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The must-watch games on the NFL schedule? We pick one for all 32 teams

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The NFL schedules are out and predictions are being made about how every team will finish the 2023 season. We asked The Athletic’s NFL beat writers for their must-watch game on the schedule for the teams they cover. As you might imagine, the Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs showed up often, as did the last season’s NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Arizona Cardinals: at Eagles, Week 17

By this point, we’ll know a lot about Jonathan Gannon’s first season. How long it took for Kyler Murray to return from ACL surgery. If Budda Baker, who recently asked for a trade, is happy. Maybe even where Arizona, which has Houston’s 2024 first-round pick as well as its own, might stand in the upcoming draft. But this game still will be big simply because of Gannon’s return to Philly. Eagles fans weren’t thrilled with his performance as defensive coordinator in last season’s Super Bowl loss to Kansas City. And they’re not exactly a forgiving bunch. — Doug Haller

Atlanta Falcons: at Titans, Week 8

Coach Arthur Smith cut his teeth under Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel and thinks so much of the Vrabel family that one of Mike’s sons, offensive lineman Tyler Vrabel, is on Atlanta’s 90-man roster. Don’t expect this game to be flexed into any of the weekend’s premium time slots, but people who like physical football will want to tune in, if for no other reason than it might set the season record for the most combined rushing attempts in a game. — Josh Kendall

Baltimore Ravens: at 49ers, Week 16

A lot can happen between now and late December, but the 49ers are viewed as one of the top teams in the NFL. It would surprise no one if they are competing for the top seed in the NFC. These two teams pride themselves on playing with physicality on both sides of the ball. They like to run it and get after the quarterback. It should make for an intriguing and hard-hitting game. That it will be played on Christmas night feels like a gift for old-school football fans. — Jeff Zrebiec

Buffalo Bills: at Chiefs, Week 14

The Bills have done a great job the last two years in the regular season of playing the Chiefs well enough to win. But there are two reasons this is the perpetual and ultimate barometer for the Bills. First, the Chiefs are the defending champions, and second, the Bills have yet to get farther than the Chiefs in a single postseason since coach Sean McDermott arrived in 2017. And in two of those postseasons, the Chiefs eliminated the Bills. With more offensive firepower in 2023, the Bills hope to make it three straight regular-season wins in Kansas City. — Joe Buscaglia

Carolina Panthers: vs. Texans, Week 8

Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud have been the best quarterbacks in their age group since the two California kids started attending the same elite camps in middle school. Their friendly rivalry continued through the first night of the draft in Kansas City, where they shared a long embrace after going 1 and 2. They’ll be connected throughout their NFL careers. But they won’t play each other much in different conferences, another reason making this a can’t-miss game. — Joe Person

Chicago Bears: at Chiefs, Week 3

The Bears will be big underdogs in this game against the defending Super Bowl champs, but it’s a fantastic test to see how far they need to go. There will be storylines aplenty in the team’s first trip to K.C. since 2015 — Patrick Mahomes against one of the teams that passed on him in 2017, Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy against the team that fired him and Bears GM Ryan Poles returns to the place he called home for over a decade. — Kevin Fishbain

Cincinnati Bengals: at Chiefs, Week 17

Can this be anything other than Bengals-Chiefs on New Year’s Eve? Look, sell the importance of every game on the schedule all you want and there are a number of prime-time, A-list opponents on the slate. But this is a rematch of the last two AFC Championship games, the fifth meeting between Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, the first four each decided by three points, coming in Week 17 with playoff stakes almost certainly hanging in the balance as an appetizer before everyone eats a nice meal and drinks until midnight. Yeah, 10 of 10, highest rating imaginable. — Paul Dehner Jr.

