NFL experts pick best matchups, biggest winners from schedule release

The 2020 NFL schedule is out, and the regular season will begin with the Houston Texans facing the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, Sept. 10. Week 1 also features the New Orleans Saints hosting Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the opening Monday Night Football games will see the Pittsburgh Steelers at the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans at the Denver Broncos.

Who’s the biggest winner from the schedule release? Which games should you circle on your calendar? And which rookie debut will be the most interesting? Our panel of NFL experts weighs in.

Skip to a question:

Which matchup do you have circled on your calendar?

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Chiefs at Saints, Week 15. Two of the NFL’s best offenses in a potential Super Bowl preview. Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, plus the playcalling of Andy Reid and Sean Payton. Plan for a shootout here.

Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Chiefs at Ravens, Week 3. That matchup was stellar a year ago, and these two are bound to be among the most exciting teams in 2020. Watching what Lamar Jackson and Mahomes do is a must each week, and this time you can catch them both at once.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Chiefs at Saints, Week 15. Love that this game is scheduled for late December, by which time it’s easy to imagine both of these teams gearing up for potential playoff runs and maybe a Super Bowl matchup against each other.

Jason Reid, senior writer, The Undefeated: Texans at Chiefs, Week 1. Talk about starting off right with a superstar quarterback matchup. Kansas City’s Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson are the breakout members of the 2017 NFL draft class. Bears executives probably shouldn’t watch this one. Remember: Chicago made Mitchell Trubisky the first QB selected in 2017.

Aaron Schatz, editor of Football Outsiders: Buccaneers at Saints, Week 1. The Saints top my projections yet again this year, and the Bucs should be hugely fun to watch with their new-look offense. And of course, we haven’t gotten much of Brees against Tom Brady in our lifetimes, and now we get it twice in one season.

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Texans at Chiefs, Week 1. How can we look past the annual kickoff game? The Texans blew up their roster after losing a 24-0 second-quarter lead to the Chiefs in the divisional playoff round. Can they get any closer to the Chiefs? Or will they once again be humiliated?

Field Yates, NFL analyst: Chiefs at Ravens, Week 3. While I’m keenly aware of the fact Mahomes and Jackson will play precisely zero snaps on the field at the same time, any game in which these two are involved is more than enough to get excited about.


Who is the biggest winner of the schedule?

Bowen: The Buccaneers. With Tom Brady signing to play for Bruce Arians’ team, Tampa takes over the national stage this season, logging five prime-time slots.

Fowler: Brady. The prime-time party comes to him. He dominated the night-game circuit for much of the past two decades, and this slate of games might be his most hotly anticipated yet. Everyone wants to watch him throw to Gronk in Buccaneers colors.

Graziano: The Patriots. Five prime-time games even without Brady. Two games at home to finish the season. Their L.A. games in back-to-back weeks so they can stay out there in between. Second-half road games are in Houston, L.A. and Miami, so no road games in cold weather. Lots of folks are going to pick Buffalo in the AFC East, but New England’s schedule seems to set up in a helpful way for the 11-time defending division champs.

Reid: The Chiefs. Why? Because the schedule release marks the official beginning of their bid to repeat as Super Bowl champs. Forget the deep dives into home games, prime-time games, potential cold-weather games, etc. Just show the Chiefs the schedule. And then let Patrick Mahomes get to work.

Schatz: The Ravens. They appear to have a smooth road through December — home against Jacksonville and the Giants, then at Cincinnati — which could allow them to rest some players for the postseason.

Seifert: Las Vegas. After losing out on hosting the 2020 NFL draft, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Vegas was richly rewarded with four prime-time games at Allegiant Stadium. One of those is a Monday Night Football game that will be simulcast on ABC and ESPN. Las Vegas will get the immediate headlines and attention it sought when it lured the Raiders from Oakland.

Yates: The Raiders. The Raiders had an incredibly difficult slate last season in which they did not play a game in Oakland in what felt like a three-month stretch. This year, they have four prime-time games, all in Vegas. The league’s newest city will have plenty of attention on it.


Post-draft win totals are out. Which over or under do you feel best about picking right now?

Bowen: Steelers over 9.0. The Steelers feature one of the NFL’s top defenses, a unit that can create pressure and take the ball away. Now pair that with an offense that gets a major boost from the return of Ben Roethlisberger. I see Mike Tomlin’s team getting to the 10-win mark in a tough and physical AFC North.

Fowler: Packers over 8.5. No respect for a team that won 13 games last season. I’m not anticipating the Packers to duplicate that performance, but this is an improving defense, and the quarterback is about to have the best spite season in NFL history after the team drafted Jordan Love in the first round.

Graziano: Texans over 7.5. Only once in six seasons in Houston has Bill O’Brien failed to win at least nine games. I hate the DeAndre Hopkins trade as much as anyone, but betting against O’Brien in the AFC South isn’t a great way to make money.

