Every year we pore over the NFL schedule to find the best games and get excited for the season to come. However, as we all know, things rarely lives up to preseason expectations. By the time we hit Week 12 we’re left wondering how the hell a garbage game between two sub-500 teams was ever pegged for a premier national game.
The flip side to this is that we have dozens of games each year that are so much better than anyone expected. Matchups that sneak up on us and become can’t-miss through circumstance and team changes. That’s what we’re focusing on today. Here are a handful of games that look atrocious right now, but could end up being absolute gems.
Steelers vs. Panthers — Week 15
There is absolutely no reason that this game should be good. Hell, there’s a chance this ends up being Mitch Trubisky vs. Sam Darnold in one of the saddest games of the season. However, this could also be fascinating.
If we imagine that both teams are looking to evaluate their futures at QB by this point we could very well be seeing Kenny Pickett vs. Matt Corral. That’s fascinating in its own right because both teams were reportedly interested in Pickett prior to the draft, and since there have been several analysts who have said Corral was the best QB in the class. To compound this, both teams have a legitimate chance to push for a surprising playoff spot if Carolina is able to bounce back, and the Steelers can push to perform as they did a year ago.
So, this seemingly innocuous and pointless game could evolve into both a battle for the postseason, but also an opportunity to see which QB from the 2022 NFL Draft is developing the most.
Jets vs. Bears — Week 12
The Jets are bad. The Bears are bad. Why should anyone care about this game? There is a chance that this could be really compelling. Firstly, we have the matchup of the 2021 quarterbacks in Zach Wilson and Justin Fields, which we’ll really get to see for the first time.
Neither Wilson, nor Fields had very impressive rookie campaigns — but hopes are high that both will make major strides in the upcoming season. This then becomes a good litmus test for how things are progressing, not just with the quarterbacks, but the future prospects of both teams.
The Jets are coming off one of the best drafts in team history, while the Bears are still paying for Fields. However, these teams look to be fairly evenly matched and this could become a showcase for the two young passers.
Colts vs. Raiders — Week 10
Here are two teams really pushing to keep their windows open and make a playoff run. That’s what has me watching for this game. In a lot of ways I find Matt Ryan and Derek Carr to be kind of similar. Two statistically great quarterbacks often maligned for the lack of success their teams have on the field.
Sure, Ryan has made it to a Super Bowl where the Falcons promptly evaporated against the Patriots, and Carr hasn’t managed to pull the Raiders past the Chiefs in the AFC West — but 2022 might be the last best chance for Las Vegas and Indianapolis as currently constructed.
I think there’s a ton of potential for this to be a marquee offensive matchup with the Raiders’ new-look passing attack with Davante Adams taking on Matt Ryan, Jonathan Taylor and the powerful Colts ground game.
Lions vs. Patriots — Week 5
There has never been a reason to really pay attention to these teams meeting. Heck, in the last 20 years they’ve only met five times, with New England holding a 4-1 lead. Now things are different.
I’m a huge fan of what Detroit is building. This team has done everything right over the last year in terms of slowly building a winning organization, and they had a hell of a draft this year by getting Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams — now that’s all put to the test.
The 2022 Patriots shouldn’t be confused with Tom Brady’s dominance, but there’s still an expectation that a Bill Belichick team is the yardstick to measure success. This will be a chance to see just how far the Lions have come, and where they can be expected to go in the future. It also happens to be that I think these teams are fairly evenly matched (at least on paper) and could have an awesome game.