The NFL's prime-time schedule in 2018 is flat-out amazing. Seriously, better than ever.
When I pored over the sked to compile my list of candidates for this annual piece, I found 20 must-see games. That's a robust number to whittle down from -- a much bigger "for your consideration" group than ever before. And I had to leave some juicy bouts on the cutting-room floor. One example: Richard Sherman's Week 13 return to Seattle with the Niners didn't make the cut. How relevant will the transitioning Seahawks be in December?
Without further ado, here's my list of the prime-time games I'm craving the most, Schein Nine style:
1) Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
The Rams are absolutely loaded. The Niners boast the unbeatable Jimmy Garoppolo. Both teams are thinking playoffs -- and none of that one-and-done business. Both teams are fueled by brilliant young offensive-minded head coaches: Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay make games fun to watch. I cannot wait to see them match wits in this midseason showdown. Oh, and then there's all of the intriguing newbies to this rivalry: Richard Sherman and Jerick McKinnon in San Francisco; Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks in Los Angeles.
This game -- scheduled near the end of October, when both teams should be hitting their stride -- will have major playoff ramifications, for a division title and the wild card. I'm champing at the bit.
2) Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
3) Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 6 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
The NFL knocked it out of the park with this bird bout of a Kickoff Game. Many forget how close the Falcons came to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl champs in the Divisional Round of last season's playoffs. (What if Julio Jones doesn't fall down? What if Julio snags that ball?) Both of these teams -- which just so happen to be the NFC's last two Super Bowl reps -- head into the 2018 campaign with plenty of talent on both sides of the football.
4) Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
On opening weekend, we get treated to the NFL's oldest and most historic rivalry in the league's most historic venue, Lambeau Field. This is brilliant -- and the timing is superb, as Chicago is enjoying a fantastic offseason. I'm fired up about Matt Nagy's group. In fact, I've already labeled the Bearsmy Cinderella team for 2018. There will be plenty of football buzz this September in the Windy City, with the new coach, new weapons (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton) and expectations for growth from Mitchell Trubisky in Year 2.
5) New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
The "Minneapolis Miracle" rematch -- but this time with Kirk Cousins quarterbacking Minnesota. And with this Sunday night slot scheduled against Game 5 of the World Series, this matchup makes plenty of sense. New Orleans doesn't have a baseball team. And it's hard to imagine the Twins will still be playing.
6) Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
Maybe Le'Veon Bell will stay off of Twitter the night before this rematch of last season's Divisional Round classic. The Jags, of course, made Bell eat his words. Jacksonville beat the Steelers twice in Heinz Field last season: once via blowout, once via shootout. Think Mike Tomlin's crew will enter this game with something to prove?
7) Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
So much amazing NFL history to revisit when these clubs get together. It's beautiful. And this might be the last time we see it in Oakland, with the Raiders headed to Las Vegas in 2020.
Pittsburgh is going to be great in 2018. And I'm buying the Raiders bouncing back under Jon Gruden. So, this December clash not only carries a wealth of historical richness, but it should have major playoff implications, to boot.
8) Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Rams
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 27 at 8:20 p.m. ET on FOX/NFL Network
This could be a preview of the NFC title game. And the Coliseum is going to be rocking on this Thursday night. The atmosphere in Los Angeles for the Rams' playoff game was spectacular. Now with the aforementioned newcomers joining Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, the Rams are truly ready for prime time.
This game will be Minnesota's first prime-time affair with Kirk Cousins, so it's kind of a big deal.
9) Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 10 at 10:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
East Coasters: Plan to make that extra pot of coffee for this one. It'll be well worth it.