The wonderful thing about the unpredictability of Week 1 in the NFL is that it makes the follow up so much more exiting. Games I never would have circled on the calendar are now looking like must-watch matchups, not only because I want to see these teams play, but so I can get a better sense of what the heck is happening this season.
For much of the league it’s a divisional week, and while there are some curiosities here — the biggest contest I want to see come from outside.
No. 1: Raiders vs. Steelers, Sunday 1 p.m. ET — CBS
There’s something that just kind of feels magical about anticipating a game between the Raiders and Steelers, like you’re a part of football history or something.
Most people believed Pittsburgh would be really good this season, but there was fairly little expectation for Las Vegas outside of the middling mediocrity they’ve been mired in for the better part of two decades. Now it feels a little different. Both teams are coming off huge statement wins against the Ravens and Bills respectively, meaning that kind of by proxy, whoever wins will go a long way to cementing themselves as a real threat in the AFC.
Obviously Derek Carr and the Raiders have a lot more to prove here, and if they manage to beat two class AFC North teams in back-to-back weeks, well, it’s going to be interesting to see where their season goes.
No. 2: Cowboys vs. Chargers, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET — CBS
Dallas was a hair away from beating the Super Bowl Champs in Week 1, and look like a serious contender in the NFC if Dak Prescott can remain healthy. I know, this feels like a yearly tradition, saying “This is gonna be the Cowboys’ year!” then steadily watching it crash down like a busboy struggling with too many plates. That said, it might really count this time.
Then, on the other side of the ball, you have the Chargers. I’d call them “lovable losers,” but I don’t know that the team garners enough notice to be considered “lovable” on a national level. The truth is: The die hard fans of this team deserve some hope, and Justin Herbert really is that damn good. Yes, they had an unconvincing win over Washington in Week 1, but that just makes this more of a chance to show this team is ready to turn the corner.
No. 3: 49ers vs. Eagles, Sunday 1 p.m. — Fox
Two 1-0 teams meet in a pretty fascinating matchup that, once again, I probably wouldn’t have circled before this week. I had a feeling (as did many others) that the 49ers were poised to bounce back from disappointment a year ago, and they did with a creative, gutsy win over Detroit that looked more difficult than it should have been. I’m fascinated to see if Trey Lance is brought in for more reps to throw off defenses, because that’s just fun.
Then you’ve got Philadelphia, who absolutely beat the brakes off Atlanta courtesy of Jalen Hurts, who suddenly looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. That’s likely a testament to just how bad the Falcons are, but it might also not be a fluke. The Eagles showed very little faith in Hurts during the offseason, with replacement talk being rife — but if he keeps playing like he did in Week 1 then Philly is going to be a team to watch this season.