By Nate Davis
The NFL's 2020 regular-season schedule is officially set ... seemingly in quicksand, the league hoping it can play a full slate even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Here are some winners and losers from Thursday's reveal of this year's 256-game lineup:
• Brady-Brees: The new rivalry between NFC South OG Drew Brees and the guy coming for the Saints' divisional throne and Brees' passing records, Tom Brady, gets an early start when New Orleans hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on opening weekend. The rematch in Tampa comes on the "Sunday Night Football" stage in Week 9.
• Brady 2.0: As you'd expect, TB12, now in "Tompa Bay," and his Bucs will be featured in five prime-time games. And his quarterback adversaries are quite a murderers' row, with two matchups apiece against Brees and former MVP Matt Ryan and two others against the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, league MVPs themselves.
• Patriots: Brady is gone from New England, but the league apparently believes Bill Belichick's perennial AFC East champs will remain a strong draw given they're again scheduled to play in prime time five times. Worth noting – four of those contests occur after Week 8, meaning the Pats could more easily be flexed away if Jarrett Stidham bombs.
• Mike McCarthy: The Dallas Cowboys' new coach could have a soft re-entry into the league after his 2019 sabbatical. America's Team's opponents have a combined .459 winning percentage based on last year's records, the easiest outlook for any NFC team.
• Levi’s: Lots of good marketing for the denim giant given the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers will be making four of their five scheduled prime-time appearances home at Levi's Stadium. The Niners were 5-1 in prime-time games last year.
• Night shifts: The Bucs and Baltimore Ravens each have stretches with three prime-time dates in a row. Tampa Bay's five night games will occur in a seven-week stretch, while four of Baltimore's five prime-time outings will be in a six-week span. Also playing the maximum of five night games: 49ers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Packers, Patriots and Rams.
• AFC North: Based on 2019 regular-season records, this division projects to have the easiest schedules, ones that include matchups with every AFC South and NFC East team. The Ravens have the easiest lineup in the league (.438 opponent winning percentage in 2019), followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers (.457) with the Cleveland Browns owning the fourth-easiest docket (.461) league-wide.
• NFL100: Yep, you get to celebrate a century of NFL football once more. The league played its 100th season in 2019, but Sept. 17 is its 100th birthday. On that Thursday night, the Browns will host the cross-state rival Cincinnati Bengals with NFL Network scheduled to pay tribute to the league's birthplace in nearby Canton, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
• Jimmy Garoppolo: He gets to play his first game against the Patriots at Foxborough in Week 7. Big chance for Jimmy G. to prove New England should've never let him go ... even if it would've been cost-prohibitive to keep him in mothballs for six seasons.
• Las Vegas: The Raiders will play their first official home game in Sin City on "Monday Night Football" in Week 2, the Silver and Black opening obsidian Allegiant Stadium – GM Mike Mayock referred to it as the "Death Star" – against the Saints. The game will also mark the 50th anniversary of MNF's 1970 debut. The Raiders will host three more prime-time games, including dates against Mahomes' Chiefs and Brady's Bucs.
• Raiders: Better not spend too much time on the Strip, fellas. Your first season in Vegas includes five road games with 1 p.m. kickoffs in the Eastern time zone.
• Rams: They open SoFi Stadium – the new football palace in Inglewood, California – against the Cowboys, who hold training camp in Southern California and probably don't want the new building to upstage "Jerry World" in Texas. Sorry, Rams, but it's not like you don't know what it feels like being the less popular team at "home" in Los Angeles.
• Day shifts: Neither the Redskins nor Lions are scheduled to play in prime time, though both will play Thanksgiving afternoon.
• AFC East: Not only will the division's four teams be racking up frequent flier miles with half their schedules earmarked against AFC West and NFC West teams, they'll also be facing stiff competition from west of the Mississippi. With an opponent winning percentage of .537 (based off 2019), the Patriots own the toughest schedule in the league. They'll have seven games against teams that won 10 or more games last year. The Jets have the second-toughest schedule (.533), and the Dolphins have the third hardest (.529).
• Bill O'Brien: The Houston Texans played their final game of the 2019 season at Kansas City, where they took a 24-0 second-quarter lead over the Chiefs in the divisional round of the postseason before surrendering 41 straight in a 51-31 defeat. Now O'Brien will take his team back to Arrowhead for the regular-season opener against the champions on Sept. 10, when the nation gets to see what an offense stripped of WR DeAndre Hopkins looks like. Houston will be home in Week 2 ... when the Texans host the Ravens, the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed a year ago. Yikes. Never easy to overcome 0-2 starts, Bill, but good luck.
• Saints: Slotted on Thanksgiving night the past two years, the Who Dats must now play Dec. 25, the Friday of Week 16. And we already know this game will wind up being called the "Christmas Miracle" or some such, Vikings rookie and LSU product Justin Jefferson sure to haul in some mind-boggling game winner to leave coal in the stockings of the home team.
• Contingency planning: Prior to the schedule's release, rampant speculation the league would design it in an easily modifiable manner depending on the pandemic's course. Yet aside from Week 2 matchups pitting teams with like bye weeks, no escape hatches are apparent. Should be interesting to see how the NFL adapts if forced to do so.