Reid: Chiefs over 12.0. Complete team with the game’s best quarterback and a future Hall of Fame coach who’s coming off his first Super Bowl title. Yeah. I’m all-in on that over.

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1:31

Adam Schefter breaks down the flexibility of the 2020 NFL schedule in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Schatz: 49ers under 10.5. Those Caesars Sportsbook totals look pretty accurate to me. I’ll go out on a limb with San Francisco. I can’t deny the good talent and strong coaching, but there’s a good chance the 49ers are going to hit the Plexiglas Principle after improving so much last season, especially on defense, where teams tend to see more regression toward the mean.

Seifert: Bears under 8.5. How many times can a team change gears at quarterback? Nick Foles gives the Bears a better chance than Mitchell Trubisky, if that’s the way their presumed training camp competition is resolved. But in a division that includes the Packers, Vikings and an improved Lions team, this could be a tough year for the Bears.

Yates: Packers over 8.5. I know they’ve been a popular target for questioning this offseason and that their point differential last season was not reflective of a typical 13-3 team, but I do think they are going to have a winning record this season. That doesn’t feel like much of a bold call for a team led by Aaron Rodgers.


Which rookie debut are you most interested in?

Bowen: QB Joe Burrow, Bengals vs. Chargers. Burrow has high-level traits, but adapting to NFL defenses is a major part of the transition process for rookie quarterbacks. Here, the No. 1 overall pick opens up against a Chargers defense with disruptive pass-rushers and maybe the league’s best overall secondary. Welcome to the league.

Fowler: DE Chase Young, Redskins vs. Eagles. While everyone is closely examining the rookie quarterbacks, I’ll be watching Young bring Carson Wentz to the turf in a vintage Washington performance. I expect the Redskins to be much improved under Ron Rivera, and Young will lead a Pro Bowl-caliber charge.

Graziano: Burrow. It has to be Burrow against a strong Chargers defense that should be healthier than it was last season. Joey Bosa up front, Derwin James on the back end. Rookie Kenneth Murray manning the middle. Burrow jumps in feetfirst.

Reid: Burrow. I’m noticing a trend of the No. 1 pick against the Los Angeles Chargers, which definitely makes sense. Burrow will start out against a strong Chargers defense. And although one game does not a career make, his first game will draw a lot of interest for obvious reasons.

Schatz: Burrow. Look, the guy’s coming off one of the greatest seasons in college football history. Of course we want to see how he’s going to do at the next level.

Seifert: Justin Jefferson, Vikings vs. Packers. Everyone wanted the Packers to draft Jefferson to give Aaron Rodgers a polished new weapon. Instead, the Vikings drafted him to replace Stefon Diggs and the Packers drafted backup quarterback Jordan Love. That’ll be a fun subplot to the teams’ Week 1 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Yates: Burrow. I could aim for some sort of witty justification of why it’s not Burrow, but why bother? He has a chance to completely rewrite the direction of the Bengals, and that all begins against the Chargers.


Bonus: What’s your early Super Bowl LV pick?

Bowen: Chiefs over Saints. The Saints loaded up for one more run at this thing with Drew Brees. But I’m staying with the Chiefs here. The band is getting back together on offense in Kansas City, and I expect the defense to make a big jump in Year 2 under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Fowler: Ravens over Seahawks. Lamar Jackson figures everything out, and the Ravens’ loaded roster does the rest. Seattle escapes the NFC after a vicious fight with the Saints, and Jackson scrambles and tosses his way to 400 yards in a near-perfect effort on the biggest stage. It won’t be enough.

Graziano: Saints over Ravens. Third year in a row I’m picking the Saints. It has to work at some point, doesn’t it? As for Baltimore, it’s scary to imagine what John Harbaugh and Greg Roman are going to be able to come up with to elevate this offense again in Jackson’s third year. Their playoff flop will only make them hungrier.

Reid: Chiefs over Saints. I could provide a lot of sharp analysis here to make myself look really smart. Instead, I’ll sum it up in one word: Mahomes.

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5:17

Ryan Clark predicts Tom Brady’s Buccaneers to go 11-5 as their 2020 schedule is released.

Schatz: Saints over Chiefs. The Saints, Chiefs and Ravens lead the early Football Outsiders projections. I think this is the third year in a row I’ve picked the Saints to win it all, and I’m just going to keep doing it until Brees slips or the Saints finally get over the hump instead of suffering a painfully close playoff loss.

Seifert: Chiefs over Buccaneers. There is so much youth and blue-chip athleticism on the Chiefs’ roster that it’s really not that hard to envision them as a repeat champion. (Remember, they advanced to the AFC Championship Game in 2018.) And the Buccaneers? Can’t bet against the reunited combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, along with a really good defense led by coordinator Todd Bowles.

Yates: Saints over Chiefs. The two most complete teams in the NFL. See you in Tampa in February.

Published at Fri, 08 May 2020 02:05:14 +0000

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