The Schein Nine

2018 NFL schedule release: Ranking top nine prime-time games

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

Yeah. That's right. My favorite prime-time game this year is Rams at 49ers. Having this old-school rivalry relevant again -- and back in its SoCal vs. NorCal form -- is gold.

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

Could this be the final matchup ever between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers? These iconic quarterbacks, two of the best in NFL history, sell the contest all by themselves. No need to discuss anything else. On to the next game!

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.

The atmosphere in Philly is going to be off the charts, as these amazing (and rabid) Eagles fans finally get to celebrate a Super Bowl title and raise the banner. Will Carson Wentz be fully recovered from his December ACL tear and ready for action? I sure hope so.

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.

Oh, and the best quarterback in the NFL is healthy once again. Aaron Rodgers against the Bears to start the season? Sign me up!

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.

New Orleans, always a fun team to watch, will have major revenge on its mind after this past January's soul-crushing loss. Marcus Williams definitely has this date circled on the calendar.

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?

It's always fun and feisty when these two teams lock horns. Ben Roethlisberger vs. that ferocious Jaguars defense is a show in itself.

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

In certain years past, this Week 1 Monday nightcap failed to generate much excitement. Not this time. The back end of this double-dip -- which follows Jets at Lions -- is absolutely must-see TV, with Jon Gruden's official return to coaching and the Rams showing off their shiny new toys.

East Coasters: Plan to make that extra pot of coffee for this one. It'll be well worth it.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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