Professional athletes are a prideful lot. Setbacks can be crushing -- especially when the stink of defeat, of disappointment, of injustice is allowed to linger for an entire offseason.
As we get our first look at the 2019 NFL regular-season schedule, let's put a spotlight on games that will allow players and teams the opportunity to settle some old scores. Yes, let's dig into the ancient art of revenge.
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX
The Saints and their fans will never get over the blown pass-interference call that kept the Rams alive in last season's NFC Championship Game. How could you blame them? It was arguably the most impactful and egregious official mishap in NFL history. You do not want to be on the wrong side of that kind of history. Typically, you want matchups involving premier teams occurring deeper into the NFL schedule, but the circumstances here make this a sooner-the-better situation. In a just world, the Saints would get the chance to deliver revenge at the Superdome, a.k.a. The Scene Of The Crime. Perhaps they'll get that opportunity in January. For now, an early statement win in L.A. would register as a solid opening salvo.
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 16 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Bakermania was born on Sept. 20, 2018. The Browns -- riding an absurd losing streak that lasted 635 days -- were 0-1-1 and barely showing a pulse against the Jets. Late in the first half, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor went out with a head injury, and Baker Mayfield seized both the starting job and the hearts of Clevelanders forever. The home team's 21-17 win served as the official start of an era of hope for the Browns and their long-suffering fans, while the Jets stumbled to a 4-12 finish that led to Todd Bowles' dismissal as coach. Enter Adam Gase and a much-improved Jets roster led by promising second-year QB Sam Darnold, the player everyone thought the Browns were going to take with the first overall pick last April, until Cleveland went with Mayfield instead. The Meadowlands will be rocking on Monday night.
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
The Colts are still probably trying to figure out what happened in last January's Divisional Round at Arrowhead Stadium. Indianapolis looked like the proverbial Team That No One Wants To Play after manhandling the Texans in its postseason opener. But by the end of the first quarter in Kansas City, the Colts were down 14-0 and outgained 185-12 in yards. Andrew Luck and Co. never threatened in the eventual 31-13 defeat. Will Luck fare better against a Chiefs defense in transition? We shall see.
Eli Manning vs. New England Patriots
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET on FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
We'll find out in a week if the Giants use one of their first-round picks to add a quarterback, but for the time being, we'll operate as if Eli Manning will remain under center for another season at the Meadowlands. No matter what happens, it remains very possible -- probable, even -- that this is Eli's final rodeo with the G-Men. If so, this matchup in Foxborough will mark the final time we'll see Eli's Giants face the Patriots.
The history here is obvious. Eli has appeared in two Super Bowls, earning MVP honors both times with comeback wins over the Patriots. One can imagine a voracious pounding of this faded version of Peyton's little brother will provide some solace to fans along the Mass Pike, but let's face it: The Pats could sack Manning 10 times and win by 40 points in this one, and it won't change the fact that Eli's funny mug will always be the biggest blemish on the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick dynasty. The only real chance at revenge for New England is another Super Bowl showdown ... can't see that happening, though.
Earl Thomas vs. Seattle Seahawks
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX
The Seahawks were not willing to give Earl Thomas the long-term deal he believed he deserved. The star safety sat out all of training camp and the preseason, then suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 4. As he was carted off the field, Thomas made his disgust with the Seahawks' decision-makers clear, raising his right arm and extending a middle finger at his own sideline. It was an ignominious end to what had been a brilliant run in Seattle, including six Pro Bowl nods and a Super Bowl ring in nine seasons. Thomas is now the crown jewel of the Baltimore Ravens' secondary. You think he'll be amped to be hitting humans wearing Seahawks helmets in his return to Seattle?
Case Keenum vs. Minnesota Vikings
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 24 at 8:20 p.m. ET on FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Keenum was disappointed -- and, one imagines, a little bit hurt -- when the Vikings allowed him to walk as a free agent after the 2017 season. After all, Keenum had just enjoyed a career campaign with them, and his walk-off touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to beat the Saints in the Divisional Round might be the greatest moment in franchise history. But Minnesota opted for a fresh start with Kirk Cousins, who received a contract that dwarfed the deal Keenum would eventually sign with the Broncos. Keenum is in Washington now after going 6-10 with a TD-to-INT ratio of 18:15 in his one season in Denver, and there's no guarantee he'll be behind center when he returns to Minnesota in October. If he is, he gets a prime-time stage on which to stick it to the team that didn't think he was good enough to get them over the top. Delicious.
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX
Last season was something of a rebirth for Bears football. This exciting new reality in Chicago made kicker Cody Parkey's double-doink in the wild card loss to the Eagles at Soldier Field all the more painful. Parkey won't be around to exact any revenge -- any chance he had at redemption in Chicago surely ended when he expounded upon his disappointment to Hoda Kotb (as one does) -- but the rest of the Bears can strike back at a Philadelphia team that rudely cancelled their coming out party.
Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28 at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS
OK, OK -- we don't imagine the members of the 2019 Bills are holding onto Buffalo's lopsided losses to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII. We can't imagine the Bills' collection of millennials dwells on defeats that occurred before "Friends" premiered. That said, there are thousands upon thousands of Bills fans who will always resent America's Team because of those two games, and this Thanksgiving matchup will be just the second nationally televised game between these teams since their last Super Bowl matchup. Something tells me the turkey will be served early this year in Western New York.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
AFC Championship Game. Overtime. 31-31. The Patriots win the toss, take possession of the ball, and Tom Brady leads New England on a 75-yard touchdown drive to clinch another Super Bowl berth. NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes never steps off the sideline in the extra period. You could say Mahomes has remained chained there all through the winter. True revenge occurs if and when the Chiefs can get past the Patriots and the rest of the AFC to make their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years. A December road win in Foxborough could go a long way toward helping them achieve that goal.
Le'Veon Bell vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Le'Veon Bell didn't believe the Steelers properly valued what he meant to their offense. He told them he wouldn't play until they did. Usually, these things end with one of the sides blinking, but this was not your average contract impasse. The Steelers didn't budge, and Bell opted to sit out the entire 2018 campaign. Bell got his freedom, signed a huge deal with the Jets and will get an opportunity to stick it to his old franchise in a game that could have huge implications for both teams. It's hard to say who wants revenge against whom here. Let's call this the ultra-rare Double Revenge Game. Fun!