Cleveland Browns: Week 4 vs. Ravens; Week 10 at Ravens

In the rugged AFC North, measuring-stick games are all over the schedule. All four teams have rosters good enough to think they can win the division if things go their way, and all four view themselves as playoff contenders. The Ravens are unique offensively because of Lamar Jackson, and the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. adds sizzle to their pass game and to their early October trip to Cleveland. Winning one division road game would mark progress; earning a season sweep of anyone, but especially the Ravens, would probably mark the Browns as a true playoff contender. — Zac Jackson

Dallas Cowboys: Week 9 at Eagles; Week 14 vs. Eagles

These two matchups could be what decides the NFC East champion. The Eagles currently have the crown, but no team has won it consecutive years since 2005. These were two of the top three teams in the NFC last year. When the Cowboys lost at Philadelphia, Dak Prescott didn’t play. When the Eagles lost at Dallas, Jalen Hurts didn’t play. As long as both teams stay relatively healthy, these games should be heavyweight matchups. And no one should be surprised if a third game happens in January. — Jon Machota

Denver Broncos: at Chiefs, Week 6

Sean Payton has inherited a Broncos team that hasn’t beaten the Chiefs since 2015, a string of 13 straight losses. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has never lost to the Broncos since entering the league in 2017, and the two-time MVP who now owns two Super Bowl rings has never lost an AFC West road game in his career. But the torturous streak has to end at some point, right? A long-awaited victory against the Chiefs, particularly at Arrowhead, would go a long way toward snapping Denver’s other ignominious streak: six consecutive seasons with a losing record. — Nick Kosmider

Detroit Lions: at Chiefs, Week 1

Lions-Chiefs will open the 2023 NFL season on “Thursday Night Football.” That alone is sure to attract plenty of eyes. The Chiefs will raise another Super Bowl banner as the Lions look to raise expectations for what this franchise is capable of. Winning, however, will be no small task for Detroit. The Chiefs are a perfect 8-0 in their last eight season openers, winning by an average margin of 12.4 points. To get it done, QB Jared Goff and the offense will likely have to go toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes. — Colton Pouncy

Green Bay Packers: at Raiders, Week 5

It’s “Monday Night Football” in Las Vegas — that’s must-watch material already. Add in the element of Davante Adams facing his longtime former team for the first time and this game becomes even more enticing. Adams played eight seasons for the Packers, rising from beleaguered youngster struggling with drops to the NFL’s best wide receiver before they traded him to the Raiders in March 2022. Packers All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander had many a training camp battle with Adams, and we should get the treat of a few more in prime time in Sin City. — Matt Schneidman

Houston Texans: vs. Colts, Week 2

The 2023 campaign will likely feature a number of growing pains on many fronts for the Texans as they start anew under DeMeco Ryans, and wins may prove few and far between. But the Week 2 matchup against the divisional rival Colts is an early contest to circle. It very well could feature a showdown between top rookie quarterbacks C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson, who were taken second and fourth overall and hope to lead their respective franchises for years to come. — Mike Jones

Indianapolis Colts: at Panthers, Week 9

There will be two overarching storylines heading into this contest: No. 1 pick Bryce Young versus No. 4 pick Anthony Richardson; and the Colts facing their former head coach Frank Reich, who’s now the Panthers’ head coach. Indianapolis could’ve traded up to draft Young but opted to stay put, and Carolina made the move for Young instead. If the former Alabama QB leads the Panthers to a victory alongside Reich, the Colts will have a lot of egg on their face. On the other hand, if Richardson — assuming he starts over Gardner Minshew — guides Indianapolis to a win, then Jim Irsay and company will look like geniuses. Expect a lot of trash talk between these fan bases before and after the game. — James Boyd

Jacksonville Jaguars: vs. Chiefs, Week 2

The Jaguars are on their way up with Trevor Lawrence playing incredibly well under head coach Doug Pederson, and they had their crack at eliminating the Chiefs in the playoffs before their pass rush stalled at Arrowhead. Similar to their Week 2 game against the Patriots in 2018, this will be viewed as a big-time measuring stick game locally for the Jaguars. — Jeff Howe

Kansas City Chiefs: at Jets, Week 4

This one is an easy choice. The New York Jets are now led by superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who joined them in a blockbuster trade just before the NFL Draft. The NFL has yet to have a game in which Rodgers and Chiefs superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes compete on the same field. In 2019, Mahomes missed the much-anticipated matchup after sustaining a dislocated right kneecap. Then, the dynamic of the 2021 game between the Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers was altered when Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19. Mahomes is the league’s reigning MVP. Rodgers was the league’s MVP in 2020 and 2021. The meeting between the Chiefs and Jets should be one of the league’s most-watched games. — Nate Taylor

