Welcome to Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season. The race to become Super Bowl LV champion is underway. The long road ahead will definitely be different from previous campaigns. It has been well documented how COVID-19 has forced the league to adjust offseason events and programs. With testing and health protocols in place and no bubble, year 101 of the NFL will commence.
There are so many things to look forward to this year. We have teams with high expectations, low expectations, and some who could be a dark horse playoff contender. The movement via trades and free agency throughout the league poses some questions pertaining to how well teammates have established chemistry amongst one another. Week 1 might not be as crisp as we might expect from the NFL, but that is what makes things more interesting.
This season-long series covers the three best games for each time slot. The early afternoon matchup at 1 p.m., the late afternoon matchup (4:05, 4:15, or 4:25 p.m.), and the primetime matchups. The primetime matchups include Thursday, Sunday, and Monday Night Football. The first week of the NFL season has some great games to kick off this unique season.
Best Early Afternoon Matchup: Cleveland Browns vs Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, Sept 13, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. on CBS)
The early afternoon matchups all have some interest, but this AFC North contest stands out. League MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens begin their quest for a championship against Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns. Coming out the gate against a division rival provides more intensity in what will be a crowd less M&T Bank Stadium.
The teams split their two games in 2018. Nick Chubb ran wild in the first one, leading the Browns to a 40-25 win. The Ravens got payback, winning 31-15 in Week 15. Jackson played fairly well against Cleveland, putting up 485 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, and 189 rushing yards. Mayfield put up more passing yards with 534 but fewer touchdowns with 3.
The Browns don’t have lofty Super Bowl expectations like last year. They are, however, expected to participate in the postseason. This is the third coach in as many years with the Baker Mayfield experiment. This is an important year for his future with the Browns. He showed flashes of what he can do for Cleveland but failed to show consistency in 2019. Mayfield needs to make a statement against their division rival, making it known that he intends to be the Browns QB of the future.
He doesn’t have to worry about Earl Thomas anymore for Week 1. Calais Campbell’s presence in the trenches, however, does pose a challenge for the Browns offensive line. Head coach, and former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski has a plethora of tight ends to use in heavy formations. This can help contain Campbell in the run, while also getting Mayfield some play-action opportunities.
The Ravens secondary will do battle with Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, and the rest of the Browns solid receiving corps. How will the loss of Earl Thomas impact the group, if at all? Beckham has been vocal in saying he is ready to return to his All-Pro self. Baltimore can’t always double him because of the multiple skill position threats. This is a position matchup to watch as the game progresses.
What does Lamar Jackson have in store this season? He was phenomenal last year, at least in the regular season. The playoffs are where Jackson is looking to silence the doubters now. He is now 0-2 with lackluster performances in both games. The Madden 21 cover athlete looks primed to get his team deeper into the playoffs this time around.
The run game should be a point of emphasis for Baltimore. Given it’s the first game, moving the ball on the ground gets players back in rhythm. They have the bodies with Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, rookie J.K. Dobbins, and Jackson himself. They can take advantage of a Browns secondary which is riddled with injuries, later in the game with Marqise Brown, Willie Snead, and company.
Big Ben’s return to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Joe Burrow’s rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals makes the division crown a harder fight. Division wins are earned the hard way amongst these four teams. Neither team wants to have a 0-1 division record after one week This AFC North battle should bring us enough star power and entertainment until the game of the week in the late afternoon period.
Best Late Afternoon Matchup: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, September 13, 202 at 4:25 p.m. on FOX)
This high powered Week 1 contest between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints is the game everyone needs to be tuned in for. The first look at Tom Brady and the new-look Bucs. Drew Brees and the Saints haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since they won it in 2009. The window to win another one is closing and the road to get there just got much harder. It is not often we have two quarterbacks over 40-years-old going head to head. Especially when both are playing at a high level.
The talk of the NFL offseason has been the Bucs and the loaded offense they have. Brady has numerous weapons to use in his first season. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin top the list, both coming off of 1,000-yard seasons in 2019. Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement and was traded to the Bucs, joining his friend/teammate Brady. Gronk joins O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate in the tight end room. Evans could miss the game with an injury, but nothing has been made official yet.
LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette also joined the team. They now will be used alongside Ronald Jones III, who led the Bucs with 724 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns in 2019. All of the new faces on the Bucs provide star power on paper, but how will it look in real game action?
Brady has been hard at work training with his new teammates. He’s looked solid in camp and has been praised by almost all of his fellow Bucs. Head coach Bruce Arians and Brady are working together on understanding each other’s preferences. Watching how the offense moves against a sturdy Saints defense will give us some insight on what we can see from Tampa in 2020.
The Saints are back again, hoping to perform well in a big division game. Brees has his go-to receiver in Michael Thomas, and his versatile star running back in Alvin Kamara. Furthermore, they added a star at wide receiver in Emmanuel Sanders during free agency. The Saints offense isn’t as loaded as Tampa’s but it can still put up points and yardage.
The Superdome will be empty, which could be an advantage for Brady and the Bucs. They won’t have to fight over the roar of fans, easing the adjustment process. The Saints might miss the energy the fans bring in big moments where a boost is needed. The absence of fans could be felt the most in this game out of them all in the NFL this weekend.
This Week 1 division game is important given the expectations of both teams. The NFC South has two legitimate Super Bowl Contenders in New Orleans and Tampa. The division winner could end up with the one seed in the NFC. With the new playoff format only rewarding the one seed with the bye week, each game matters more. Even though there will be rust, the Bucs and Saints have to come into this one ready. This game can set the stage for a critical second game in Week 9.
Best Primetime Matchup: Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Cheifs (Thursday, September 10, 2020, at 8:20 p.m. on NBC)
The first game of the NFL season is a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Round game. The Houston Texans return to Arrowhead Stadium to face the defending champions. The Kansas City Chiefs came back from a 24 point deficit against Houston to advance to the AFC Championship game. It would make sense if the Texans were looking to exact some revenge on them.
The Chiefs have much of their core that won them Super Bowl LIV back. However, some key losses include running back Damian Williams. Williams opted out of the season along with KC’s starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Kansas City drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU, so the rookie will be getting most of the reps out of the backfield. He has been outstanding at training camp, which has to make Andy Reid feel comfortable about making him the starter.
Patricks Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is looking to get even better, if that is even possible. The cornerback talent for Houston isn’t deep and was just okay against the pass in 2019. There is still J.J. Watt who is a game wrecker off the edge, but one man can’t stop this Chiefs offense. It takes an 11-man ensemble. The weapons and speed are abundant for Kansas City, which could expose Houston early.
Deshaun Watson is in the conversation with Mahomes as one of the most talented young QBs in the NFL. He was rewarded with a contract extension just before the season. Now that he knows that he is the guy in Houston, the pressure is on to bring a championship. Watson knows he has to get through Mahomes to get one, and Week 1 is the perfect place to make a statement.
He won’t have Deandre Hopkins anymore after he was traded by the Texans to the Cardinals. However, they did acquire Brandin Cooks via trade and Randall Cobb in free agency. They join Will Fuller who is looking to become a top-tier NFL receiver. Nobody can fully replace the special talent Hopkins was, but Cooks, Cobb, and Fuller all bring something unique to the table. David Johnson was a part of the Hopkins trade but hasn’t really played well since 2016. If he can get things going against the Chiefs, he could be on the way to having a return to form kind of year.
The quarterback duel is the most appealing part of this matchup. The young faces of the NFL battling it out in the first game. Both played outstanding football in the playoffs last year, slinging the ball across the field. Watching two entertaining quarterbacks make ridiculous plays is the best way to start the season out. This game should be high scoring because of the men under center and the potential of sloppy play because it’s the very first game of the season.
It’s a good feeling that football will be back this weekend and the NFL did a good job of providing exciting games across all time slots. It’s not your typical NFL opening weekend, but who’s complaining? Enjoy all of the Week 1 games and check out these ones if you can!