A rising rivalry between two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL will kick off the 2020 season.
K.C. brought back most of the core of its Super Bowl-winning team, which portends to another deep playoff run, especially given the uncertainty of the offseason program. Mahomes' top four wideouts -- Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman -- and tight end Travis Kelce are all back on an explosive offense that toyed with the Texans in the second half of their playoff victory. The addition of first-round dynamic dual-threat running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire gives Andy Reid another weapon to play with in an already high-flying offense.
The NFL has thrived on quarterback matchups for decades, from Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach in the 1970s, Troy Aikman vs. Steve Young, John Elway vs. Brett Favre, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, and myriad others in between. The league could be hoping Mahomes and Watson take the mantle of the next great QB rivalry. With a bevy of great young signal-callers, we could have several challengers on the horizon.
Whenever Mahomes or Watson take the field, they are must-see TV. When they are sharing the same gridiron, the stakes get even higher.
Let's now briefly run down each of the other 15 Week 1 matchups, which offers a juicy slate from start to finish. (to see the full 2020 NFL regular-season schedule click here):
Sunday afternoon games, Sept. 13
Russell Wilson carried a banged-up, youth-filled Seahawks team to the postseason last year. With changes continuing, can the spellbinding signal-caller once again guide a still-growing squad back to January football? With both of Seattle's top running backs coming off season-ending injuries, Pete Carroll's ground-and-pound insistence could be put to the test to open the season. Perhaps an ineffective ground game caused by rust and injury might force the Seahawks to put the ball where it should be, in Wilson's enchanted hands. The Falcons offer an interesting matchup for Seattle to open the season. Dan Quinn's squad improved greatly down the stretch last season, especially in the defensive secondary, where new coordinator Raheem Morris helped immensely. Will that improvement continue against DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett? The addition of Todd Gurley in Atlanta offers intrigue and potential explosiveness when paired with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Matt Ryan. Atlanta desperately needs to get the season started on the right foot. Facing Seattle to open the year at home is a tough task out of the gate for Quinn's squad.
Rivalry game in Week 1? Giddy-up. Coming off another disappointing season, the Browns once again changed coaches, with Kevin Stefanski taking over. It's on the new man in charge to ensure the pigskin gets shared in a talented offense. Baker Mayfield needs a bounce-back season and has the weapons in Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to explode if he's protected by a revamped line, and his head is on straight. Facing a reworked Ravens defense remains a big test for Mayfield to overcome. Baltimore added Calais Campbell up front and rookie first-rounder Patrick Queen at linebacker and still has a sticky secondary led by Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Earl Thomas. What will reigning MVP Lamar Jackson do for an encore after his historic 2019 campaign? Baltimore's backfield is stacked, but will a force at receiver emerge to help with the aerial attack? The Browns handed Baltimore its second loss of the season in Week 4 last year. It was the last time the Ravens fell until January. Can Cleveland get out of the gate fast this year, or will the Ravens continue to roll through the regular season?
It's a pivotal season for two young signal-callers Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. Darnold had a rocky 2019 campaign, first being struck by mono, then seeing ghosts, and getting little help from the rest of the offense. Questions persist about the team Gang Green put around Darnold. If the blocking is better, however, it will be on S-Darn to get the most out of a receiving corps rattled with question marks. Facing a frisky Bills defense to open the season could cause a flat tire off the line for Darnold and hot-seat coach Adam Gase. Allen doesn't have the same issue as Darnold. The Bills have masterfully spent the offseason buffering the quarterback, trading for stud route-runner Stefon Diggs. The Bills trio in Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley offers Allen three wideouts who can get separation from corners. Now it's on Allen to take advantage. Starting the season off against a Jets defense that was torched last season, particularly in the secondary, could be beneficial for the third-year signal-caller who is under pressure to prove he can continue to make strides.
