COMMENCE THE COUNTDOWN: NFL’s 30 most anticipated matchups on the 2020 calendar

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Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and NFL MVP Lamar Jackson cumulatively tallied 696 yards and four touchdowns in last year's high-stakes shootout, a 33-28 Kansas City win.

It’s official!

The NFL will release its regular-season schedule on Thursday (preseason games likely to be announced Wednesday), with the league apparently sticking to an original starting date of Sept. 10.

With things progressing nicely, BATSBY Sports offers an important first step in embracing normal in our every-day sporting lives … by breaking down the 30 most anticipated games of the 2020 calendar.

(Times/dates will come on Thursday — duh.)

And while you’re perusing this riveting and lengthy piece, take a few minutes to reflect on the amazing life and times of Hall of Famer Don Shula (clip below), the NFL’s winningest head coach (347 combined wins), who died Monday morning.

30 — VIKINGS @ PACKERS
SKINNY: Let’s start with a classic rivalry, likely featuring the two best teams in the NFC North, even though neither the Packers nor Vikings have surpassed 24 points in their last three meetings.

The quarterback matchup of Aaron Rodgers vs. Kirk Cousins looks great on paper; but then again, Rodgers hasn’t shredded the Minnesota defense since December 2016.

29 — CHARGERS @ BUCS
SKINNY:
The Chargers are teeming with tangible talent, depth and big-time playmakers at nearly every position, minus the quarterbacking slot. Of course, the franchise went all-in on correcting that glaring hole in the April draft, selecting Oregon passer Justin Herbert (No. 6 overall).

If Herbert can hit the ground running on Day 1, the Chargers have a decent chance of usurping the Chiefs as AFC West champs. If not, a matchup of Tyrod Taylor vs. Tom Brady doesn’t sound so sexy, on paper.

28 — RAVENS @ PATRIOTS
SKINNY:
The Patriots no longer have the G.O.A.T. running the show on offense, but the defense (1st in points allowed, 1st in interceptions last season) can certainly carry New England to playoff contention, thanks to its resident standing in the middling AFC East.

Which brings us to this: Do you really think Bill Belichick has an ounce of ‘tanking’ in his soul? He currently owns the greatest winning percentage of any head coach in NFL history (.683) and stands just 55 victories from Don Shula’s all-time record (328).

From a head-to-head standpoint, the Patriots will have a plausible chance at getting revenge for last year’s midseason defeat to the Ravens.

27 — SAINTS @ BRONCOS
SKINNY:
For my money, the NFL offers its best week-to-week product when the Broncos, Packers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers and Saints are highly competitive teams, given the absurd noise levels of the respective stadiums.

In that vein, it only makes sense to daydream about Drew Brees’ final visit to Denver, encountering a Broncos team that’s remarkably similar to the Saints’ construction — minus the dominant offensive line. Of course, New Orleans might have some trouble containing Denver’s recent infusion of speedy playmakers, led by Alabama rookie wideout Jerry Jeudy.

26 — VIKINGS @ BUCS
SKINNY:
Say hello to the Vikings’ second of only two appearances in this countdown, which sounds kind of cruel for a franchise which ranked eighth in scoring and fifth in points allowed last season.

Plus, from a fantasy perspective, you can seldom go wrong with the trio of quarterback Kirk Cousins (five-year averages: 4,215 yards passing, 30 TDs), tailback Dalvin Cook (1,654 total yards, 13 TDs last year) and Adam Thielen, who could replicate his 1,373-yard, nine-TD production of 2018 … amid the exodus of fellow wideout Stefon Diggs (now with the Bills).

25 — RAVENS @ EAGLES
SKINNY:
It’s weird. This matchup includes the 2019 NFL MVP (Ravens QB Lamar Jackson) and one-time clubhouse favorite for 2017 MVP (Eagles QB Carson Wentz) … before a gruesome knee injury put the kibosh on that coveted award.

And yet, would anyone be surprised if this clash ended with a 17-16 score, the gritty result of two aggravating defenses wreaking havoc for all 60 minutes? For such bitter rivals, it’s a shame the neighboring Eagles and Ravens only meet once every four years.

24 — CHIEFS @ BRONCOS
SKINNY:
The Broncos’ 2020 home slate is loaded with Super Bowl contenders (Chiefs, Saints, Titans, Bills, Chargers, Bucs), meaning the TV networks likely fought extra-hard to extract a few games from the Sunday-afternoon clutches of CBS.

Can you really blame ’em? Kansas City likely had the greatest collection of team speed last season; and yet, that distinction might no longer be the case within the AFC West, thanks to the Denver arrival of rookie wideouts Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and free-agent running back Melvin Gordon.

