By Lucas Kochevar
The schedule release is one of the strangest events of the NFL calendar. The day starts off with games just slowly being released from reporters and then a TV special at night. The NFL is fairly year-long already, so why not add on a special to commemorate the occasion? It's largely a strange process and doesn't deserve a TV event, but alas, it gets a whole hour special on NFL Network. The schedule release also gets a spot on LK League Notes, so maybe it isn't that strange. This isn't a prediction of each game, but I want to point out a number of outside-the-box games that I find interesting.
Week One - San Francisco 49ers @ Pittsburgh Steelers
There's a couple of games that catch my eye in week one with Jordan Love going on the road to Chicago and a 2020 draft class battle between Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. The game that catches my eye is happening at 1:00 in Pittsburgh. The 49ers travel to the east coast to take on the Steelers. This game interests me because of the storylines surrounding both teams. The 49ers are coming off a great year and their quarterback situation is, once again, something to look out for. Brock Purdy should be back and it'll be super interesting to see if he can repeat the success he had last year. On the other side, Kenny Pickett is starting off his second season against a great defense. If he comes out swinging, I think it'll set the tone for a successful season. Two classic franchises that are competing for the playoffs should be a recipe for a great game.
Week Two - Seattle Seahawks @ Detroit Lions
The plucky Lions are getting a ton of preseason hype, including the chance to play on opening night against the Kansas City Chiefs. After this game, they go home and play Seattle, who overachieved last year. The first reason I'm looking forward to this game is last seasons matchup between the two teams. The Seahawks won the game with a whooping score of 48-45. It was a track meet between two of the leagues best offenses. I can't imagine they'll have a game that explosive again, but I expect a great game between two playoff hopeful teams. It'll be intriguing to see if both Geno Smith and Jared Goff can keep up their level of play from last season. There's also a ton of young talent on both teams with Aidan Hutchinson, Tariq Woolen, Kenneth Walker III and more.
Week Five In London - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Buffalo Bills
I'm a sucker for a battle between the next generation of quarterbacks and we get one here over the pond. Trevor Lawrence finally played up to his expectations last season. He won a playoff game against another one of the leagues stars in Justin Herbert. Now, he can prove himself early in the season against Josh Allen and co. The Bills are another team that has high expectations. The media darling last season underwent a lot of stress during the season and ran out of gas against the Bengals in the playoffs. The Bills have a lot to prove and a young team like the Jaguars are a great test. Two of the AFC's contenders facing off is always exciting, even at 9:30 in the morning.
Week Six - Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Jets
This one will definitely be primetime television with the defending NFC champs versus Aaron Rodgers in the big apple. The Eagles are going to be interesting to watch. They've had a decent amount of turnover and Jalen Hurts is on the big money deal now. Another aspect to watch is the Super Bowl hangover. Many teams suffer from this and the Rams just had the worst hangover in history. I still think the Eagles are in a good spot and they'll be fine, but it's a storyline to watch. The Jets will be constantly covered throughout the season. The media loved talking about the Jets when they stunk. Now that they have Rodgers, they'll be on the TV constantly. I'm sure whatever the outcome of this game is, the reactions will be nuanced and very normal!
Week Eight - Houston Texans @ Carolina Panthers
This one is easy. The first pick versus the second pick. No matter what happens in their careers, the fan base for the winning team will hold this over the losers head. This type of game will provide the best commentary for the dialogue of "Who's better?" Outside of this, I mentioned these two teams current situation here and this does seem like a good battle between two young teams with coaches in their first year with their respective teams.
Week 12 - Cleveland Browns @ Denver Broncos
Thanksgiving week will have all the attention on Thursday's slate, but we can't forget about a solid Sunday slate. The Bills take on the Eagles and the Ravens travel to LA to take on the Chargers. The game I'm looking forward to is in Denver. Both the Broncos and Browns failed to live up to expectations last season after making huge swings for quarterbacks. With a full season under their belts, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson look to make the playoffs with their respective teams. The Browns are on my list for my underrated teams heading into this year. Meanwhile, the Broncos will probably have a better offense with Sean Payton as the head coach. This late into the season, this game could have big implications on the AFC playoff race.
Week 15 - Minnesota Vikings @ Cincinnati Bengals
This will be a very fun game to watch. Both teams are electric on offense and full of weapons. Ja'Marr Chase on one side and Justin Jefferson on the other. The Vikings also have a lot to prove this year. They were great during the regular season with Kevin O'Connell in his first season as the head coach. Despite winning 13 games last year, they flamed out early in the playoffs against the Giants. They're in a wide open division and could repeat the same success. The big question is whether or not they can get over the hump and win a playoff game or two. The Bengals also have high expectations after back-to-back deep runs in the postseason. With Joe Burrow at quarterback, the expectations are sky high for the Bengals. With two of the best receivers in the game, this has great potential to be a classic shootout.
Week 16 - Dallas Cowboys @ Miami Dolphins
Christmas weekend shapes up as another strong slate with Bills versus Chargers on Saturday and Ravens versus 49ers on Monday. Going back to Sunday, this game stands out to me. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have a lot to prove after bowing out in the playoffs last season. Being the quarterback for 'America's Team' is definitely a hard job, but Prescott has to show more than what he did down the stretch of last season. The Dolphins quarterback also has a ton of pressure on him, for different reasons. Tua Tagovailoa was having a solid season until concussions completely derailed him. Tagovailoa is due for contract extension soon, so this year will be huge for him earning that contract. He has to stay healthy for the Dolphins to compete. Outside of the quarterbacks, there's a ton of great players on both sides. For example, Miami receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle versus Cowboys cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Trevon Diggs.
These are all the games that I think the common fan can enjoy and I know I'll be looking forward to it. Hopefully, these games will have playoff implications to raise the stakes. Since this week's volume is longer than normal, I'll give a quick Forgotten Player of the Week here. Fullback John Kuhn played for the Packers for a majority of his career. As a fan favorite, Kuhn was selected to three Pro Bowls and a First-Team All-Pro in 2014. I remember Kuhn because the rare times that he got the ball, the fans would always chant "KUUUUUUHN."
Source: Image via Gregory Shamus, Getty Images