NFL schedule’s best grudge games: Who has something to settle in 2024?

NFL schedule’s best grudge games: Who has something to settle in 2024?


The release of the NFL’s 2024 schedule seems imminent based on recent history. And while we do know all of next season’s matchups – including the typically nasty division rivalry pairings – it’s currently unclear when they’ll land on the calendar.

Yet, regardless of where they’re slotted, there are quite a few (temporary, at minimum) grudge-style matches – whether they’re between teams with an ax to grind or a player facing a former club – that will be unique to this year’s docket.

Here are 15 that should be highly anticipated and almost certain to wind up in an exclusive broadcast window or, at least, a late-afternoon Sunday placement:

1. Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers, Harbowl II

It’s been nearly a dozen years since Ravens HC John Harbaugh (barely) defeated hyper-competitive brother Jim in Super Bowl 47 – aka the “Harbowl.” In the interim, Jim Harbaugh left the 49ers to (eventually) forge a controversial (occasionally) but ultimately legendary run at the University of Michigan, capped by last season’s national championship. Meanwhile, John has kept Baltimore among the AFC’s elite but hasn’t returned to the Super Bowl since vanquishing his younger bro. Probably premature to suggest the Bolts are ready to contend in 2024 under their new boss, but they’ll doubtless carry extra motivation in this game given GM Joe Hortiz, OC Greg Roman, DC Jesse Minter and RBs Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins are among the Ravens alumni who have gone west.

2. Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers

Well, a grudge match for Niners HC Kyle Shanahan anyway? He’s 0-4 against counterpart Andy Reid’s Chiefs, three of those losses by double-digit margins, and two most memorably occurring in Super Bowls 54 and 58 – including last season’s overtime heartbreaker. The last time these clubs tangled at Levi’s Stadium two years ago, K.C. QB Patrick Mahomes passed for 423 yards and three TDs in a 44-23 decision that was nip and tuck until getting out of hand in the fourth quarter.

3-4. 2023 championship game rematches

While hosting their first AFC title game in January, the Ravens came up short against the eventual champion Chiefs. Beating them at Arrowhead this year won’t make Baltimore’s players whole … though it might be a little sweeter if they get their shot in Week 1. Meanwhile, the Lions are returning to the scene of the 2023 NFC championship game crime – meaning Levi’s Stadium, where Detroit coughed up a 17-point second-half lead to the Niners.

5. Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans, can you Diggs it?

The trade of Pro Bowl WR Stefon Diggs from Buffalo to Houston was the most notable of the offseason. Certainly would have been more interesting if Diggs, who typically seemed to be trailing a degree of undefined smoke in Western New York, was slated to return to Orchard Park and face Bills Mafia. But no matter where it’s staged, nothing wrong with an added layer of intrigue to a potential AFC title-round preview.

6. Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys

Could “America’s Team” be Texas’ second best in 2024? Definitely possible, even if the Cowboys have won the Lone Star battle in four of its previous five iterations. But this could be quite an opportunity for Houston and QB C.J. Stroud to make their case, particularly given the likelihood this will be decided in front of a national television audience. Sidebar: It should also mark the first head-to-head meeting between Diggs and his brother, Cowboys Pro Bowl CB Trevon Diggs, whose torn ACL prevented them from lining up in Buffalo last December.

7. Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints, Carr collision

Though the regime that unceremoniously kicked the Silver and Black’s all-time leading passer to the curb at the end of the 2022 season has largely been swept out, you know this one’s going to have significant meaning for Saints QB Derek Carr. In 2021, he pledged, “I am a Raider for my entire life” and said he’d quit playing football rather than play for another NFL franchise. Funny how quickly things can change in this league.

8. Denver Broncos at New York Jets, Hackett Bowl II

You might (or might not) recall the NYJ beat the Broncos 31-21 in Denver last season, getting a small measure revenge for ex-Broncs HC Nathaniel Hackett, currently New York’s offensive coordinator. You might (or might not) recall that Jets QB Aaron Rodgers clapped back at current Denver HC Sean Payton after he panned the tenure of his predecessor, Hackett, in an exclusive to USA TODAY Sports in 2023. “I thought it was way out of line, inappropriate, and I think (Payton) needs to keep my coach’s name out of his mouth,” Rodgers said during a training camp interview with NFL Network last year. Injured Rodgers obviously missed last season’s date with Denver, so should be interesting to see how much he’s still holding on to that bile.