Of course, last year’s Chiefs-Broncos game was a dud for national audiences, with Patrick Mahomes going down early with a mild knee injury. Let’s hope both clubs are at full strength for this matchup of speed vs. speed.

23 — PACKERS @ TEXANS
SKINNY:
If this were a Super Bowl matchup, the specter of Aaron Rodgers vs. Deshaun Watson would earn a 40-plus ratings share, while attracting a TV audience exceeding 110 million viewers; and yet, it only ranks 23rd in this countdown.

Where’s the apprehension on our part? In the brief history of Packers-Texans, Green Bay has eclipsed the 24-point mark just once … or one more time than Houston.

22 — EAGLES @ STEELERS
SKINNY:
This once-every-four-years clash of Keystone State rivals always generates a flood of pregame hype, and the execution after kickoff usually lives up to the billing.

Case in point: Citing the 10 head-to-head meetings since 1979, the Eagles and Steelers produced a final spread of three or fewer points five times. There’s even a couple of occasions where both clubs were seemingly on track for a Super Bowl showdown.

That said, the shock and awe of Philly’s 34-3 home thrashing from 2016 remains fresh in our memory banks, considering it was merely Carson Wentz’s third NFL start (301 yards passing, 2 TDs).

Our only request with the NFL schedule-maker: Please save this matchup for the high-stakes months of November or December.

21 — SAINTS @ RAIDERS
SKINNY:
Without knowing any advanced scheduling leaks, we’re confident in one prediction for opening weekend: The Saints will serve as the Raiders’ first official opponent at Allegiant Stadium — the club’s gleaming, new palace in Las Vegas — for either the Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football telecast. Bank on it.

The only downside: I still can’t believe the Raiders passed on Jerry Jeudy in the draft. They missed out on potentially having three superstar performers at tailback (Josh Jacobs), tight end (Darren Waller) and receiver (Jeudy). Oh well.

20 — EAGLES @ PACKERS
SKINNY:
This is a rematch of last year’s excellent contest in prime time (Thursday Night Football), with the Eagles rallying from a 10-0 hole and posting a 34-27 victory at Lambeau Field.

Both quarterbacks were in midseason form, with Carson Wentz tossing three touchdowns and Aaron Rodgers rolling for 468 total yards (422 passing) and a pair of scores.

For this year’s matchup, fantasy mavens should expect robust numbers from Rodgers, Wentz, Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, Zach Ertz and Miles Sanders, who averaged 139 total yards and 0.8 TDs in his final five games last season.

19 — SEAHAWKS @ BILLS
SKINNY:
Get ready, America. You’re about to be served a heaping spoonful of Buffalo games over the next few years, thanks to the indefatigable presence of quarterback Josh Allen, tailback Devin Singletary (and Zack Moss), wideout Stefon Diggs and a stout, playmaking defense which finished second in points allowed last season.

It also helps the Patriots no longer have Tom Brady at quarterback … suggesting New England’s 20-year hold on the AFC East may be ending, sooner than later. As for this matchup, you can never go wrong with two golden arms who possess elite scrambling capabilities (Russell Wilson, Josh Allen).

18 — CHIEFS @ BILLS
SKINNY:
The Chiefs grace this countdown five different times; and Kansas City hits the road for every encounter. There are two ways to interpret this occurrence:

a) The Chiefs should be heavy favorites for all eight games at Arrowhead Stadium (Raiders, Broncos, Chargers, Falcons, Panthers, Jets, Panthers, Texans).

b) The NFL has unwittingly stumbled onto a perfect storm of opponents for the defending champions, likely bringing prime-time prominence to Kansas City’s slate of amazing road challenges — Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Miami, Buffalo and Baltimore.

Heck, even the Dolphins game could be appointment television. Would anyone be surprised if Ryan Fitzpatrick hung 400 yards on the Chiefs?

17 — BUCS @ LIONS
SKINNY:
If you think this juicy matchup of high-end passers looks good in 2020 … just wait until Matthew Stafford’s the Patriots quarterback in 2021, just in time for Tom Brady’s New England homecoming.

We’re only half-joking with the previous line. However, if the Lions have another forgettable season, the NFL should force Detroit to trade Stafford (fastest QB to 40,000 yards passing in league history … most QB TD passes in history with zero playoff wins) to a viable championship contender — while he’s still young enough to bolster a Hall of Fame-worthy resume.

16 — RAMS @ BUCS
SKINNY:
The NFL Red Zone channel lucked out in the biggest way last September, with the Bucs-Rams game in Los Angeles having only mild competition during the 4 p.m. Sunday window.

