What's better than nationally televised NFL action under the lights? I live for prime-time pigskin, and this season's slate certainly doesn't disappoint.
The 2023 NFL campaign kicks off with a fascinating Thursday night tilt between the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and the upstart Lions in what's sure to be a raucous Arrowhead Stadium. On Thanksgiving Thursday, our football feast ends with the delicious 49ers-Seahawks rivalry in front of the 12s in Seattle. This isn't just a Thursday phenomenon, either. Shoot, the Chargers alone have must-see evening affairs on Thursday (at Raiders), Saturday (vs. Bills), Sunday (vs. Ravens) and Monday (vs. Cowboys and vs. Jets).
And yet, none of those enticing contests earned a spot in the meat of this matter.
Without further ado, here's my annual ranking of the best prime-time games, Schein Nine style.
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Joe Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence is all sorts of cool. Wanna talk about a juicy matchup with potential staying power? How about the one between these two young quarterbacks who faced off in a college football national championship game and then went No. 1 overall in back-to-back NFL drafts. And both field generals left an impression in last season's playoffs, with Lawrence guiding the Jaguars to a comeback win for the ages and Burrow nearly carrying the Bengals to a second straight Super Bowl. Consequently, both teams enter this season with high hopes.
Jacksonville is the AFC South favorite behind Lawrence and his plethora of weapons. The light went on for the generational quarterback prospect in Year 2, with Doug Pederson mercifully replacing Urban Meyer in the big chair down in Duval County. In 2023, I think Trevor steps into superstardom -- though this prime-time showdown in early December will be a true barometer of Lawrence's progress, especially given the savvy signal-caller on the opposite sideline.
Just three years into his NFL career, Burrow already boasts five postseason wins. Most impressively, he's transformed the Bengals into a true AFC juggernaut. Can Lawrence do the same with the Jaguars? This Monday night matchup will be telling!
America's Team vs. America's bandwagon! Football fans either love or hate the Cowboys, which is always good for business. Meanwhile, football fans across the country have suddenly become enamored with these Lions. And you can count me among the rapidly growing Honolulu Blue crew.
I'm very high on the Lions. They finished last year with eight wins in their final 10 games, upgraded the roster in free agency and then landed one of my favorite draft hauls. Dan Campbell, a former Cowboys player, will love the late-season challenge of a road trip to Dallas with potentially serious playoff implications.
The game will feature two of the league's most exciting young defensive game-wreckers in Dallas' Micah Parsons and Detroit's Aidan Hutchinson. Offensively, the Cowboys and Lions both finished last season in the top five in scoring -- and Detroit could be firing on all cylinders by the time this game rolls around, with explosive WR Jameson Williams having long since returned from his six-game suspension. Giddy up!
With the contract saga finally in the rearview mirror, Lamar Jackson is about to remind everyone why he became just the second unanimous league MVP in NFL history a few years back. I think he's about to enjoy the best passing year of his career, with new OC Todd Monken calling plays and new weapons Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers making plays. That said, the 49ers' defense finished last season ranked No. 1 in scoring and total defense. Which is why this Christmas night matchup is a gift to us all.
Fresh off winning Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa headlines a unit with great expectations. But while the 49ers added another disruptive defensive lineman in free-agent signee Javon Hargrave, they lost coordinator DeMeco Ryans and captain Jimmie Ward to Houston. Can new DC Steve Wilks field another top-ranked D in 2023? San Francisco's quarterback question looms large, but with Kyle Shanahan calling plays, you can bet Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel will be dancing and prancing around Levi's Stadium throughout this X-mas affair.
The two NFC East rivals face off in Philly in early November, but I love that the second leg of this season series is a nationally televised December duel in Jerry World. It just screams PRIME TIME.
The reigning NFC champion Eagles are loaded after re-signing a number of key players in free agency and absolutely crushing the draft. I'm not alone in thinking Howie Roseman has assembled the best roster in football. This team oozes talent. But here's the thing: Dallas has also enjoyed a fine offseason.
The Cowboys made significant additions on each side of the football via trade. First, Dallas made a deal for former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. Fresh off a strong season with the Colts, the 32-year-old cover man appears to have plenty left in the tank. Now he joins ballhawking extraordinaire Trevon Diggs to give the Cowboys one of the league's best CB duos. Shortly after the Gilmore trade, the 'Boys dealt for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. What a fantastic pickup -- the veteran is built for this stage, and he gives CeeDee Lamb the proven running mate Dallas sorely missed after last offseason's trade of Amari Cooper.