The Raiders unveiling a shiny new stadium will wait. Jon Gruden's team will travel to face a rebuilt Panthers squad led by new coach Matt Rhule. Assuming Derek Carr isn't passed by Marcus Mariota on the depth chart out of the gate, the quarterback will work with a revamped receiving corps, led by first-round pick Henry Ruggs against a Panthers defense that lost its top corner, James Bradberry, from last season. We know Gruden is historically fickle when it comes to his quarterbacks, so Carr getting off to a good start with his new weapons will be key for Vegas. If Carr struggles at any point early in the season, Gruden won't be shy about giving the QB a quick hook. Rhule, meanwhile, gets to unleash his new offense, led by Teddy Bridgewater and a trio of speedy receivers in D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel, against a Raiders defense that is still young. This cross-conference matchup could offer some fun offensive elements if the quarterbacks are clicking to start the campaign.
One of the biggest questions of the offseason will be answered by kickoff in Detroit: Who will be the Bears' starting quarterback to open 2020? While Chicago's brass continues to give Mitchell Trubisky verbal tribute, the safe bet remains that Nick Foles will supplant the incumbent before Week 1. Foles offers coach Matt Nagy a quick-read quarterback who can better run the type of offense he desires. Starting the season against one of the worst pass defenses from 2019 could get Chicago off on the right foot. The Lions swapped Darius Slay for No. 3 overall pick Jeffrey Okudah. How Detroit's revamped secondary improves a limp defense, especially after the pass rush wasn't bolstered much, remains to be seen. Matthew Stafford might need to win shootouts to get Detroit back in the W column. The QB was on a tear before hurting his back last season. The addition of running back D'Andre Swift offers Stafford another dual-threat option. To start the season, however, the signal-caller faces a ferocious Bears defense that upgraded with edge rusher Robert Quinn this offseason. If the Lions' reworked offensive line falters against Quinn and Khalil Mack, Stafford's back might be sore just one game into a new year.
The Philip Rivers era in Indy butts heads with Minshew Mania in Jacksonville. Rivers could be the missing piece in a deep playoff run for the Colts team. It's the best O-line Rivers has played behind in eons. The addition of second-round wideout Michael Pittman might finally give T.Y. Hilton a running mate. Running back Jonathan Taylor could be a workhorse in Frank Reich's offense. And the addition of DeForest Buckner on defense provides a game-changer in the middle of the front. Most of the pieces are in place for Indy, if Rivers bounces back in 2020. Facing a Jags defense that lost its top two corners from a year ago, traded Calais Campbell, and has its top edge rusher disgruntled, which could lead to a holdout, might be a beneficial way for Rivers to start his run in Indy. Jacksonville is fully behind Gardner Minshew after the former sixth-round pick popped off in his rookie campaign. No longer having Nick Foles' shadow in town should provide Minshew some slack to help him grow. The young QB displayed a knack for getting out of danger behind a porous offensive line last season. He'll likely need to prove mobile again out of the gate against Indy after the Jags didn't use considerable assets to improve the blocking in 2020.
Another pivotal division rivalry game to open up the 2020 campaign. Aaron Rodgers and Co. bested Kirk Cousins' squad twice last season en route to the division title. Starting the season with a bout between the top two teams in the NFC North offers a titillating matchup to start. Questions about whether the Packers did enough to help buffer Rodgers in 2020 won't die down before the opening week. With Davante Adams the lone reliable target, does Rodgers have enough firepower to beat the best teams? Does the use of assets to improve the run game signify a change in philosophy in Matt LaFleur's second season? Rodgers will face off against a Vikings defense that saw a bevy of talent leave this offseason, replaced by younger pieces, particularly in the secondary. Facing Rodgers in Week 1 could be a "Welcome to the NFL" moment for several of Mike Zimmer's rookies. Swapping Stefon Diggs for first-rounder Justin Jefferson could be a net-positive in the long run but might slow the offense out of the gate. One thing is for certain, Cousins needs better protection in 2020, or he'll get hammered by Za'Darius Smith and the rest of the Packers' pass rush as he did late last season.