As such, TV viewers were treated to the NFL’s highest-scoring game of the year (95 total points), along with monster numbers from some of the biggest heavy hitters in fantasyland — QB Jared Goff (517 yards passing, 2 TDs), QB Jameis Winston (385 yards passing, 4 TDs), WR Chris Godwin (12 catches, 172 yards, 2 TDs), WR Mike Evans (4 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD), RB Todd Gurley (70 total yards, 2 TDs), WR Cooper Kupp (9 catches, 121 yards, 1 TD) and WR Robert Woods (13 catches, 164 yards).

Should NFL fans expect a repeat of last year’s fireworks? Conventional wisdom says no … but then again, we’re not in the position to doubt Tom Brady in crucial situations.

15 — TITANS @ RAVENS
SKINNY:
Let’s reconnect with last year’s biggest postseason upset, the Titans’ 28-12 smackdown of the top-seeded Ravens in the Divisional Playoff round.

It was a surprising result to many national pundits; but in reality, it was also Baltimore’s worst possible matchup of any AFC opponent — including Kansas City’s high-octane attack.

Why is that? The Titans are about as subtle as a punch in the mouth, meaning there aren’t many tricks or deceptions when encountering the opposition. They’re going to be tough, physical, run-oriented and dominate the lines of scrimmage; as such, Ryan Tannehill accounted for only 88 yards passing (and two scores), while tailback Derrick Henry rolled for 202 total yards (seven receiving).

It should be a fun rematch this fall.

14 — BILLS @ NINERS
SKINNY:
Sadly, the last five head-to-head meetings have produced an average spread of 29.4 points (three 49ers wins).

So, what gives this 2020 game such esteemed countdown cachet?

The quarterbacks (Josh Allen, Jimmy Garoppolo), running backs (Devin Singletary, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman) and No. 1 pass-catchers (Stefon Diggs, George Kittle) are all capable of bringing their A-games to this high-profile clash; and both defenses are downright nasty.

It’ll be an interesting test of Strength vs. Strength. There’s also a historical component to the ranking: Buffalo’s visits to San Francisco in 1980 (comeback win to clinch the AFC East title, while playing in horrible weather) and 1992 (zero punts for the day, 65 combined points) remain legendary outings for both franchises.

13 — PACKERS @ NINERS
SKINNY:
TV audiences will surely flock to the storyline of replaying last year’s NFC title game; but it could also be a tough sell for casual NFL fans, if the Packers cannot shore up massive holes in their run defense.

In 2019, Green Bay posted bottom-10 tallies with rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns surrendered and receptions yielded to running backs; and for those with short memories, 49ers tailback Raheem Mostert carved up the Packers for 293 total yards and five touchdowns in two meetings last season.

12 — RAVENS @ STEELERS
SKINNY:
Check this out: Of the last 13 Ravens-Steelers clashes in Pittsburgh (including two playoff outings), the teams either accounted for 45-plus combined points or notched a final spread of three or fewer points 12 times.

That’s a staggering foundation of built-in entertainment for national TV audiences. Throw in the long-awaited return of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (major elbow injury), and you have a matchup that’s easily worthy of the top 12.

11 — SEAHAWKS @ NINERS
SKINNY:
The Seahawks and 49ers provided the best intra-division entertainment last year, producing two classic affairs that greatly shaped the overall composition of the NFC standings.

In fact, for Week 17, Seattle finished roughly 20 inches shy of sweeping San Francisco and earning a top-3 seed during the playoffs.

Instead, the Seahawks were put in the untenable situation of traveling to Lambeau Field on Wild Card Weekend (a game that ended poorly).

Fast forward to 2020: The Cardinals may be vastly improved, but the Niners and Seahawks remain the gold-standard options of the NFC’s most physical division.

10 — PACKERS @ SAINTS
SKINNY:
The Saints have four home games in the final 10, tops in the countdown.

The marquee will read Aaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees, but don’t forget about the potential treasure trove of fantasy goodness from tailbacks Aaron Jones (1,558 total yards, 19 TDs last year) and Alvin Kamara (three-year averages: 1,492 total yards, 12 TDs).

The Packers were simply atrocious against rushing offenses last season (bottom-10 tallies with rushing yards, rushing TDs, tailback receptions allowed) … and Jones enjoyed staggering averages of 162 total yards and two TDs when playing indoors last season.

9 — NINERS @ COWBOYS
SKINNY:
This could be FOX’s pick for Thanksgiving Day, even though the clubs have not squared off on Turkey Day since 1972.

The only problem here: If the 49ers and Cowboys are running the ball with typical abandon, perhaps amassing 350 combined yards on the ground, this national showcase could be over in under three hours; and that includes the sometimes-tedious halftime entertainment.

