5 NFL ‘Games of the Year’ That Deserve Your Attention

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NFL - Philadelphia Eagles vs Jacksonville Jaguars

We are right smack in the middle of the NFL preseason, and anticipation continues to build for the kickoff of the games that matter. The 2018 NFL regular season is just a few short weeks away, and there are a ton of different storylines to monitor between now and then.

In the interim, we can certainly look ahead and try to get a handle on how things may play out. Week 1 lines are up and ready to be digested and analyzed, but we can also dive deeper and take a gander at some of the biggest games on the docket for the rest of the season.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook makes it all the more easy to do so. On an annual basis, Westgate posts its choices for ‘Games of the Year,’ and the sportsbook didn’t disappoint with this year’s edition.

We’ve chosen five of the most appealing matchups to take a closer look at. Let’s get started with a key divisional rivalry between a pair of clubs that have a Super Bowl appearance on the wish list for 2018.

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers, 9/16, 1 PM EST, Fox

It’s not a stretch to suggest that either one of these NFC North rivals could reach the big dance. The betting public agrees. The Vikings are currently at 6/1 to reach the Super Bowl, while the Packers are sitting at 10/1.

For the Vikings, this game will mark game two of the Kirk Cousins era. The club made a splash in the offseason by netting the biggest prize on the free agent market, and they had to pay a pretty penny to do so. Cousins put his name on the dotted line of a contract which guarantees him a staggering $84 million over three years.

He has been handed the keys to an offense which averaged 23.9 points per game last year. The Vikings came up short in last year’s NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the club is loaded for bear and ready to make another run.

On the Green Bay side of the ledger, the Packers are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-9 mark in 2017. The season went off the rails when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6 against these very same Vikings.

Rodgers returned for a Week 15 matchup against the Carolina Panthers, but the club wisely shut him down for the rest of the season once the Packers were officially eliminated from playoff contention. He has looked like the Rodgers of old in training camp and early preseason action, and we can safely pencil him in as a candidate for both Comeback Player of the Year and MVP.

The Vikings are 4-2 straight-up against the Packers over the past three years, including a perfect 2-0 last season. Over the past 10 games in the series, the Vikings are 6-4 ATS, while the under has been the correct choice in six of those games.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Los Angeles Rams, 9/23, 4:05 EST, CBS

The Chargers and Rams have both taken their talents to Los Angeles, and we can safely say that the new surroundings are agreeing with them both. The Rams have 6/1 odds to reach the Super Bowl, while the Chargers currently check in at 12/1.

Both clubs feature offenses with a plethora of weapons, as well as defenses that can get to the quarterback and wreak havoc. They’re both installed as favorites to take down their divisions, and it’s not too hard to envision a scenario in which both clubs make a run to their respective conference title games.

That’s enough to christen this tilt as one of the marquee matchups of Week 3. Will the offenses gain the upper hand and treat us to a late afternoon shootout, or will the other side of the ball rule the day for a defensive slobberknocker? We should have a better idea once the first two weeks are in the books.

The Rams open up on the road on Monday Night against the Oakland Raiders before heading home to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. The Chargers kick things off at home against the Kansas City Chiefs before traveling across the country to take on the Buffalo Bills the following week.

There are two situations that bear watching between now and then. For the Rams, all-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald is holding out and looking for a raise. For the Chargers, big things were expected out of third-year tight end Hunter Henry, but he’s out for the year after tearing an ACL in OTAs. We’ll have to wait and see if Donald signs before the season kicks off, while the Chargers could lure Antonio Gates out of retirement if Virgil Green doesn’t pass the muster in the preseason.

These clubs last met in 2014. The then-San Diego Chargers were 27-24 victors over the then-St. Louis Rams, with the former a 4.5-point favorite in a game with a projected total of 43.5 points.

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots, 10/4, 8:20 EST, Fox

On paper, this looks like a big mismatch, which is why the Patriots were installed as 10-point favorites when Game of the Year lines were released. However, a closer look suggests this game has the potential to be one of the more entertaining Thursday Night affairs in recent memory.

While there are still questions swirling about how well Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck will bounce back from the shoulder injury that cost him the entire 2017 season, concerns have started to subside now that he has made it through live game action in one piece. Luck looked fine in the first week of the preseason, and reports emanating from camp indicate he’s on track to return to form.
If their second preseason game is any indication, the Patriots intend to put the pedal to the medal this season. Tom Brady played the entire first half in a meaningless game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the offense appeared in peak form as the Patriots put up 27 points in the half.

