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May 15, 2024 2:00 pm

NFL’s top 25 games of 2024

Mahomes

Christmas Day for NFL marketing and ticket sales departments finally arrived Wednesday with the release of the 2024 season schedule.
With subplots and peripheral angles multiplying before our eyes – hello, Netflix, welcome to NFL holiday football broadcasts – Field Level Media’s football-minded contributors assembled the top 25 games of 2024.

24. Cardinals at Jets, TBD: We’re grabbing our popcorn for one matchup, and one matchup alone: Cardinals wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner. Top five draft picks likely to be near the top of the pecking order at their position for a decade.

23. Colts at Patriots, TBD: Drake Maye, the No. 3 pick in the 2024 draft, meet Anthony Richardson, drafted fourth overall in 2023. Indianapolis appeared to have a hit on its hands before Richardson was shut down to undergo shoulder surgery. If he can stay healthy and Maye isn’t relegated to clipboard duty behind former Colts starter Jacoby Brissett, we’re eager to make early evaluations of purported franchise QBs.

22. Jaguars at Eagles, TBD: Young QBs and strong pass rush are common bonds, sure, but the plotline we’re looking at is the reception for Jacksonville head coach Doug Pederson. He played for the Eagles (1999) but was essentially a coach-in-training for Donovan McNabb, then served as an assistant for Andy Reid and came back from a stint in KC for a five-year run that included a Super Bowl.

21. Bears at Texans, TBD: The Bears also get a meeting with the Carolina Panthers for the second consecutive season. With all due respect to Panthers 2023 No. 1 pick Bryce Young, the top rookie quarterback last season was Houston’s C.J. Stroud. His numbers would have been the best ever single-season passing total for a Bears QB (4,108 to Erik Kramer’s team record of 3,803). Stroud had 26 TD passes including the playoffs despite missing time with a concussion). The Bears hitched their wagon to No. 1 pick Caleb Williams with the rookie carrying massive talent – and expectations – in Year 1.

20. Vikings at Giants, TBD: All of the QB uncertainty one can handle on the undercard, LSU products Justin Jefferson (Vikings) and Malik Nabers (Giants) in the main event.

19. 49ers at Seahawks, TBD: Maybe you overlooked it. There’s not a chance Brock Purdy did. He knows new Seahawks coach Mike Macdonald’s defense – that of the Ravens – had him seeing ghosts in a five-interception laugher on Christmas Night last season. Macdonald’s new club has a bunch of cross-training chess pieces determined to unseat the 49ers from the NFC West perch.

18. Jets at 49ers, Sept. 9: Week 1 on “Monday Night Football” is a familiar refrain for the Jets, who are hoping Aaron Rodgers has some magic left following a season-ending injury four snaps into his first start with the team in 2023. Rodgers is local – Chico, Calif., Butte JC and Cal – and went 6-3 against the 49ers with the Packers. Now 40 years old, he’ll try to tip the scales toward the Jets, who are 3-11 all-time in the series with San Francisco. Jets head coach Robert Saleh has known 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan since breaking into the NFL as a low-level assistant with the Texans 15 years ago and was defensive coordinator on his staff before taking over with the Jets.

17. Cowboys at Commanders, TBD: Dan Quinn gets his second chance as a head coach in Washington and to be the champ in the NFC East, he’ll have to take down his previous employer and boss, the Cowboys and Mike McCarthy. Given the amount of time Quinn spent with McCarthy and Dak Prescott, don’t discount the level of concern the Cowboys have entering two games with Washington.

16. Eagles vs. Packers (Brazil), Sept. 6: The youngest roster in the NFL last season belonged to the Packers, and nobody can fault what Green Bay did in the offseason. Head coach Matt LaFleur debuts his offense with Josh Jacobs at running back and a new-look defense. It’ll also be a big reveal game for the Eagles, unleashing their own big-ticket offseason item, Saquon Barkley, and a number of new faces on defense.

15. Falcons at Vikings, TBD: Welcome back, Kirk Cousins, congratulations on finding a team that didn’t want to invest in a young quarterback to insure its $100M guarantee to a 35-year-old starter coming off an Achilles injury. Oops. Cousins could be hailed or hated for bailing on the Vikings in free agency following 50 regular-season wins in six seasons of Skol-ing.

14. Ravens at Chargers, TBD: Los Angeles and new hire Jim Harbaugh welcome John Harbaugh and the Ravens with entertainment expected to be rich before, during and after a matchup of AFC heavyweights. John Harbaugh won the last meeting and survived a brief power outage at the Super Bowl in New Orleans to take home the Lombardi and deal Jim’s 49ers a painful defeat.