8 — CHIEFS @ SAINTS
SKINNY:
The NFL has never staged a game where both quarterbacks exceeded 450 yards passing (Dan Marino missed by two yards in 1986); but if such a thing were possible in 2020, my vote would go to the pairing of Patrick Mahomes vs. Drew Brees, with the victor likely needing 40 points to secure victory.

As a bonus, the Superdome crowd should be sky-high for this nationally televised event, knowing it will likely have major playoff-seeding ramifications. Heck, it might even be a Super Bowl preview.

7 — STEELERS @ COWBOYS
SKINNY:
We’re excited about this clash of traditional superpowers, but that statement comes with a caveat: Realistically speaking, the Steelers and Cowboys cannot possibly replicate or eclipse the absurd greatness of the 2016 game in Pittsburgh, highlighted by Ezekiel Elliott’s two rushing touchdowns in the final 1 minute, 55 seconds.

In fact, the six bankable superstars from that day all enjoyed insane tallies at Heinz Field — QB Dak Prescott (319 yards passing, 2 TDs), QB Ben Roethlisberger (408 yards passing, 3 TDs), RB Zeke Elliott (209 total yards, 3 TDs), RB Le’Veon Bell (134 total yards, 2 TDs), WR Dez Bryant (6 catches, 116 yards, 1 TD) and WR Antonio Brown (14 catches, 154 yards, 1 TD).

6 — BUCS @ SAINTS
SKINNY:
Tom Brady (six Lombardi trophies, ranked second in all-time passing yards) and Drew Brees (NFL’s all-time leading passer) are certainly worthy of football’s hypothetical Mount Rushmore of passing prodigies.

They’re also the greatest 40-something quarterbacks in league history, by the longest of long shots (sorry, George Blanda).

Adding to the fun, Brady and Brees will be sharing the white-hot spotlight of the NFC South this fall, with both QBs seemingly in position for a serious run at the Super Bowl.

5 — COWBOYS @ RAVENS
SKINNY:
The Cowboys might not be serious title contenders, but there’s no doubting the allure of America’s Team, in terms of consistently drawing eyeballs to the TV screen.

It all plays into the franchise’s polarizing nature. It also helps to have a criminally underpaid quarterback (Dak Prescott), all-world tailback (Ezekiel Elliott) and three high-profile receivers (Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, rookie CeeDee Lamb) fueling a potentially explosive offense.

As for the Dallas defense … good luck in holding Lamar Jackson’s Ravens to less than 30 points.

4 — NINERS @ SAINTS
SKINNY:
There are only three guarantees in life: Death, taxes … and the Saints and 49ers lighting up the scoreboard when facing one another.

Don’t believe me? Citing the clubs’ last 12 head-to-head meetings, dating back to October 2002, the per-game averages shake out to 56 points; and that number cannot even compare to last year’s 48-46 classic at the Superdome, with George Kittle providing one of the greatest final-minute highlights of 2019.

San Francisco’s road triumph paved the way for the franchise securing home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs; and I expect similarly lofty ramifications this fall, as well.

3 — PACKERS @ BUCS
SKINNY:
How’s this for strange: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have combined for seven Super Bowl victories and 35 NFL seasons; and yet, the Hall of Fame shoo-ins have merely squared off as opposing starting quarterbacks twice in league history.

It’s eerily similar to how John Elway and Dan Marino entered the NFL in 1983 (greatest QB draft ever) … but only met thrice in their decorated careers.

Armed with this knowledge, we’re super-pumped for the third chapter of Brady vs. Rodgers, even if there are no guarantees of 350 yards passing and four touchdowns.

2 — CHIEFS @ RAVENS
SKINNY:
Do we really need to overhype this one?

This matchup features the NFL’s last two MVP quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson), the reigning Super Bowl champs (Chiefs) and last year’s regular-season beasts (14-2 Ravens).

Oh, and the memories of last year’s 33-28 classic (Kansas City home win) remain fresh, especially with Mahomes and Jackson combining for 696 total yards and four touchdowns … numbers that would have gone tangibly higher, if Baltimore tailback Mark Ingram hadn’t fully maximized his 19 touches for the day (135 total yards, 3 TDs).

1 — CHIEFS @ BUCS
SKINNY:
In 1979, the Chiefs and Bucs engaged in perhaps the wettest game in NFL history, enduring tropical storm-like conditions for three long hours … and just three combined points.

On the plus side, it was also one of Tampa Bay’s signature victories for all time, thus clinching the franchise’s first-ever division title (and just two years removed from a dreadful 0-26 start from expansion).

Fast forward 41 years. Assuming good weather conditions, NFL fans will be treated to the fourth revival of Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady — but the latter’s first turn with the new-look Buccaneers.

From a schedule-maker’s perspective, this has Sunday Night Football during the November sweeps written all over it.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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