If there’s one professional sports league where there’s almost no margin of error during the regular season, it’s the NFL.
Unlike basketball, baseball and hockey, NFL teams only get 16 games to prove how good they are. The rough part of only playing 16 games is that every time an NFL team loses, they’re basically throwing 6.25 percent of their season down the drain (Maybe NFL owners aren’t crazy. Maybe 18 games ).
Although every regular season game is important, some of them are more important than others, and those are the games we’re going to take a look at right now.
Ladies and gentleman, here are the “Make or break” games of the 2019 season. We’ll be listing one for each team for a total of 32 games.
Before we get to the list, let’s go over the rules.
The first rule is that no game is listed twice. Yes, the Patriots and Chiefs play each other this year, but since we didn’t want to break our rule, we didn’t list that as the “Make or break” game for both teams.
The second rule is that there are no other rules, because no one likes reading rules, so let’s get to the list of the one “make or break” game for every team.
Patriots: Week 14 vs. Chiefs. As we learned last year, the Patriots don’t need home-field advantage to win the Super Bowl, but it definitely helps them when they have it. Since 2005, the Patriots are just 2-4 in road playoff games, which is why earning home-field advantage is such a big deal for New England and this Week 14 game could end up deciding who gets home field in the AFC in 2019. The other reason this game is on the list is because the Patriots play the Bengals in Week 15, so there’s a 50% chance we’ll get to hear Bill Belichick say, “We’re on to Cincinnati.”
Jets: Week 2 vs. Browns (Monday). One of the Jets’ worse losses of 2018 came in a primetime game against the Browns where New York blew a 14-3 second half lead en route to a 21-17 loss. The most embarrassing part for the Jets is that they lost to a Browns team that was still being coached by Hue “I went 3-36-1 during my Browns career” Jackson. If the Jets can get win this primetime game, not only would they get revenge, but a win would probably derail the Browns’ hype train. The better news for the Jets is that they also have a very winnable home game in Week 1 (vs. Buffalo), which means a win over Cleveland could shoot them off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2015.
Bills: Week 3 vs. Bengals. If you’re looking for “make or break” games on the Bills’ schedule, this might not be a make game, but it’s definitely a break game. If the Bills lose to the Bengals — in a game that will be Buffalo’s home opener — you can probably go ahead and write off the rest of their season. If the Bills lose to the Bengals, they could be staring at a 1-3 or even 0-4 start (Their first two games are on the road against the Jets and Giants, then after playing the Bengals, they host the Patriots in Week 4).
Dolphins: Week 2 vs. Patriots. The best way for the Dolphins to start off the Brian Flores era would be to help Flores beat his old team. Although this game looks like a mismatch on paper, this is actually a very winnable game for the Dolphins, who have somehow been able to dominate the Patriots in Miami. In their past six homes games against New England, the Dolphins have gone 5-1, a total that .
The Dolphins are probably going to need to pull off multiple miracles this season if they want to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Steelers: Week 2 vs. Seahawks. Since Mike Tomlin took over as coach in 2007, the Steelers have only started a season 0-2 once, but there’s a really real possibility it could happen again this year. After opening the season in New England, the Steelers will return home to face the Seahawks. If the Steelers start 0-2, that could start a whole new season of drama, which is exactly what they were trying to avoid when they traded Antonio Brown and got rid of Le’Veon Bell.
Ravens: Week 4 vs. Browns. By the time Week 4 rolls around, we should know if the Ravens’ offensive plan of running on every down is actually working. If the things aren’t clicking yet, the Ravens could be in trouble against the Browns. The game against Cleveland will mark Baltimore’s first divisional game of the season and a loss to the Browns could signify a changing of the guard in the AFC North.
Browns: Week 1 vs. Titans. Are the Browns actually good? Can Freddie Kitchens actually coach? Can he control all the personalities on the team? Those questions will be asked non-stop heading into Week 2 if the Browns lose their first game of the season. The Browns’ hype train could go straight off a cliff if they were to lose this game to the Titans.
Bengals: Week 2 vs. 49ers. The NFL definitely didn’t do Zac Taylor any favors with the schedule. In his first year as a head coach, Taylor and the Bengals will open the season with three of their first four games on the road (At Seattle, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh). Their only home game in that stretch will come against San Francisco, which is basically a must-win game, because if the Bengals lose, there’s a very real chance they could shoot off to an 0-4 start. The good news for the Bengals is that the 49ers are 0-12 since 2015 when playing in the Eastern Time Zone.