Las Vegas Raiders: at Chiefs, Week 16

Football on Christmas is always a nice gift. And while this doesn’t seem like it’ll be a competitive contest on the surface, divisional games get weird. For instance, the 6-11 Raiders of 2022 went on the road in Arrowhead and jumped out to a 17-0 lead before narrowly losing a 30-29 thriller. So, why not tune in and see if the Raiders can potentially swing an upset over the defending champs? And, if it gets ugly, change the channel and go hug your family. — Tashan Reed

Los Angeles Chargers: vs. Cowboys, Week 6

Kellen Moore Revenge Game? Sign me up. The new Chargers offensive coordinator was let go by the Cowboys this offseason despite leading one of the best offenses in football over the past four seasons. Moore has something to prove with the Chargers. And he will get a chance to do so against his former team in prime time — with Justin Herbert as his quarterback. — Daniel Popper

Los Angeles Rams: vs. Eagles, Week 5

In a year without many expectations, I’m selfishly picking this game because I believe it’ll be the biggest showcase of what a very rookie-heavy Rams defense has (or has not) learned and absorbed to that point. It’s going to be a litmus test for growth, against a searing-hot and very multiple Eagles offense. — Jourdan Rodrigue

Miami Dolphins: at Bills, Week 4

The Dolphins haven’t won the AFC East since 2008. But with some good luck on the health front, that could very well change this year. One way to prove they’re ready to seize the throne is to do something they haven’t done very often lately: Beat the Bills. Miami is just 1-9 against Buffalo in its past 10 matchups, and the Dolphins haven’t conquered Buffalo in Orchard Park, N.Y., since 2016. So the mission is simple: Go to Buffalo. Beat the Bills. Take back the East. — Jim Ayello

Minnesota Vikings: at Eagles, Week 2

One of the Vikings’ worst losses of 2022 came in Week 2 against the Eagles in Philadelphia. And just like last season, this matchup will be a measuring stick. Of the strides the Vikings’ offense has made. Of the curveballs new defensive coordinator Brian Flores can throw. Of the Vikings’ ultimate potential.

As if the Eagles were not tough enough, the Vikings will face them on a short week and in prime time on Thursday night. Want to assess how formidable this Vikings team might be? Well, here you go. — Alec Lewis

New England Patriots: at Jets, Week 3

The Patriots have won 14 straight games over the Jets, a team Bill Belichick likes to one-up whenever possible (including via draft day trades that ruin the Jets’ plans). But it’s about to get a lot more difficult to continue their run of dominance.

Aaron Rodgers enters this divisional feud for the first time on Sept. 24. The Hall of Fame quarterback will add a new dimension to a rivalry that’s been awfully one-sided of late. The Patriots’ first road game of the season will be one you don’t want to miss. — Chad Graff

New Orleans Saints: at Panthers, Week 2

This seems a little early for a “must-watch game.” But given that the NFC South is in such flux, I’m just curious to watch how each of these teams stack up. This will be Derek Carr’s first road test. This should be Bryce Young’s first home game, and yet his second divisional matchup given Carolina plays at Atlanta in Week 1. The Saints are the favorite to win the division, via oddsmakers. And yet there’s no question they have plenty to prove after two seasons of missing the postseason and their first losing record last season since 2016. For New Orleans, this one feels like a litmus test. — Larry Holder

New York Giants vs. Jets, Week 8

We New York-centric folks hoped we’d be getting a Week 1 All-Big Apple showdown with Giants vs. the Jets in what would have been Aaron Rodgers’ Gang Green debut. Instead, the NFL decided to build the anticipation and give viewers Rodgers vs. Josh Allen to kick off the “Monday Night Football” slate. No matter, New York fans will be counting down the days to the rivals’ first meeting since 2019. It’s worth noting, Daniel Jones defeated Rodgers in London last season, though he was still playing for the Packers. Rodgers should have an upgraded supporting cast in New York, so he could get his revenge this time. — Charlotte Carroll