Two new eras could kick off in Foxborough in September: the post-Tom Brady era in New England, and the Tua era in Miami. Let's start with the latter. It's possible the Dolphins play it safe with Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick who is coming off major hip surgery. If Miami decides to redshirt the QB, it'll be Ryan Fitzpatrick's show against Bill Belichick in Week 1. If, however, Tua is medically cleared and proves fully healthy, there is no reason to believe he shouldn't be the starter. It's a big if at this stage, but the rookie offers dynamic play-making ability that could jumpstart a young roster that GM Chris Grier has done a good job of restocking this offseason. Bigger questions abound for New England, where quarterback is a question mark for the first time in 20 years. Does Belichick trust Jarrett Stidham to run the show with an offense that proved limited even with Brady at the helm? Is the talent on defense enough to keep the Pats in the playoff hunt while the offense figures it out? Consider the Dolphins-Patriots matchup to start the season a "Battle of The Question Marks" at this point.
Last year, the Eagles faced Washington to open the season, during which DeSean Jackson scored two 50-plus-yards TDs. Jackson's season essentially ended there due to injury as the Eagles receiving corps as a whole was decimated. With Jackson expected back healthy and first-round pick Jalen Reagor added, will Carson Wentz have enough firepower to return to the postseason? The Eagles moving on from stalwart left tackle Jason Peters could play a key role in Week 1 as replacement Andre Dillard will face No. 2 overall pick Chase Young out of the gate. Young could have a Nick Bosa-like effect on offenses, which would be bad news for Dillard and Wentz. The Redskins are rebuilding with coach Ron Rivera, and the biggest question continues to be at quarterback. Dwayne Haskins is coming off an up-and-down rookie campaign. Will a curtailed offseason hurt the young quarterback? Could Rivera really opt for limited QB Kyle Allen or has the offseason smoke simply been to motivate Haskins? If Haskins doesn't maneuver the pocket better than last year, he'll get destroyed by a ferocious Eagles defensive front to start the season.
We know Joe Burrow will start Week 1 for Cincy. Will fellow rookie Justin Herbert join him on the field, or will the Chargers stick with Tyrod Taylor to open the season? It rarely takes long for high first-round picks like Herbert to see the field, but L.A. has insisted all offseason that Taylor can run the type of offense coach Anthony Lynn wants to deploy. Was that all just draft smokescreen, or will the Chargers put Herbert on ice to start the season? L.A. boasts a playoff-caliber roster outside of questions at quarterback, including a stacked defense. Burrow will start his career against Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and a secondary that boasts Derwin James, Casey Hayward and Chris Harris. Welcome to the NFL, rook. Burrow is buffered by a potentially electric set of weapons in A.J. Green (if he's finally healthy), Tyler Boyd, rookie Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon. It could be a bumpy start out of the gate, however, against a Chargers D that should give even veteran QBs fits.
We've got ourselves a Hall of Fame bout. In a matchup that's sure to have Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the call for FOX, Tom Brady kicks off his first season outside of New England against an NFC favorite in New Orleans. The Bucs boast a plethora of weapons for Brady, in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, to move the ball against a good Saints defense. Can the offensive line with rookie Tristan Wirfs give TB12 enough time against Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, et al, in New Orleans? Drew Brees returns for another go at a second Lombardi Trophy after yet another playoff disappointment. The Saints are stacked for another deep run, but the NFC South got a lot tougher with Brady joining the division. The addition of Emmanuel Sanders to Michael Thomas should give Brees enough firepower to match Brady in the Superdome to open the season. Despite both squads boasting solid defenses, expect fireworks from the two 40-plus-year-old quarterbacks.
