What will Carr’s status be when Las Vegas hits the bye in Week 6. If Carr struggles, how quickly will Gruden start imagining Marcus Mariota as this year’s Ryan Tannehill?
3) Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 15 at 8:20 p.m. ET on Fox/NFL Network/Amazon
Patty Mahomes against Sean McDermott’s defense in front of the amazing and passionate fans in lovely Western New York? Buckle up, buttercup! The scene in Buffalo is going to be wild, with the defending champs coming to town with the sun down and the juices flowing for Bills Mafia. I’m so excited I might jump through a table! This could be a playoff preview, too. I anticipate the Chiefs will win their fifth straight AFC West title. And yes, I expect the Bills to take the AFC East for the first time since 1995.
Any time Mahomes is on in prime time — with the electric Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce by his side — the viewing offers sizzle. Can’t wait to see him go against a Bills defense that ranked second in points allowed and third in total D last season. But don’t discount the undercard of Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Buffalo’s revamped passing attack against Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, Chris Jones and the rest of K.C.’s underrated championship defense.
2) New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
Immediately after Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers, I had to know when he would be facing off against Drew Brees’ Saints. Two 40-something future first-ballot Hall of Famers leading two power-loaded divisional rivals with legit title aspirations. This is why you love sports. Could this replace the Brady vs Manning rivalry?
And while these two teams are set to duke it out on the opening Sunday afternoon of the season, this Week 9 date in Tampa is the one that gets prime-time treatment. Hoo-boy, I can’t wait for Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth to get on this call. Currently ranked first and second in all-time touchdown passes, Brady (547 TDs) and Brees (541) have actually only locked horns five times, with Brees holding a 3-2 edge. (Two of those wins came when Brees was a Charger.) The last time they did battle, back in Week 2 of the 2017 season, Brady got a 36-20 win while the two field generals combined for 803 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions through the air.
1) Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens
Week 3: Monday, Sept. 28 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
This is the one! The best of the primetime games for the 2020 NFL season. Seriously, did you expect anything different? The 2018 MVP vs. the 2019 MVP. Two majestic young quarterbacks and brilliant faces of the NFL (and American sports) in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Brilliant throws? Mesmerizing runs? Insane fantasy numbers? Making the impossible possible? I’m here for it — all of it.
Related: Best Quarterbacks in the NFL 2020
With this matchup occurring early in the season, we have a better chance of seeing both of these juggernauts operating at full strength. I know quarterbacks typically like to say they don’t actually compete against each other — but rather, the opposing defense. Still, you can’t help but think Pat and Lamar will be looking to one-up each other in this sparkling QB showcase. And don’t discount the complete nature of these two teams under two incredible head coaches in Andy Reid and John Harbaugh.
AFC Championship Game preview? I hope so. And I think so. It’s the AFC title game I wanted last season.
This article was first published by NFL.com.