New York Jets: vs. Bills, Week 1

The Jets are playing in the first “Monday Night Football” game of the season, so the world will be watching to see if they are legit contenders already or if there’s still work to be done. This matchup with the Bills should be exciting anyway, but Aaron Rodgers versus Josh Allen adds even more intrigue. Plus, the AFC East could be one of the league’s toughest divisions this year. Whoever wins this game will be starting things off on the right foot — and helping themselves when things get tight at the end of the year. — Zack Rosenblatt

Philadelphia Eagles: at Chiefs, Week 11

This is the marquee game on the NFL schedule: the Super Bowl rematch and top-two finishers from the MVP voting in prime time. The Eagles are coming off a bye, so they’ll be well-rested, but there’s no good time to face the Chiefs. Will this be a Super Bowl LVIII preview? Nick Sirianni is 3-1 after bye weeks in his coaching career (including the playoffs) — 5-1 if you include season openers. His lone loss? Against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. — Zach Berman

Pittsburgh Steelers: at Ravens, Week 18

To put it succinctly, it’s the Steelers and Ravens in the season finale. If you don’t think this game is going to mean something to the Steelers, the Ravens or both, then you haven’t followed the rivalry that closely over the past quarter century. This will be the third time in five years that the Steelers and Ravens played against each other in the season finale. It is not out of the realm of possibility that whoever wins this game makes the playoffs and whoever loses is out. — Mark Kaboly

San Francisco 49ers: at Eagles, Week 13

This one, a rematch of the NFC Championship Game, is obvious. The 49ers have lamented the fact that quarterback Brock Purdy suffered his elbow injury so early during their last trip to Philadelphia. They feel it robbed them of a fair shot at victory.

“I am glad we’re not playing Philly Week 1,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said at a fundraiser event Wednesday evening. “I want to play them at a better time. I want to make sure our whole team is right there. … We feel like we didn’t get to do it last time, and I’m ready to go back again.” — David Lombardi

Seattle Seahawks: vs. 49ers, Week 12

This will be Seattle’s first time playing on Thanksgiving since beating the Niners 19-3 in 2014 and first-ever home game on the holiday. It should be fun if the Seahawks can keep it competitive. In Week 2 last season, San Francisco held Seattle scoreless on offense, as the Seahawks lost 27-7. In Week 15, Seattle was held to six points until garbage time in a 21-13 loss. The Seahawks were outscored 25-6 in the second half of their wild-card loss, those six points coming against San Francisco’s backups. Assuming Seattle is much improved, Week 12 could be similar to the two late-game thrillers these rivals played in 2019. — Michael-Shawn Dugar

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: vs. Eagles, Week 3

A skeptic might say there are no must-watch games for the Bucs in their first year after Tom Brady. The NFL schedule-makers acknowledged Brady’s absence by scheduling the Bucs in only two prime-time games. In each season of Brady’s three-year reign, the Bucs had prime-time slots the maximum number of five times. The Bucs’ first prime-time game in 2023 will tell us everything we need to know. After opening up at Minnesota and hosting Chicago, they play the defending NFC champions on a Monday night. If the Bucs can give the Eagles a game, it will be an indication that the obituaries were premature. — Dan Pompei

Tennessee Titans: vs. Ravens (in London), Week 6

Rather than resume what remains a bitter rivalry at home, the Titans will try to beat the Ravens for the first time since November 2020 across the pond. Mike Vrabel’s defensive plans against Lamar Jackson are usually effective, but the quarterback has a better receiving corps. — Joe Rexrode

Washington Commanders: at Cowboys, Week 12 (Thanksgiving)

There’s the national spotlight against a bitter division rival. Sold. Though Dallas is usually a house of horrors on Turkey Day, Washington rolled in the last meeting, 41-16 in 2020. This will be the first of two meetings against the Cowboys, with the rematch occurring at FedExField in Week 18 for the second consecutive year. The Commanders will have already completed the season series with the Eagles and Giants, putting extra emphasis on this clash if they remain in the division chase. — Ben Standig

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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