8a. Denver Broncos at New Orleans Saints, Payton comes dome

Let’s acknowledge this without overhyping it. But it will be Payton’s first game at the Superdome since he “retired” as coach of the Saints more than two years ago. Hard to believe that the greatest coach in New Orleans history will receive anything other than a warm welcome … even if neither the Saints nor Broncos have yet to benefit much since he switched sidelines after being “traded” last year.

9. Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions, Stafford Bowl III

Yes, LA QB Matthew Stafford has now returned to Motown – the Rams unexpectedly encountering the team he led for a dozen seasons in January and losing a 24-23 wild-card round thriller to the Lions. Maybe this season, Stafford – he beat Detroit in Hollywood in 2021 – can enjoy a more laid-back visit to Ford Field in the rubber game given his service to the Lions, possession of his own Super Bowl ring and likelihood his team will again be the underdog against the reigning NFC North champs, who seem closer than ever to their first-ever Lombardi Trophy.

10. Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, Saquon’s return

Pro Bowl RB Saquon Barkley not only bolted Big Blue after six turbulent years, he took the short trip down Interstate-95 to join the Giants’ most bitter rivals. His return to MetLife Stadium should be one of the more highly anticipated ones this fall, especially since Barkley averaged nearly 100 yards and a TD in his nine regular-season games against Philly.

11. Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers, Aaron’s return (the other one)

Sorry, TV networks, but the Pack’s second-half surge in 2023 precluded a 2024 visit from Rodgers. However free agency precipitated perhaps the next-best thing after a March whirlwind of roughly 24 hours when Green Bay signed RB Josh Jacobs, then cut ties with Aaron Jones, a beloved mainstay for seven seasons, before he turned around and joined the NFC North rival Vikings for the 2024 campaign. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see more than a few sombreros and wraparound shades at Lambeau Field – Jones likely to sport his signature garb in purple and gold, too – whenever he comes back.

12. Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings, Captain Kirk’s return?

A month ago, this projected as one of the season’s better homecoming subplots – QB Kirk Cousins, after a half-dozen years as the Vikes’ starter, heading back to U.S. Bank Stadium with his Falcons in tow. It will likely still play out that way, though Atlanta’s shocking decision to draft QB Michael Penix Jr. eighth overall could drastically alter the look of his new team at any point – a reality Minnesota is already embracing as veteran QB Sam Darnold and first-rounder J.J. McCarthy vie to replace Cousins themselves.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos, Russ’ return?

No guarantee that Russell Wilson will still be in Pittsburgh’s QB1 “pole position,” to use HC Mike Tomlin’s metaphor, whenever these teams meet. But whether he or Justin Fields is behind center, you know Wilson will have this matchup circled given his abortive stint in the Rocky Mountains, which may ultimately represent lasting damage to his legacy – especially after he was benched and brusquely cast aside by Payton in March.

14. Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys, Quinn comes back

The NFC East could be extra spicy in 2024. These once bitter enemies have a chance to revive a fairly dormant rivalry after former Dallas DC Dan Quinn took the head job in D.C. … then proceeded to poach a good chunk of the Cowboys’ roster – DE Dorance Armstrong, C Tyler Biadasz, DE Dante Fowler Jr., CB Noah Igbinoghene and DC Joe Whitt Jr. all following him east from North Texas. The currently cap-strapped division champions still don’t seem to have recovered from the defections.

14a. Washington Commanders at Arizona Cardinals, Kliff comes back

Quinn’s new offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, gets to go home, too – well, not to that sweet desert bachelor pad he had – and face a Cards organization that fired him in 2023 … less than a year after signing him to a contract extension through the 2027 campaign.

15. Chicago Bears at Washington Commanders, Caleb vs. Jayden

The top two picks of the 2024 draft, Bears QB Caleb Williams and Commanders QB Jayden Daniels, respectively, never met on a college field. But they will almost certainly gear up this season, neither likely to wait to enter the starting lineup … nor wait long to stake an early claim as the best rookie passer to enter the league this year. And remember, though Stroud was the infinitely superior player in 2023, he lost his one vs. two matchup with the Carolina Panthers’ Bryce Young, the No. 1 selection a year ago.

15a. Caleb Williams vs. the NFL’s next-gen QBs

Daniels is far from the only fellow up-and-comer Williams will see as a rookie. He’s set to meet fellow No. 1 picks Young, Kyler Murray (2019), and Trevor Lawrence (2021); see Daniels and potentially other 2024 Round 1 QBs Drake Maye and McCarthy; play 2023 first-round QBs Stroud and Anthony Richardson; and, finally, tangle with blossoming Packers star Jordan Love, who might have a major hand in shaping Williams’ legacy in the Windy City for good and/or bad.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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