Was this the Patriots taking some post-Super Bowl frustrations out on the team they came up short against or is this a sign that Bill Belichick and company are putting the rest of the NFL on notice? Time will tell, but the game certainly came across as if the Patriots are walking around with a rather large chip on their collective shoulder.

The Colts open up at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, followed by a pair of road tilts versus the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, and then a home game against the Houston Texans before hitting the road to take on the Patriots. For the Patriots, home games against the Texans and Miami Dolphins are sandwiched around road games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions before the Colts come calling.

While this game was an annual affair for a number of years, the two clubs haven’t faced off since 2015. In that game, the Patriots were an 8.5-point favorite in a game with a total of 53.5 points, and they walked out victorious by a score of 34-27.

Eagles vs. Jaguars, London, 10/28, 9:30 AM EST, NFL

Is it hyperbolic to suggest that this could be the best game the NFL has exported across the pond? As of right now, we’re going to lean on the side of no. At a minimum, we have two clubs that are currently favorites to win their divisions, and either one can easily be included in the conversation of serious contenders to represent their conference in the Super Bowl.

The Jaguars rode a strong defense to the playoffs in 2017. After a slugfest victory over the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round, the Jaguars stunned many observers by opening up the floodgates and dropping 45 points on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a round two upset victory. The club would then put up a valiant fight against the Patriots in the AFC title game before ultimately falling short.

As for the Eagles, backup quarterback Nick Foles took over for an injured Carson Wentz in Week 14, and all he did was lead the Eagles to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. It remains unclear if Wentz will be ready for Week 1, but we can safely assume he’ll be firmly entrenched behind center as soon as he’s ready.

Despite winning the Super Bowl MVP award, Foles has revised his deal with the Eagles. There’s no quarterback controversy, as Wentz is clearly the future in Philadelphia. That said, the Eagles know exactly what they have in Foles, and they are beyond fortunate to have a championship-caliber signal caller ready to jump in if the injury bug bites Wentz again.

The Jaguars are among the many teams that don’t have that luxury. It’s safe to say that this is a make-or-break year for quarterback Blake Bortles, as the Jaguars have a world-class defense that’s poised to dominate. If Bortles isn’t at least a steadying influence on the offense this year, there’s good chance the Jaguars will be among the many kicking the tires on Foles and other free agent signal callers in the offseason.

The Jaguars and Eagles last faced off in 2014, a 34-17 victory for the latter. The Eagles were a 10-point favorite heading into the home game, which boasted a projected total of 49 points.

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints, 11/22, 8:20 EST, NBC

This is the primetime game on Thanksgiving Night, and we can safely say that the menu will feature points. For the last 10 games between these division rivals, the projected total has been set at 51 or greater for all of them. Interestingly, the over was the correct call in only three of those matchups.

Over that same time frame, the Falcons are 5-5 straight-up, and 5-5 ATS. In short, these teams are generally evenly matched, and there’s nothing to suggest this year will be any exception. Both clubs currently have odds of 10/1 to reach the Super Bowl, while the Saints are slightly favored to win the division over their rivals.

In 2017, the Saints and Falcons split their two matchups. The Saints would take down the division crown with a record of 11-5, while the Falcons would sneak in as a wild card with a record of 10-6. Both clubs would bow out in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Falcons came up short against the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles, while the Saints would lose a heartbreaker to the Vikings as Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs connected for a 61-yard walk-off touchdown.

The teams were relatively equal on the defensive side of the ball in 2017 – the Saints allowed 20.4 points per game versus 19.7 points per game for the Falcons – but it was a different story on offense. The Saints were their usual efficient selves while averaging 28 points per game – albeit with more of a rushing attack than in years past – while the Falcons slogged to an average of 22.1 points per game in its first year under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

We’ll look for improvement on offense from the Falcons in Sarkisian’s second year, while the Saints appear to be focused on snagging another Super Bowl ring before quarterback Drew Brees hangs up the cleats for the final time.

These are just five of the 256 regular season games on the docket that we have to look forward to, but they look like five fine ones to key in on for their respective weeks at this time. Hats off to Westgate for some stellar Game of the Year choices. We’ll patiently look forward to each and every one of them.

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