Colts: Week 12 at Texans. If the Colts want to win the AFC South in 2019, they’re going to need to take down the defending champions. This Week 12 game will be the second of their two meetings and it will come with some added spice, because it’s going to be televised in primetime. Including last year’s playoff win, the Colts have won four of five against Houston, so they’ll probably feel pretty good about themselves going into this game.
Texans: Week 17 vs. Titans. Last season, the race for the final wild card spot in the AFC went down to the wire with the Colts and Titans playing a de facto playoff game on Sunday night in Week 17. With all four teams in the AFC South pretty even, it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s once again a playoff spot on the line for this division in Week 17.
Titans: Week 13 at Colts. Just in case you haven’t heard, the Tennessee Titans are 0-11 all-time against Andrew Luck. As a matter of fact, we’ve basically reached the point where I’m starting to think that they’re never going to beat him. Although they’ll have a chance to get over the Luck hump in Week 2, it would be even more impressive if they did it on the road in Week 13.
Jaguars: Week 2 vs. Texans. No one is really expecting the Jaguars to win their first game of the season against Kansas City, which is why all eyes should be on Jacksonville’s second game. Did their offense improve? Was Nick Foles worth the money? If the answer to both of those questions ends up being, “Yes,” and the Jags beat the Texans, then they’d instantly become a team we’d have to start taking seriously (Let’s be honest, no one took their offense seriously last season).
Chiefs: Week 17 vs. Chargers. The NFL schedule-maker must have been taking some notes after watching the wild Chargers-Chiefs game in Week 15 last season, because the only way that game could have been better is if it had been played in Week 17 with the division title on the line, which is exactly what we could be getting this year. The Chargers won that Week 15 game 29-28, which caused the Chiefs to fall into a downward spiral. Including the playoffs, Kansas City went just 2-3 over the final five games of the year.
Chargers: Week 11 vs. Chiefs (Monday in Mexico City). When the Chargers agreed to give up a home game this year, they probably weren’t expecting the NFL to cost them home-field advantage in arguably their biggest game of the season. This Chargers “home” game is being played in Mexico City, which isn’t ideal for a Los Angeles team that would probably rather being playing the Chiefs at their actual home.
Raiders: Week 1 vs. Broncos (Monday). The Jon Gruden era has basically been a disaster so far and things could get uglier if they can’t win their opener. If the Raiders lose to Denver, they’ll fall to 0-1 with the Chiefs, Vikings (away), Colts (away), Bears (London) and Packers (away) as the next five games on their schedule. The Raiders will be going into this game without at least one projected starter and that’s because they won’t have Richie Incognito, who’s been .
Broncos: Week 2 vs. Bears. This game will mark Joe Flacco’s home debut in Denver. If Flacco shows up and somehow torches the Bears defense, that would instantly change the national narrative on the Broncos. If you’re wondering what the national narrative is, just ask Chris Harris. He says everyone is sleeping on the Broncos this year, AKA the media isn’t giving them any respect.
Cowboys: Week 16 at Eagles. With games against the Bears (Week 14) and Rams (Week 15) before heading to Philadelphia, the Cowboys could be in dire need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive by the time this game rolls around. These were the two best teams in the NFC East last season and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the division title come down to this game.
Eagles: Week 12 vs. Seahawks. Starting in Week 10, the Eagles have a back-breaking three-game stretch that will include games against the Bears, Patriots and Seahawks. With Carson Wentz’s previous injury issues, the Eagles should be able to breath a sigh of relief if he can make it out of this stretch unscathed.
Redskins: Week 1 at Eagles. From the mass exodus in their front office to the Trent Williams situation, the Redskins have . However, all that stuff will be quickly forgotten if the Redskins can open the year with a win over a hated division rival.
Giants: Week 6 vs. at Patriots (Thursday). This might not be a “make or break” game for the Giants, but it could be one for Eli Manning. If Manning wins the starting job, this game could go a long way toward determining if he’ll keep it all season. If he beats the Patriots, there’s no way the Giants can bench him. However, if the Giants lose this Thursday game, they could send Manning to the bench, because it would give Daniel Jones 10 days to prepare for his NFL debut.
Bears: Week 1 vs. Packers (Thursday). A loss in the opener to Green Bay didn’t ruin Chicago’s 2018 season, but this one feels different. This year, the Bears actually have high expectations and a loss to the Packers in the season opener would immediately have them in the NFC North cellar. This is also a big game because we’ll find out if the Bears were actually able to find a kicker.