No one has to be reminded of what happened in last year's regular-season matchup between these two teams. Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest midway through the first quarter, creating a frightening scene which ultimately cancelled the game. Hamlin's amazing recovery -- the safety was medically cleared to return to the field last month and expects to play this year -- serves as a poignant backdrop. The game will undoubtedly carry emotional heft.
Strictly from a matchup perspective, Joe Burrow vs. Josh Allen is special. Burrow got the best of his quarterbacking counterpart in a Divisional Round win at Buffalo this past January. Can Allen get revenge in a midseason measuring-stick game at Cincinnati? That's not the only pertinent Bills question in this one, either ...
I can't wait for this bout between AFC superpowers.
This classic rivalry -- and stellar uniform matchup -- never gets old. Dallas and San Francisco waged some classic postseason battles in the 1970s, '80s and especially the '90s. Then, after a long drought, the two banner franchises rekindled their playoff rivalry in each of the past two postseasons, with the 49ers coming out on top ... and the Cowboys coming away embarrassed.
Dallas' 2021 season came to an end in a 23-17 home loss to San Francisco during Super Wild Card Weekend, with the clock running out on the Cowboys after an ill-fated QB draw by Dak Prescott. Just over a year later, in the Divisional Round, the 49ers dispatched of the Cowboys in Santa Clara, 19-12, with Dallas displaying poor clock management down the stretch and ultimately closing out the game on a hilariously disastrous final play that featured Ezekiel Elliott at center. Odd stuff. Dallas must be dying for vengeance.
Not to mention, these might be the two best NFC teams this side of Philadelphia. The matchup offers a pair of deep, talented rosters littered by marquee names on both sides of the ball. Sign me up.
The Super Bowl rematch! And there's a realistic chance these two teams could ultimately face off for the Lombardi Trophy once again next February. But we're at least guaranteed a scintillating November showdown at Arrowhead.
The Eagles fell just short in Super Bowl LVII, losing 38-35, but Jalen Hurts matched Patrick Mahomes' pure genius on football's biggest stage. Can the MVP runner-up hang with the MVP in the latter's house? Philadelphia's loaded defense couldn't generate a pass rush in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, but the Eagles loaded up on more Georgia Bulldogs in the draft, so maybe they can mess with Mahomes this time around.
Then there's the Kelce brothers facing off. And Andy Reid going up against his former team. And ... Well, the storylines are plentiful. You know that. We just did this a few months ago, after all.
Yes, we've reached the Aaron Rodgers portion of this list. Regular readers of the Schein Nine should not be surprised. But seriously, though, this is quite the storyline, no? The most talented quarterback in NFL history going to one of the most quarterback-starved franchises in football.
In the wake of Tom Brady's retirement, this is the matchup between historically great QBs. With Mahomes fresh off a season that saw him earn a second MVP and second ring, he's clearly working his way up the all-time ranks at the game's most important position. You can make a serious case that he's in the top five or six -- alongside Rodgers. And here's the most fun part of all: The two signal-callers have never played against each other. Rodgers' Packers faced the Chiefs in 2019, but Mahomes missed the game with a knee injury. Then Mahomes' Chiefs took on the Packers in 2021, but Rodgers was sidelined by a positive COVID-19 test.
So here we go! Mahomes and the reigning Super Bowl champions heading East to play the Rodgers-infused Jets in the media capital of the world -- this is an event worth cherishing.
I can't get over how perfect this is. Aaron Rodgers' official Jets debut ... at home in the New York area on 9/11 ... as the isolated Week 1 finale on Monday night ... in a divisional bout against the three-time reigning AFC East champions. This is a Hollywood script.
Rodgers vs. Josh Allen? Buckle up, Buttercup! These are two of the four best teams in the power-loaded AFC. Two star quarterbacks. Two great defenses. Fantastic playmakers across the board. Pinch me!
But let's go back to the lead: It's Aaron Rodgers playing his first real game IN A JETS UNIFORM! It's actually, truly happening. Not Rodgers making a Madison Square Garden cameo while watching the Knicks or Rangers; Rodgers playing for the Jets! We will see a ton of awesome emotion on this Monday night, and it's going to be surreal and amazing.