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2019 NFL schedule release: Ranking top nine prime-time games

I love football. And Patrick Mahomes.

The NFL's 2019 prime-time schedule is fantastic. It's nearly impossible picking out the best games. But that's what I do every year.

Now, before I get questions wondering where the New England Patriots are ... their games against the Cleveland Browns (Week 8), Dallas Cowboys (Week 12) and Kansas City Chiefs (Week 14) are my favorites, but they're all 4:25 p.m. ET kickoffs (at least for now), so they don't qualify for this piece.

Let's count down my favorite prime-time games on the 2019 NFL schedule, Schein Nine style.

9) Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 14 at 8:20 p.m. ET on FOX/NFL Network/Amazon

I originally had Week 5's Rams-Seahawks game -- a "Thursday Night Football" matchup in Seattle -- filling this slot. It's a fantastic divisional grudge match between two high-profile NFC powers in one of the NFL's truly special environments. Shoot, as I type this, I'm tempted to swap that game back in here ... But no! I'm gonna give some love to a different divisional rivalry that's relevant for the first time in decades.

Does Cleveland have what it takes to establish itself as the king of the North for the first time this millennium? In fact, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Browns' last division title. The Steelers have finished in first place 14 times(!) during Cleveland's three-decade drought. I think the Browns beat Big Ben in this one and prove the AFC North is their division on national TV.

8) Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (in Mexico)

Week 11: Monday, Nov. 18 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN

For all of the rightful Chiefs love and legit Super Bowl talk this offseason, they still have to win the division. And despite the fact that Andy Reid's team has held the AFC West throne three seasons running, you can easily make the case that Anthony Lynn's Chargers are the division's most talented team.

Mahomes had six touchdowns and zero interceptions in his two games against the Bolts last season, though the teams did split the series. Philip Rivers vs. the Chiefs will be fun. Just like last year. Just like always.

7) Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

It wouldn't shock me if this turned out to be a preview of the AFC Championship Game. And the rematch from last year's Divisional Round -- a game K.C. won handily, 31-13 -- will be spicy.

Mahomes hosting Andrew Luck is a fantastic battle of quarterbacks who ooze talent and smarts. And I love when excellent players at non-glamour positions -- like OG Quenton Nelson and LB Darius Leonard -- get national exposure.

6) Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears

Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 5 at 8:20 p.m. ET on FOX/NFL Network/Amazon

As we sit here today, it's my belief that these are the two best defenses in the NFL. And I can't wait to watch them square off. The Bears finished last season with the top-ranked scoring defense and the most takeaways in the NFL, while the Cowboys boast explosive playmakers at each level (see: DE DeMarcus Lawrence, LBs Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, CB Byron Jones).

This game could come down to which young quarterback, Dak Prescott or Mitch Trubisky, blossoms into a star this year. I also don't think it's hyperbole to consider this a battle for playoff seeding. Both teams have playoff-bye potential.

5) Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

Are you the type who just can't wait to open your Christmas gifts? Well, here's an early present to all football fans, a few days before Santa comes down the chimney ...

The unstoppable offense vs. the immovable defense. Mahomes vs. Mack in a potential Super Bowl preview during the regular season's penultimate week. Am I greedy if I ask for snow? I want snow!

4) Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

Winner keeps Sean Payton? Kidding, but that is one of many compelling subplots in this juicy matchup.

New Orleans is a special place for prime-time action -- the Saints are always up for the challenge, with the Superdome jumping. Cherish these games with Drew Brees, who's heading into his age 40 season. And I cannot wait to see the backfield battle between two of the preeminent rushers in the game today, Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara.

3) Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (NFL Kickoff Game)

Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 5 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

I love this call by the league, starting the NFL's 100th season with this incredible and legendary rivalry. The intensity runs deep. The history and emotion are second to none. And the competitiveness? Well, Green Bay leads the all-time series by a razor-thin margin of 97-95-6. Having the 199th meeting between these two storied franchises as a standalone event on the first day of the new season is brilliant.

And it's the debut of Matt LaFleur coaching Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Could it be the start of something big? Well, the opening task -- Khalil Mack and the dominant Bears defense -- is quite the challenge. Fascinating stuff.

2) Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

"Sunday Night Football" hits Cleveland for the first time since 2008?! Yes! This ambiance is going to be special, with the amazing Browns fans ready to explode. Baker Mayfield was made for this. And now with Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns are made for prime time.

I think Cleveland will win its first division title since 1989 and be in the Super Bowl discussion with an explosive offense. But early in the season, will the Browns have enough to outscore Sean McVay's juggernaut Rams? And despite all the offensive firepower on both sides, Aaron Donald will be the best player on the field. This is going to be a show.

1) Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC

This is why you love football. This is why you love sports. Aaron Rodgers against Patrick Mahomes for the first time. Arguably the most talented quarterback ever against the quarterback who could eventually challenge him for that title. MVP past vs. MVP present.

Add in the insane energy of a night game in Arrowhead? Nothing more needs to be said about this game. Just get me to October 27th. NOW!

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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