We'll have to wait until the new season kicks off to get answers to those questions, but we're about to receive a road map that's quite handy in all predictive pursuits: the 2019 NFL schedule.
Every April, the schedule makers pull out their compass and protractors in order to cheat on their trig final, er, complete the slate of games for the fall. Actually, a cheat code worthy of "Twisted Metal: Black" is already built into this process, as the schedule formula is pre-made. Yes, the actual game order and kickoff times remain unknown at the moment, but the opponents list for every team -- including home/road designations -- is available right when the previous season ends. It's based on where each club finishes in its own division, and incorporates the predetermined division-vs.-division rotations that work in four-year cycles. That's why the Eagles don't play the Patriots too often, because the NFC East was only slated to play the AFC East in 2007, 2011, 2015 -- and now this season. You might recall that Philadelphia darn-near upended New England the year the Pats nearly attained perfection, months before the Giants delivered the lone blemish in Super Bowl XLII. New England's visit to Philly this season will mark the teams' first showdown since their epic clash in Super Bowl LII, making the coming bout one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the 2019 campaign.
On that note, below you'll find my list of the top 19 games of 2019, a mix of heavy-hitting showdowns between potential juggernauts and games offering juicy subplots. Unfortunately, the Steelers don't play the Raiders this season, so no Antonio Brown's revenge storyline. Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. isn't set to face the Giants, either, and Broncos QB Joe Flacco doesn't have the Ravens on the sked. So this year is a little lighter on the star-player-versus-former-team front.
You know where the schedule is not light? The steak. The big games, especially postseason rematches, are plentiful. What's your choice beef on the list below? Send along feedback: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
10) Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams (Week 11): A clash of divergent styles. Though Matt Nagy probably wishes his Bears could throw the ball all over the park like Sean McVay's Rams. If Mitch Trubisky is to evolve into that kind of passer, he must prove he can stay with the likes of Jared Goff, who has tossed 60 touchdown strikes over the last two seasons. Still, what makes this matchup so intriguing is not the quarterbacks -- but rather, how Chicago and Los Angeles win games, their respective recipes for success. The Bears have proven they can shut down high-octane offenses, like when they held these Rams to six points last season. Then again, that was in the frigid night air of Soldier Field last December. How will it go between two obvious contenders out in the warm environs of L.A.? Will epic defense win the day again? How will McVay adjust? Side note: This is a fantastic old-style NFL uni matchup.
9) Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints (Week 4): This could wind up being as exciting as any game on the list. After all, it was one of the tremendous affairs of last season. Dallas handed New Orleans its second loss of the season, snapping the Saints' 10-game win streak, when these two linked up on "Thursday Night Football." Unlike another memorable prime-time bout from 2018 -- Chiefs-Rams, the track meet to end all track meets -- the Cowboys and Saints duked it out in a defensive slugfest. Every single drive meant something. Points were at a premium, with the game ultimately coming down to the NFC's top quarterback getting the ball in his hand with a chance to win the game. It ended up in the Cowboys' hands. Drew Brees will have the opportunity to atone for that interception, made easier by playing in The Big Easy this time around. The only reason this matchup isn't higher is because these franchises seem to meet often, schedule be darned.
8) Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears (Week 16): Matt Nagy owns unique insight into Patrick Mahomes' career, considering he was the reigning MVP's first offensive coordinator in the league and probably had much to do with Andy Reid feeling like he could move forward with the young quarterback. Nagy's last year in Kansas City was not only Mahomes' first, but also Alex Smith's last -- you know, when Smith led the NFL in passer rating. Now Nagy is trying to do the same quality work with Mitch Trubisky, but his new team's strength is actually its top-flight defense. That Bears' unit will be charged with stopping Mahomes and the most explosive offense going right now. Ex-Raider Khalil Mack is more than familiar with this group, having routinely wreaked havoc on the Chiefs back when he played in the AFC West. This game is made better in that it is a rare occurrence, and sports a sweet -- if underappreciated -- uni matchup.
7) Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots (Week 8): Are the Browns ready to rumble through the AFC? Can this team equal the Cleveland clubs of 1986 and '87 that came thisclose to making the Super Bowl? This matchup looms as the ultimate litmus test -- considering the game will be in Foxborough, a litmus test on steroids. The Browns were pesky last year, with an upstart quarterback and emerging defense in tow. Now the shores of Lake Erie will feature an offense that boasts not one but two WR1s, and a running back in Nick Chubb who really didn't get the attention he deserved as a rookie standout last year. Can Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. make enough plays to keep up with Tom Brady at Gillette? The Patriots' offense won't be the same without Rob Gronkowski. Then again, the game could feature Josh Gordon going up against his old employer. Pretty damn good.
6) Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 8):Packers at Chiefs represents one of the more unique games on the 2019 slate. These two franchises don't square off much -- just once every four years -- so we don't see the Super Bowl I rematch often. The last time they played at Arrowhead back in 2011, the Packers were 13-0, then proceeded to get pounded by a ferocious Kansas City pass rush and lose their first game of the season. Neither of those factors are why this makes the top 10 of this year's upcoming games. This might be the lone time we ever see Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes go against one another. Rodgers will be closing in on 40 years old the next time the schedule allows for the Packers and Chiefs to play one another. It was during that 2011 season that Rodgers won his first MVP, tossing 45 touchdown passes in the pocket, out of the pocket and sometimes from different arm angles -- sound familiar? Watching Rodgers and Mahomes go back and forth should be quite the treat.
5) Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints (Week 15): The kind of matchup you could easily miss whilst perusing the schedule for the first time. But when all things are considered, it's one of the fantastic inter-conference showdowns this year. The Colts proved they belonged in the postseason last year, and with all of their young talent, should be serious contenders in 2019. New Orleans is a bona fide Super Bowl threat. And what a gem of a quarterback matchup. Unless Indy and New Orleans meet in the Super Bowl rather soon, we will never see Andrew Luck and Drew Brees duel again. By the way, Super Bowl XLIV between these franchises was a far more entertaining title bout than it is has been ordained over the years.
4) Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys (Week 15): A classic old-school NFC matchup and a rematch of last season's divisional playoff game. Did you know that the Rams and Cowboys have met in the postseason nine times? That's more than any other two teams in NFL history. Last they played in the regular season, Los Angeles won a thriller that was really two different affairs packed into one. After letting Dallas go up and down the field in the first half, Wade Phillips' defense closed the door in in the final two quarters to win one of the wilder games of 2017. In fact, the preseason meeting in 2016 between the Rams and Cowboys was the first time the Dak Prescott hype train began chugging, even though everyone was at the Coliseum to see first overall pick Jared Goff in action. Prescott easily outperformed the much-ballyhooed Goff that season, but the latter has leapfrogged him since, becoming as prolific as any passer in the league over the last two years. Then again, Dallas' defense is as stout as any L.A. will face this season. The 'Boys will also be at home. This could be a game with serious playoff-seeding implications.
3) New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles (Week 11): Could be the top game on this list. It certainly registers as the premier inter-conference matchup of 2019. This is not only a rematch of that tremendous Super Bowl two Februarys ago -- it also features each of the last two Super Bowlwinners playing each other. You don't see that every day. The difference this time around is mostly under center. Namely, Carson Wentz, who watched from the sideline as Nick Foles brought Philadelphia its first Lombardi Trophy while taking home Super Bowl MVP honors. Wentz also wasn't available for last year's postseason run, and with Foles now in Jacksonville (and a living Eagles legend), the former No. 2 overall pick oddly has much to live up to -- even if he is already the superior player to Foles. Tom Brady's resume is superior to every quarterback, but without Rob Gronkowski, this 2019 showpiece should be an even match.
2) Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (Week 14): The AFC title game rematch, which actually might have been more exciting than its much-discussed NFC counterpart. If we are to really laser in on why the 2019 version could be special, start with the fact that the outcome could determine home-field in the AFC, especially with the balance of power unlikely to shift epically, at least not this season. Also, consider that there never has been a QB battle quite like Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes. No QB over 40 has ever started a game against a signal-caller who is the reigning MVP ... and 18 years his junior. An undercurrent to what could be an instant classic: the chess match between the Patriots offense and Chiefs defense. K.C. will no longer have to account for Rob Gronkowski, which will actually make a huge difference in the run game -- that's where New England produced much of its damage in the 2018 postseason. Meanwhile, the Chiefs will be trying to pass-rush by committee, which means they'll probably play numbers on the back end most of the game. Both losses to the Pats last year came because of the pass rush -- the first on a phantom-sack-turned-Brady-touchdown-toss, the second on a neutral-zone infraction. This season's version should be another close deal.
1) New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams (Week 2): Well, you can guess why Saints at Rams is top shelf on the 2019 NFL schedule. Sure, the PI not heard around the football world adds intrigue, but there is much more to this scintillating matchup than what transpired in January. Start with two fun quarterbacks to watch, one a wily vet who climbs the pocket, the other a young master of play-action who grows every week. Behind Drew Brees and Jared Goff stand dynamic tailbacks in Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley. Both New Orleans' and Los Angeles' defenses were dialed-in down the stretch last year and should be improved this season, notably in the pass-rush department. The Rams added Clay Matthews; the Saints will hopefully get a much healthier season from Marcus Davenport. All that aside, which NFL team is clearly superior to these two? Right. We might see a repeat of the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the Cowboys and 49ers pulled it off 25 years ago.