Can Arizona threaten to make noise in the best division in the NFL or will the restocked 49ers keep the Cardinals grounded? Arizona generated a superb offseason, stealing DeAndre Hopkins from Houston, retaining running back Kenyan Drake, who fits Kliff Kingsbury's offense perfectly, and snagging stud linebacker Isaiah Simmons in the first round. Toss in adding offensive tackle Josh Jones in the third round to a position of need, and it was a studly spring in the desert. Kyler Murray is in a great spot for a massive Year 2 leap. Perhaps none of the upgrades will make a difference in the NFC West given the 49ers' dominance a year ago, and the quick retool in Santa Clara. DeForest Buckner is out, but first-round pick Javon Kinlaw replaces him on a beastly D-line. Emmanuel Sanders is gone, but in comes Brandon Aiyuk, a pre-draft favorite of many. Joe Staley retired but is replaced by annual Pro Bowler Trent Williams. The Niners boast roster depth to make another run at a Super Bowl under Kyle Shanahan. Task one is dispatching a potential threat in Arizona. Dominant teams keep the rest of the division under its heel. That could be a more difficult task versus the Cards in 2020.
Sunday Night Football, Sept. 13
Rams owner Stan Kroenke will open his sparkling new stadium in prime time against Jerry Jones' squad. The Cowboys bring more than eyeballs to L.A. A star-studded offense provides Mike McCarthy extreme horsepower potential in his first season as coach. The trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb gives quarterback Dak Prescott weapons that can dominate at every level in the passing game. Ezekiel Elliott remains among the top runners in the league when Dallas goes to ice games. With the wideout triplets, teams won't be able to load up the box to slow Zeke. The offensive line might not be as dominant as previous years, but it's far from a liability. In summation: Dallas should be among the top offenses in the NFL. In the opening week, they'll have to prove it against Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. While L.A. spent the offseason watching veterans leave, top-tier talent remains on both sides of the ball, even if there is less overall depth. The biggest question heading into the opener versus Dallas is how Sean McVay will rework his offense after cutting Todd Gurley and trading Brandin Cooks. How the young coach evolves as he enters the second phase of his career in Tinseltown will define the Rams' season. McVay will be under the microscope in Week 1 in front of a national audience against the most popular team in the NFL.
Monday Night Football, Sept. 14
Ben Roethlisberger's return to the field will take place under the New Jersey lights. The Steelers were at a loss without the future Hall of Fame quarterback last season. Even a great defensive effort led by T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick couldn't drag the poor QB play to the postseason in 2019. Roethlisberger's return should immediately put Pittsburgh back in the mix in the AFC. Facing a Big Blue defense that enters the season with a boatload of questions about whether the upgrades -- particularly up front -- are cosmetic or influential, represents a beneficial draw for Big Ben. Facing that raucous Steelers defense to start could have an inverse effect on Daniel Jones. The second-year quarterback no longer has to look over his shoulder at Eli Manning. Now, however, the security net is gone. The Giants have weapons to move the ball with Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Evan Engram, even against a good Steelers defense if the blocking finally holds up. The offensive line again is a big question in N.Y., even after Dave Gettleman tossed draft assets at the problem, including Andrew Thomas in the first round. If Jones is swallowed up by the Pittsburgh defense in prime time to open the season, Big Blue fans might revolt before the season gets off the ground
Oh, look, a Jurrell Casey #RevengeGame right off the bat. The Titans' money-crunch instigated a trade of the underrated interior disruptor to Denver. Tennessee, however, was able to retain the centerpieces of its playoff offense in quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had a superb end to last season, and bulldozing running back Derrick Henry, who led the NFL in rushing. The duo spearheads a Titans offense that bullied opponents last season with muscular runs and dive-bombing airborne attacks. Mike Vrabel's team heads to Denver to open the season against a Broncos squad that added a host of playmakers outside of Casey this offseason. John Elway put quarterback Drew Lock into a position to make a big Year 2 leap adding receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler along with tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in the draft. Denver also added dual-threat running back Melvin Gordon to the backfield that already sported Mighty Mouse lookalike Phillip Lindsay. If the offensive line doesn't short-circuit the entire operation, Lock has enough weapons to contend in the AFC in his second season.