The 3 Point Conversion brought you coverage from the Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction and preview coverage of the divisions in the NFL. But now with Thursday’s kickoff to the 2022 season looming, it’s time for the weekly series letting you know the best games to watch every week (at least in the eyes of The Student of the Game). Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the first edition of Match-Up Mania.
This chapter focuses a lot on spite opportunities for the NFL as they come back in from training camp. In short, high-profile players playing former teams or divisional rivals that can hurt one another’s playoff hopes. While it seems like a fit, I’ve not included a matchup in quarterback Russell Wilson returning home to Seattle in a Denver Broncos’ uniform to play his former Seahawks squad, because I am also looking for games that will be competitive. Since I currently view the Seahawks as a team who will only be competing for the top overall draft pick in 2023, it was not included.
Buffalo Bills vs. Los Angeles Rams
The game that could have been last year’s Super Bowl if Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes didn’t go all Patrick Mahomes setting up the tying and winning points in overtime of the AFC Divisional Playoff that sent Buffalo home. However, the sudden death element of the overtime has been changed as a result of that contest, and with these two high-powered offenses, there’s a chance that overtime may be a factor here as well.
Linebacker Von Miller represents the first of the spite factor possibilities in Week One. After putting up two sacks as part of Los Angeles’ first Super Bowl since the Rams returned to town, it’s Miller time for the Bills, who bolster their defense with this new veteran. It will fall on defending champion quarterback Matthew Stafford as well as 2021 Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl LVI MVP wide receiver Cooper Kupp and the Rams to outscore the Bills’ Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs.
If you like shoot-outs, this is superior to anything that any Hollywood Western has to offer. This could be why this game isn’t just the Super Bowl that could have been, it could also be the Super Bowl yet to come this season, provided preseason chirping surrounding Stafford’s arm is just noise.
Cleveland Browns vs. Carolina Panthers
In case you missed all the drama going on between Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns, it would be safe to describe it as something that outdoes the most overacted of soap operas.
While the Browns, Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and the media have all verbally slapped each other plenty throughout the past season or more, it’s amazing the former Oklahoma quarterback will be starting under center sooner than later. The Panthers new “QB1” arrived after Carolina OTAs on July 6th into a new system and supplanted incumbent Sam Darnold. Whether the Panthers starting Baker in this game is a sign of confidence in their new arrival or an indictment of Darnold might be a source of speculation. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the former Brown performs with a considerably weaker offensive line.
It’s been said that Mayfield has become arguably the second-best quarterback in the NFC South (hard as that may be to believe), but the Panthers have an advantage that might counteract any adjustment hiccups that might come from the quarterback position. Offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey (because calling him a running back just feels incomplete) is guaranteed to be healthy at the start of the game whereas in the coming weeks that becomes far more cloudy considering his history.
Cleveland’s Jacoby Brissett has had some success filling in for suspended quarterbacks other than Deshaun Watson (specifically the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady back in his New England Patriot days). Over and above that, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will be huge in ground support while tight end David Njoku and the newly-acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper are solid weapons for Brissett to wield. And that’s not considering Cleveland’s stout defense, who will be stoked for the opportunity to actually be allowed to hit their former “red-jerseyed” practice mate.
A lot of predictions made for either of these teams don’t have playoffs in their future, but this game has the signs of a competitive matchup. But make no mistake – the drama is the best reason to pop the corn for this one.
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Los Angeles Chargers
On the surface, if an NFL fan heard that a shootout between the 3rd and 4th best quarterbacks in a division was on TV, it would truly be an affair to forget. But if someone were to tell them that the division in question is that 2022 AFC West…that’s a different story.
While the difference here will likely be Bosa and the Charger defense, if the Raiders can force some mistakes from Bolts quarterback Justin Herbert, that will help their criminally underrated passer Derek Carr in driving their squad into a winning position. But that is just one of several things to look for from Las Vegas’ performance. Will new head coach Josh McDaniels be the first step towards stability that the Las Vegas franchise hasn’t exhibited since it arrived in Sin City? Can Derek Carr be a playoff quarterback with the help of Davante Adams in a division where he is universally regarded among sports pundits as the worst at his position?
And let’s not leave out Herbert trying to shock the world by shaking his own monkey off of his back. Fair or not, the fact that Los Angeles hasn’t made the playoffs since he began taking snaps has kept him off of many Top 10 lists. But if the Bolts or the Raiders alike fail to make the playoffs this game may be a very active piece to that puzzle.
In the meantime, if you like offense, this looks to be an awesome game in the making.
Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings
Not only are these two teams picked most likely to win the NFC North, but both also have quarterbacks who going into this year yet again looking to prove themselves to critics, albeit for very different reasons.
The Vikings’ field general Kirk Cousins with an awesome roster has kept the offense postseason competitive even when top-notch running back Dalvin Cook had missed games. Unfortunately, when he plays in prime time, Cousins has struggled to take his team over the top.
Conversely, Two-Time defending MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is finding himself under the cross hairs of scrutiny. Despite his recent regular season accolades, Rodgers’ ability to perform in the postseason is now in question due to his shrinking in big moments in the playoffs the past few years. Pair that with the departure of his top receiver Davante Adams to Las Vegas and confidence in Green Bay’s man under center seems to have been sent packing.
The difference in who is seated where in the postseason will be impacted by this game a full 17 weeks later. Stakes, stories, and rivalry: what more could a football fan ask for?