News & Analysis

NFL Week 1 Sunday Ticket Rankings

Made most famous by ESPN’s Zach Lowe, NBA League Pass Rankings are essentially a preseason list of the most “watchable” teams in the NBA. That’s not exactly what this list will be, but it’s a similar concept.

I went through the early and late time slots for the 12 NFL day games in Week 1 — nine in the early period and three in the late slot — and ranked them based on watchability for those who won’t spend the day locked in on RedZone. By the looks of it, the three late afternoon games are the more intriguing matchups, but this is Week 1. Every team has hope, and there is at least one reason to watch every game on the slate.

1 P.M. EST

1. Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens

Reason to watch: The Baker MayfieldKevin Stefanski marriage makes its first public appearance

This game isn’t projected to be all that close, sitting at about a touchdown spread, so it may come as a surprise to see it top the list.

Lamar Jackson’s unique abilities at quarterback add to the viewability of any game he plays in, but Cleveland is the real reason I think this contest holds more intrigue than any of the other early games. The Browns made moves this offseason to make sure that Mayfield gets back on track, including the additions of two new starters at tackle, tight end Austin Hooper and a new coaching staff. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski is one year removed from doing a lot of good things offensively with the Vikings, but will that translate to Mayfield and the Browns' offense? It’s worth monitoring in this AFC North contest — one of the tougher divisions in football.

2. Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

Reason to watch: A new-look “Legion of Boom” for the Seahawks

The Seahawks made their way to an 11-5 record despite their pass defense — a contrast to much of the recent past when that unit was a definitive strength. In 2019, they were carried by turnovers but ranked just 25th in yards per pass play allowed (6.7). Quandre Diggs played well following the midseason trade that brought him to Seattle. He, along with the offseason additions of Jamal Adams and Quinton Dunbar, should go a long way toward rebuilding this secondary, assuming that Dunbar is on the field to start the season. Adams ranked fifth among safeties in overall grade in 2019, and Dunbar ranked second at the cornerback position. Bring on the NFL’s best wide receiver.

3. Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings

Reason to watch: A motivated (?) Aaron Rodgers

Did the Packers’ selection of Jordan Love in the first round light a fire under Rodgers? Let’s just say it can’t have hurt his motivation for this season. Rodgers hasn’t been the same quarterback over the past several years that he was five-plus years ago, but that isn’t to say he can’t still play. His 83.7 PFF grade last season ranked seventh among quarterbacks. The one big noticeable trend of late has been his conservative tendencies, throwing the ball away and taking sacks rather than taking chances on the tight-window throws we used to see more of. It’s worth watching whether that continues against Minnesota in a game that features the two teams projected to be favorites in the NFC North once again.

4. Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots

Reason to watch: Superman in Foxboro

In all honesty, there aren’t a ton of massive draws to this game, but Cam Newton is certainly the headliner. It'll be really interesting to see what this offense looks like. The Patriots don’t have a ton of talent at wide receiver or tight end, but stylistically, the shift from Tom Brady at quarterback to Newton is enough to make this offense intriguing — even without a surplus of talent. Are there more quick passes than what we’ve seen from Newton for much of his career? Does McDaniels take advantage of his rushing ability, or do the Patriots opt to play it on the safer side given his injury history? We should get a good idea of what to expect here against a re-tooled Miami defense.

5. Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions

Reason to watch: Detroit’s offseason hype train

The Lions have quickly become a popular sleeper pick to turn in a much-improved 2020 season, and a lot of that stems from how they looked offensively with Matthew Stafford at quarterback over the first half of last season. It’s not a given that he will return to that level of play, or that the Lions’ defense will be significantly better than it was a season ago, however. That’s what makes this Week 1 matchup intriguing. Do expectations meet reality? That question goes not only for the high expectations in Detroit, but also for the low expectations that many have for this Chicago team.

6. Las Vegas Raiders @ Carolina Panthers

Reason to watch: Points will be scored

This is your contest if you like points. The total isn’t overly high, but I think both of these offenses will be a good bit better than their defenses this season. The Raiders’ offense finished the 2019 season ranked 12th in expected points added per play and made Alabama speedster Henry Ruggs the first wide receiver off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft. Carolina, meanwhile, will introduce Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback and Robby Anderson at wide receiver to create an offense that at least has some intrigue at the skill positions. Both secondaries have question marks — especially with Eli Apple on injured reserve and first-round rookie Damon Arnette dealing with an injury of his own.

7. Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Football Team

Reason to watch: Terry McLaurin vs. Darius Slay

A quick look at Washington’s depth chart tells you that McLaurin should see a lot of looks in this offense. Depth is lacking, but McLaurin’s abilities shouldn’t be in doubt after his impressive rookie season. The only rookie wide receiver to post a higher receiving grade than McLaurin in the past decade was Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014, and McLaurin’s 12 receptions on passes 20-plus yards downfield were fewer than only A.J. Green in 2011 (16) and Mike Evans in 2014 (18) among first-year wideouts. He should see a whole lot of Slay, who earned a reputation as one of the league’s premier shadow cornerbacks in what was a man-heavy Lions’ defense. It should be one of the better wide receiver-cornerback matchups of the weekend.

8. Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Reason to watch: Jonathan Taylor behind the league’s best offensive line

Most people would tell you that Quenton Nelson is their favorite offensive lineman to watch in the NFL right now. I’m not going to argue with them. The man is a mauler, and he has earned the highest percentage of positively graded run blocks of any guard over the past two seasons. Nelson plays on a Colts offensive line that had the highest collective run-blocking grade of any team not named the Eagles last season. Marlon Mack is going to get his carries, but I’m really excited to see Taylor behind this offensive line. There was no better pure between-the-tackle runner in this class, and this is a good matchup for him to show out in Week 1.

9. New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills

Reason to watch: The Jets' offensive line

The Jets put a lot of resources into their offensive line this offseason, but those assets aren't necessarily players who are locked in as immediate quality starters. Mekhi Becton is a mountain of a man with rare athleticism for his size. It’s hard to imagine he won’t be a plus in the running game out of the gate, but it’s worth monitoring how he holds up in pass protection early — a facet of the game that many young offensive tackles struggle with. Players such as Connor McGovern and Greg Van Roten hovered right around average starters for their position in 2019 but don’t have long track records of success to work from.

This group being better in 2020 is pivotal for Sam Darnold, and the talent is there for it to do so. It’s too early to definitively say that the problem is solved at this point, though.

4 P.M. EST

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints

Reason to watch: Tom Brady on a different team

This is easily the game of the day, in my opinion. There are a lot of reasons to watch it, but none are bigger than seeing Brady suit up for a different team for the first time in 20 years. He’ll have at least one familiar face in the unretired Rob Gronkowski — a major storyline to monitor in its own right — and a sizable upgrade on the receiving corps he worked with in New England last season. The Buccaneers’ wide receivers and tight ends combined for an 80.0 PFF grade in 2019 (4th in the NFL), while New England sat at just 64.8 (31st). An injury to Mike Evans looms large, but even if he isn’t able to suit up, this will be a fun one against a talented Saints’ defense.

2. Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

Reason to watch: Kyler Murray’s breakout campaign

I’m on the record for believing in this Arizona offense. The unit improved greatly from 2018 to 2019, and the pieces are in place for another jump this season. DeAndre Hopkins has some of the best hands in football and provides Murray a top target that can win anywhere on the football field against any coverage. His addition, along with expected improvement from Murray after not grading well in his rookie season, could very well make this a top-10 offense in the NFL. It offers a fun strength-on-strength matchup against a 49ers’ defense that ranked second in expected points added allowed per play over the course of the 2019 regular season.

3. Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Reason to watch: Joe Burrow’s NFL debut

I felt bad putting this game at third out of the three later affairs because I am genuinely interested in seeing how Burrow looks in his first NFL start. He went from relative unknown to king of the college football world last season, tearing apart SEC defense after SEC defense on his way to a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.

Here, he gets the opportunity to go up against former teammate Joey Bosa and a Chargers’ defense that still has a good amount of talent despite losing Derwin James again to injury. Bosa and Melvin Ingram III could cause issues for this Bengals’ offensive line — the clear weak point on offense for Cincinnati — but the team will be golden if Burrow plays in the same stratosphere as he did under pressure a season ago. His 81.6 passing grade under pressure in 2019 was the best mark in the FBS.

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