13. Steelers at Broncos, Week 2: Revenge games bring out the spirit and emotion you might not otherwise find in games that don’t include Mike Tomlin. Pittsburgh picked up Russell Wilson after he was scrapped at a cost north of $80 million to Denver by second-year head coach Sean Payton. Payton, of course, is still in town and brought in a rookie, Oregon’s Bo Nix, to train in the system that helped make Drew Brees a legend. Don’t look now, but Pittsburgh had a sneaky excellent offseason while the Broncos shed leaders and linchpins on both sides of the ball (Wilson, Justin Simmons, Jerry Jeudy). If reunions are your thing, Payton also heads back to New Orleans this season.

12. Jets at Bills, Week 17: We know they’ll get an earlier go at each other on “Monday Night Football” In October, but let’s give the season time to breath and Aaron Rodgers time to round back into form. He’ll be recently removed from his 41st birthday but should know the names of all of his wide receivers, a task Josh Allen might need more time to complete.

11. Ravens at Cowboys, TBD: Dak Prescott was great at home last season and Dallas fortified the offensive line through the draft. Whether new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has an answer for mobile quarterbacks – namely Lamar Jackson – might be the hot-button issue for the Cowboys. Baltimore’s No. 1-ranked defense in 2023 also traveled well last season, battering Brock Purdy, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert and limiting those three teams to a combined 36 points in Ravens’ road wins.

10. 49ers at Packers, Nov. 24: Week 12 and the start of a pivotal, NFC-dominated, primetime featured stretch for Green Bay with nighttime marquee matchups at Detroit (Week 14) and Seattle (Week 15) ahead. Jordan Love’s two interceptions stopped the Packers short of an upset at San Francisco in the divisional playoffs in January.

9. Texans at Cowboys, TBD: C.J. Stroud appears to be special and the Texans made sure his supporting cast wouldn’t be a reason for a sophomore slump. But one warning: only the Bills and Patriots have a more difficult schedule based on 2023 results and offseason moves. Among the appealing underlying matchups: Houston wide receiver Stefon Diggs vs. Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs.

8. Bears at Packers, Jan. 5: The Week 18 finale was meaningful for Green Bay last season, and Jordan Love guided the Packers into the postseason to sweep the Bears and continue the trend Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers started. No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams makes his first foray into the likely frozen tundra. Will the Bears be playing for more than a spoiler token?

7. Dolphins at 49ers, TBD: It was Dec. 4, 2022, and far more meaningful than we knew at the time when a seventh-round rookie – 49ers QB Brock Purdy – made his first career start with two TD passes in a 33-17 home win over the Miami Dolphins. Back to the scene come the Dolphins with former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel a solid bet to share some unknown intel about old boss Kyle Shanahan in the game week buildup.

6. Ravens at Chiefs, Sept. 5: Had this one been bumped back a couple months to multiply the meaningfulness in the standings and AFC playoff picture, it had an angle on a top three game of the 2024 regular season. Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes remains must-see for all the right reasons.

5. 49ers at Bills, Dec. 4: The week-after-Thanksgiving primetime game on Sunday of Week 13 should be meaningful for teams with Super Bowl aspirations.

4. Rams at Lions, TBD: Two franchises on schedule to combine for more than $350 million in deposits into Jared Goff’s bank account are back at it with Detroit out to duplicate their playoff win in January over one-time Lions QB Matthew Stafford.

3. Ravens at Eagles, TBD: Star power on display? Check-check. Potential Super Bowl preview? Sure thing. Saquon Barkley (Eagles) and Derrick Henry (Ravens) add firepower to a pair of offenses with explosive potential.

2. Lions at 49ers, TBD: Other than tackle eligible, think of another phrase that could spike Dan Campbell’s temperature more than “at San Francisco.” Didn’t think so. The Lions were halfway to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl leading the 49ers handily in the NFC Championship but coughed up a 17-point lead and bowed out of the playoffs in a 34-31 defeat instead. If Campbell circled this game on the schedule in ink, we’re guessing you can’t read it.

1. (tie) Chiefs at 49ers, TBD: Familiar enough to be rivals, the Chiefs left with the jewels in recent games that really mattered between teams with a combined 50-18 record the past two regular seasons. San Francisco took a lashing from the Chiefs, 44-23, at home in Oct. 23 before the dawning of the Brock Purdy era.

1. (tie) Bengals at Chiefs, TBD: Don’t forget Joe Burrow, he’s more than the highest-paid player in 2024. The Bengals quarterback is 3-1 against the Chiefs but was sidelined with a broken wrist when the teams played in 2023. Don’t look for a warm reception in Kansas City, where fans aren’t soon to forget Burrow’s boys calling the Chiefs’ stadium “Burrow-head” based on his success at the home of Patrick Mahomes.

–Field Level Media

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