The NFL season is back! Football fans everywhere rejoiced, as the New England Patriots were dealt a surprising Week 1 loss on Thursday Night Football. The Kansas City Chiefs went into Boston and beat Tom Brady, 42-27, giving the Patriots their first ever loss in a season opener following a Super Bowl victory.
But that’s not the only exciting game this week. The NFL schedule-makers set us up with a handful of great matchups for Week 1, so we took a look at the seven games you’re going to want to watch.
7. Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions
After three straight 10-plus win seasons under head coach Bruce Arians, the Arizona Cardinals leveled off with a 7-8-1 record in 2016. They still had the seventh-best point differential, the sixth-highest scoring offense, and the best differential in yards. Five of their eight losses came by a touchdown or less. Running back David Johnson was the star of the season, rushing for 16 touchdowns and 1,239 yards, while catching 80 passes with a 4 additional TDs.
For the Lions, they went 9-7 and made the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 65.3 percent of his passes, throwing 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. They were middle of the pack on offense and defense, and most prognosticators have Detroit finishing around .500 again this year.
The Cardinals and Lions has some intrigue because both teams have playoff aspirations, but realistically land in difficult divisions. Each team must view this as a winnable game that they need to have.
6. Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
The Philadelphia Eagles finished at 7-9 last year behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. He didn’t have an outstanding season by most measures, throwing 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. But the talent is real, and after adding wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back LeGarrette Blount, there is a chance the Eagles could have one of the top offenses in the game. Philadelphia may not be in the playoffs in 2017, but there are plenty of reasons to watch them.
Across the field, there are the Washington Redskins. Kirk Cousins had an outstanding year, posting a 97.2 passer rating and helping the team finish second in the NFL in passing yards. Gone is wide receiver DeSean Jackson, but the Redskins replaced him with Terrelle Pryor. They finished 8-7-1 last season and in third place in the NFC East.
These two teams will almost certainly be battling for third place in the division again this year, and that’s probably not so exciting on the surface. Either way, this should be a fun game to keep an eye on.
5. Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears
The reigning NFC champions will take the field in a real game for the first time since their embarrassing Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. The Atlanta Falcons come into the 2017 with a little something to prove, having blown a 28-3 lead over the Patriots late in the third quarter. Matt Ryan had the best season of his career in 2016, completely a nice 69.9 percent of his passes for 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The Falcons led the NFL in points scored last season, and you shouldn’t be expecting much of a drop off there.
The Bears, on the other hand, were pretty awful in 2016. They finished with a 3-13 record, landing quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the draft. They signed Mike Glennon to a free agent deal, and he is the one who will line up for the Bears on Sunday against Atlanta. All things considered, the Bears probably won’t be a playoff team this season but most believe they’ll have a solid defense and an improved offense.
The matchup, itself, isn’t much. This one is all about seeing the top-scoring offense from a year ago and the Super Bowl runner up back on the field. Will the 32-year-old Ryan repeat his 2016 success?
4. Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans
The Oakland Raiders surprised a lot of people last season with their 12-4 record. They lost quarterback Derek Carr right at the end of the regular season, and that played a role in their 27-14 loss to the Houston Texans in the playoffs. But not only is Carr back leading the way, the Raiders have improved their roster. They brought in the retired Marshawn Lynch at running back, as well as tight end Jared Cook. The defense still has Khalil Mack leading the way, and people are betting on the Raiders like crazy to win the Super Bowl. We can see why.
With the Tennessee Titans, this is the second full season with Mike Mularkey as the head coach and the third with Marcus Mariota as the quarterback. Mariota improved in his second season, throwing more touchdowns and less interceptions while leading the Titans to a 9-7 record. There are many that believe Tennessee is a real contender for the AFC South, and with the Texans as their primary opponent, who are we to argue with that?
The Raiders are going to score points this season, and the Titans should do fine in that category behind their own star QB, and running back DeMarco Murray.
3. New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
The New Orleans Saints are coming off a 2016 season that saw them finish 7-9 for the third consecutive season. Drew Brees had another outstanding year at the age of 37, posting a 101.7 passer rating and playing in all 16 games. The problem for the Saints was defense, ranking 31st in the NFL in points allowed. They’ve added Manti Te’o, Alex Okafor, and several others, while changing over several of their defensive coaches. Oh yeah, and on offense they also added running back Adrian Peterson to pair with Mark Ingram.
The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, will be without their former stud running back. Peterson was let go in the offseason after playing only three games last season, rushing for 72 yards on 37 carries. That comes after leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,485) and carries (327) in 2015. The Vikings were a playoff contender early with a 5-0 start, riding a strong defense. But the offense often struggled, and they ended up with an 8-8 finish.
This game features two teams that are long-shots to win their respective divisions, but seeing Peterson back in Minnesota against the Vikings is must-see TV. Good thing this one is featured on Monday Night Football.
2. Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
The Seattle Seahawks are coming off their fifth consecutive playoff appearance in 2016, finishing with a 10-5-1 record in winning the NFC West. The division has gotten tougher this season, with the Arizona Cardinals expected to be a contender, and the Los Angeles Rams improving in a big way. But the Seahawks are still the runaway favorite, still led by quarterback Russell Wilson, tight end Jimmy Graham, and a tough defensive unit with too many quality players to justify listing them all out.
The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North division with a 10-6 record, edging out the Detroit Lions by one game. Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers, and he threw 40 touchdowns with just seven interceptions last season. Green Bay was eliminated in the NFC Championship Game by the Atlanta Falcons, and with the huge addition of tight end Martellus Bennett there are many that expect them to be playing for a chance to win the Super Bowl yet again.
Some think that this matchup might be a battle between the two best teams in the NFC – apologies to the Dallas Cowboys – so keep your eyes on the Seahawks and Packers in Week 1.
1. New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
The marquee matchup for Week 1 goes the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. The Giants finished 11-5 last season with the second-best defense in the NFL, but that was only good enough for them to finish in second place in the NFC East behind the Cowboys. In the divisional round of the playoffs, New York lost to the Packers 38-13. The Giants brought in wide receiver Brandon Marshall to start across from Odell Beckham Jr., and they’re hoping to upgrade their offense enough to win the division in 2017.
The Cowboys are dealing with the very real possibility of missing stud running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games this season, due to his NFL-mandated suspension. He will be available for Week 1 against the Giants, however, which makes this a really big game for both teams. Without Elliott later on this year, Dallas will have to turn to running backs Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, and Alfred Morris to lead the rushing attack. At the same time, second-year QB Dak Prescott still has Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to throw to.
It would be a major upset if these two teams don’t finish No. 1 and No. 2 in some order in the NFC East. This game offers that intrigue alone, but don’t look past the fast that this may be Elliott’s only NFL game for a while. Get a good look while you can.