The Detroit Lions on Saturday night wrapped up Week 2 of the NFL Preseason with an exhibition in Houston. Only two games remain until the real action kicks off in the first week of September.
Two weeks ago we previewed the top five games to watch from Week 1 of the college football season, and with the pros now dominating every news cycle, it’d be only fair to give them similar treatment. Here are the five best games to watch for from Week 1 of the NFL season.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
The only two NFL franchises with six Super Bowl victories meet for the second edition of Week 1’s Sunday Night Football presentations. There will also be a banner raised at Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots’ most recent title came in February with a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53.
Pittsburgh shipped and let walk their most talented — and troublesome — offensive weapons this offseason, with All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown getting dealt to Oakland and All-Pro rusher Le’Veon Bell signing with the New York Jets in free agency (oh, and 25-year-old tight end Jesse James signed with the Lions). The Steelers still opened at +195 odds to win the AFC North, though, and a solid amount of young, talented players at the skill positions to make them a team worth tuning in for every week.
New England is New England. Tom Brady is 42 years old and wants to play for at least two more years, indicating that this will probably not be the year we see the decline of the Patriots’ dynasty. They do infamously start a bit slow (Wasn’t Week 3 fun last year?) however, so who knows what we’ll see out of Bill Belichick’s unit in the opening game of his 20th season at the helm.
When: Sunday, Sept. 8 (8:30 p.m.)
2. Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
We already previewed this game last weekend in our upcoming sports calendar, but there’s so much to love about this game, it’s worth going over again.
The two black-and-blue division bruisers in 2018 kicked off opening weekend with all the fireworks that any football fan could ask for. Chicago’s nasty defense knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game — an injury diagnosis that Rodgers would reveal as a fractured tibial plateau and sprained MCL to ESPN Milwuakee — as the Bears advanced to a 20-0 lead, only to see the former Super Bowl MVP trot back out to center stage of the Bedlam that was Lambeau Field after halftime, and lead the Pack to a 24-23 victory to close out opening Sunday.
The Bears are the first of two teams playing at home in Week 1 who’ll return to the grounds of a crushing playoff defeat. Cody Parkey’s missed 43-yard attempt to send Chicago to the NFC Divisional round rang off twice off the uprights and abruptly ended a worst-to-first season atop the NFC North. Green Bay on the other hand, tail-spinned into a 6-9-1 season that concluded with a 31-0 home loss to the Lions in Week 17.
Most importantly: The Chris Collinsworth slide is back.
When: Thursday, Sept. 5 (8:20 p.m.)
3. Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints
The season premiere of Monday Night Football is sure to be a barnburner.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome was the site of 2018-19’s most controversial no-call, a missed pass interference foul on Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman in the NFC Championship game that would have set the Saints up to ice the clock and win the game via field goal.
Of course, by now, we're all far too familiar with what actually went down. Tommylee Lewis’ body helicoptering out of bounds after being run over by Robey-Coleman would go unnoticed, the Rams would then send the game into overtime, and then go onto the Super Bowl where they’d fall to the Patriots, 13-3.
So there should be a ton of energy — anger, resentment, emotions of that nature — coming from the Saints fanbase. And the Texans, who last season 0-3 before advancing to an 11-5 mark and making the playoffs, are as good of a primetime opponent as one could ask for. Third-year Pro-Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson leads a high-flying offense headlined by All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who pulled down 11 touchdowns and a career-high 1,572 receiving yards in 2018.
When: Monday, Sept. 9 (7:10 p.m.)
4. Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers
The intrigue of this game could drop dramatically by the time Week 1 rolls around, as Colts four-time Pro-Bowler Andrew Luck continues to battle with an ankle injury, and the holdout of star Chargers running back Melvin Gordon drags on with no end in sight.
Still, Indianapolis won a playoff game and was one of the league’s most exciting young teams a season ago, and despite having north of $100 million in cap space entering this past offseason, improved subtly through signings of defensive lineman Justin Houston and wide receiver Devin Funchess (Michigan), among other moves, rather than drop a ton of dough on high-profile names.
The Chargers in 2018 exploded to a 12-4 record under the direction of second-year coach Anthony Lynn and made the AFC Divisional round, where they'd fall to New England. Los Angeles comes to Ford Field in Week 2 for the Lions' home opener, so if nothing else, put this one on your calendar as a preview for what Detroit will be up against.
When: Sunday, Sept. 8 (4:05 p.m.)
5. Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings
Both of these teams are looking to bounce back after disappointing seasons in 2018. The Vikings under former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins regressed to 8-7-1 after making the NFC Championship game a year prior. Minnesota is expected to challenge for the division title again this year, and with the Lions also vying for a spot atop the North, this will be a key game to tune into.
It’s tough to imagine that the Falcons will take another step back in 2019 after a 7-9 season, but with the NFC South stronger than ever — especially with the arrival of Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay making the Buccaneers a bit of a wild card — anything is possible. And while it’d be foolish to call any game this early in the season a must-win, Atlanta rounds out the first quarter of their schedule with a trip to Indianapolis and visits from the Eagles and Titans. So, yeah. The Falcons could really use a win in Week 1.
When: Sunday, Sept. 8 (1 p.m.)
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.