Packers: Week 2 vs. Vikings. The Packers have gone two straight seasons without beating the Vikings (0-3-1), which is probably eating at Aaron Rodgers. This is a big game for Green Bay because it could put them in a position to take control of the NFC North after just two weeks. If the Packers beat the Bears and Vikings to open the season, that would bode well for their playoff chances. Over the past 10 years, the Packers have started 2-0 a total of three times and they made the playoffs in all three seasons. On the other hand, the Packers have never started 0-2 since Aaron Rodgers took over the starting job in 2008.
Lions: Week 1 at Cardinals. If you open up an astronomy textbook and look up the temperature of the sun, you’ll get a good idea for how hot things are going to get for Matt Patricia if the Lions lose this game. A win over Arizona won’t make the Lions’ season, but it sure could break it. If the Lions lose, they might not pick up their first win until October. After playing the Cardinals, the Lions play the Chargers, Eagles (away), Chiefs, Packers (away) and Vikings.
Vikings: Week 16 vs. Packers (Monday). If there’s one thing Kirk Cousins has struggled with over the course of his career, it’s winning in primetime and beating good teams. This game will potentially give him a chance to do both. If the Vikings are going to win, they’re going to have to play better in primetime, because they were pretty horrible last season. In five games, the Vikings went 1-4, although we should probably note that their only win came against the Packers.
Saints: Week 2 at Rams. Not only will this be a revenge game for the Saints, but it could end up deciding who gets home-field advantage in the NFC. Although home-field advantage didn’t help the Saints last year, you could actually argue that it did, because they had a Super Bowl berth wrapped up in the NFC title game until the refs decided to take it away from them by not throwing a flag on what might have been the worst pass interference no-call in NFL history.
Falcons: Week 13 vs. Saints (Thanksgiving). The Falcons have lost three in a row to the Saints and they’re going to need that drought to end if they want to compete for the NFC South title. The Saints ruined Thanksgiving for Falcons fans last year with a Turkey Day win in New Orleans and Falcons fans are probably hoping that the Saints don’t make them sick to their stomach for the second straight season.
Panthers: Week 1 vs. Rams. When your quarterback is only eight months , being forced to open the season against the defending NFC champions isn’t ideal. The Panthers have spent the entire offseason saying that Cam Newton will be ready to roll by Week 1, but what if he’s not ready or what if he’s not completely healed? If Newton is lacking arm strength like he was at the end of last season, it could be a long year for the Panthers.
Buccaneers: Week 2 at Panthers (Thursday). The Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and Bruce Arians will now be the fifth coach to try and end that drought. Arians is known for running a high-flying offense and he’ll have a chance to show it off to America when the Bucs travel to Carolina for a Thursday night game in Week 2.
Rams: Week 15 at Cowboys. The Rams and Cowboys are both expected to be NFC playoff contenders this year, which means there could potentially be a lot at stake in this game. Not only will this game likely have playoff implications, but by this point in the season we should know if Todd Gurley’s knee actually held up for the entire year.
Seahawks: Week 14 at Rams (SNF). The Rams have won two straight division titles and a big reason they’ve been able to do that is because they’ve beaten the Seahawks three straight times. If the Seahawks are going to win their first NFC West title since 2016, they’re going to need to end that drought, and what better way to end a drought then doing it on the road, in primetime, with all of America watching.
49ers: Week 1 at Buccaneers. This is a huge game on the 49ers end for multiple reasons. For one, they’ll finally have Jimmy Garoppolo back. The 49ers quarterback hasn’t played . If Garoppolo looks sharp, that would be a strong sign that we should all drop what we’re going and drive to Las Vegas so we can bet money on the 49ers to make the playoffs. A win over Tampa would also end an ugly 0-12 drought that the 49ers have going in the Eastern Time Zone. That’s a losing streak they really need to end this year because they have four games that are scheduled to be played in eastern time.
Cardinals: Week 4 vs. Seahawks. No one’s really expecting the Cardinals to make the playoffs in 2019, but if they can pull off an upset of the Seahawks in Week 4, it would basically make them an instant contender in the NFC West. Kliff Kingsbury’s first year as a head coach won’t be easy, but the NFL definitely did him a few favors on the schedule. The Cardinals will get three of their first four games at home, including the game against Seattle. With a new offense and a new quarterback (Kyler Murray), the Cards could be in a position to take teams by surprise early in the year.