Written by Joe Carlino
There is a legendary broadcaster in the world of professional wrestling named Jim Ross. To those fans, “Good ‘ol J.R.” was the kind of announcer able to systematically keep those fans invested in the contests during a wrestling event. And whenever there was a great match that really kept the fans on the edge of their seats, J.R. would almost always describe the match with the following quote:
“Bah Gawd, that match was a slobberknocker!”
That feeling was how I was while watching the Atlanta Falcons battle the New Orleans Saints in a critical early division showdown at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Listening to Cris Carter and Sam Rosen on the broadcast, even they were fired up as to what they were witnessing. Honestly, if that game wasn’t another piece of definitive evidence why the NFC South is the best division in the NFL, I don’t know what is.
With that said, it got me thinking: what other upcoming games could possibly treat us to a show like those two heated rivals gave us consumers? Which games could rival that one for Game of the Year?
Allow me to give you nine upcoming matchups (not in order) I think will give fans the best competition:
1. Atlanta @ New Orleans, Week 12
If you’re wondering why this game is in the first spot on this list, please look at the opening monologue and, if necessary, any highlight videos, because this first matchup between the two rivals was straight fire. The Week Three overtime thriller saw Drew Brees and Matt Ryan lit it up in this game, with both quarterbacks accounting for five touchdowns each. Heck, Brees even broke the all-time completions record set by Brett Favre, and he’s not stopping anytime soon. Injuries also came into effect, and both teams will enter this one with a player in their secondary from the opening contest be on IR for the rematch. Which makes me all the more excited for this game, especially because it takes place on Thanksgiving night. What a setting for these two teams: primetime on a night where everyone is looking forward to family, the Macy’s parade, and football. And I think this game will surpass the game we saw on Sunday, just because of the magnitude these teams play at when they’re facing each other.
Sidebar for Falcons fans: Ryan now has two games where he has the highest passer rating in a loss: this game and one I will not mention.
2. Vikings @ Rams, Week Four
The first true showing of the NFL Thursday night games gives us a potential NFC Championship preview. Yes, I’m aware the Vikings played poorly against Buffalo, only advancing into “plus territory” for the first time midway through the fourth quarter. But after watching the Rams take some injuries to their defensive superstars, I’m looking at this game to have some more firepower than it initially presented. Sean McVay does a hell of a job getting his guys ready, and they’ve been absolutely dominant to start this campaign. Yet I’m wondering how he’ll be able to work around injuries to his two top shutdown corners, especially with Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen coming to town. If Kirk Cousins balls out, Rams will be 3-1 to end the first quarter of the 2018 season. Should that happen, Minnesota will be riding hot into their next matchup, which is:
3. Vikings @ Eagles, Week Five
I put the Vikings in concurrent weeks because after a potential preview of this year’s NFC Championship, we get a rematch of last year’s blowout contest. Fortunately for Minnesota fans, it takes place in the same location they saw their season end last year. Only difference is the quarterback on the other side. Last year, Nick Foles torched this defense, which was best in the league. Now, Minnesota has to contend with the elusiveness that is Carson Wentz, and he’s wanting to prove that game wasn’t a fluke, even if he didn’t play.
4. Eagles @ Jaguars, Week Nine
One of the four games in this season’s “International Series”, this one to me seems like will be the most competitive. Heck, it could’ve been last year’s Super Bowl if Jacksonville hadn’t let Tom Brady do to them what he did to Atlanta in Houston. The Jaguars are honestly a different team than a few years ago, and what makes them even more dangerous is sending them across the pond. Do we forget what they did to Joe Flacco and the Ravens just last season? That defense went bonkers on him, and soundly won 44-7. Do I think that will happen again? Not a chance. And that’s why I’m really looking forward to being up at 9:30AM for this one.
5. Rams @ Saints, Week 10
Man, this game was a real coming out party for Alvin Kamara last season, and for good reason. Yes, the Rams came away with the win and ended the Saints’ win streak, but it proved the Saints have a very capable back in the running game and the passing game. This matchup takes place in New Orleans instead of LA, so the Saints can really use the “home-field advantage” to their benefit, because the Rams will be coming out tough. This one will easily come down to the last possession, which will guarantee a great contest.
6. Packers @ Patriots, Week 10
Ah, the matchup everyone really wants to see: the greatest thrower of the football in NFL history taking on the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history. Sure, the argument can be made that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady should have met up more in the Super Bowl, but what good would that do to the NFL? Honestly, it would set up a sense of complacency by other teams thinking they’re not good enough, and we’d have two leagues with superteams at the top and everyone else trying to play catch up (here’s looking at you, NBA). That’s why I’m going to be really looking at this game, because both quarterbacks have shown they can do a lot with a very subpar group of individuals around them. This game might finally end the debate of who can do it better.
7. Cowboys @ Falcons, Week 11
Last season, this game was marred by injuries and suspensions to “America’s Team”, most notably Ezekiel Elliott being out for six game, Sean Lee going down early to a hamstring injury, and starting left tackle Tyron Smith being out with a back injury. And Atlanta feasted on Dallas, defeating them 27-7 in a contest that got out of hand early. And I think this rematch will be more competitive because it could have playoff implications. Yes, Atlanta and Dallas are marred by injury currently (Atlanta much more so than Dallas), but that might actually give this game more possibility of becoming a great contest. Depth is critical in a salary cap league; if both are still as banged up then as they are now, it will be a very close game.
8. Jaguars @ Titans, Week 14
Ok, hear me out on this one: I really think this game will decide the AFC South this year. Tennessee has always played Jacksonville very tough, and are one of the few AFC teams who have defeated this very talented squad. Heck, the Titans are on a three game win streak against the Jags, and a fourth might give Nashville its first home playoff game in nearly a decade. If everything goes well for the Titans, they just might be able to shock the system here and send the Jags home earlier than expected.
9. Steelers @ Saints, Week 16
A potential Super Bowl matchup fans and media members alike had going into this season, the Saints and Steelers clash in what might be the best game to end the 2018 season, and that’s including the mandated divisional showdowns in Week 17 to settle any tiebreaking scenarios. This might be one of the final times we will see Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger face off, and with Brees firmly holding onto the career passing yards record by this time (that’ll be broken by Week Five guaranteed), all will be watching two of the best this sport has ever offered go to battle. And that will make for some good football. Here’s hoping the new roughing the passer penalty will maybe have been resolved by then, because that needs severe fixing in advance of the playoffs.