The NFL released its full schedule on Thursday, and with Auburn having a total of 12 players drafted over the last two years, Auburn fans will have plenty of chances to watch former Tigers in action this upcoming season.
The Auburn Plainsman has asked some of our staff to rank their top five 2020 NFL games featuring Auburn Alumni.
Henry Zimmer, sports writer:
5. Week 9, New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens
Jarrett Stidham’s mid-season start with the Patriots will be a game all Auburn fans should have their eyes on. Tom Brady’s departure for Tampa Bay leaves the quarterback position open for competition between Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer, just like everyone predicted. Assuming Stidham wins the starting job, this will be a game of critical importance for not only Stidham’s career but the future of the Patriots organization.
More than halfway through the season, the Patriots will have played the Chiefs, 49ers and Bills. Going up against an NFL gauntlet such as that, it should be clear whether or not Stidham is the guy moving forward for the Pats.
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The Patriots have not missed the playoffs since 2008, and if they end up not qualifying, the blame could shift to the first-year starter. Learning and playing under head coach Bill Belichick worked well for Brady backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, so the same could hold true for Stidham.
4. Week 8, Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Brown’s career at Auburn was nothing short of legendary. The 2019 SEC Defensive Player of the Year was taken with the seventh pick in the first round of the draft to be the cornerstone defensive piece of the revamped Panthers under head coach Matt Rhule. Facing off against the Super Bowl champs and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes will be a major road test for the now Cam Newton-less Panthers and Brown.
If Brown can make a splash, facing off against the Chiefs 2020 first-round pick running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Mahomes, he can solidify his status in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversations.
3. Week 2, Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Assuming Daniel Thomas wins the starting free safety spot for the Jaguars, over incumbent Jarrod Wilson, he will be facing quite the early test. Thomas versus the University of Alabama’s all-time rushing leader, Derrick Henry, will be a huge matchup for the Auburn faithful and fans of the AFC South.
The Titans were a few plays away from the Super Bowl just last year, after riding rushing momentum from Henry, while the Jaguars went 6-10 and drafted Thomas in the fifth round to help their defense stop the likes of Henry. Thomas is known for his run-stopping ability, and there is hardly a greater test in the NFL right now than stopping Derrick Henry.
2. Week 1, Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears
After missing four games in 2018 and eight games in 2019, Kerryon Johnson needs to prove he can stay healthy to maintain his spot as a starting running back. Johnson has certainly shown brilliance in the league, rushing for 101 yards in his third professional game and going for over 150 total yards against the Chiefs last year. If he can stay healthy, there is no reason Johnson can’t have a great year, and this first game could be a sign of things to come.
1. Week 1, Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
The NFL season starts with a bang, as divisional rivals face off in Gillette Stadium. Six Auburn alumni will be featured in this game, and there is history in the making surrounding it. On the Patriots, aforementioned, Jarrett Stidham will most likely be taking the snaps.Brandon King, Johnathan Jones and Nick Coe, could be on the defensive side of the ball and facing off against Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Once again, Will Hastings could be catching passes from Jarrett Stidham.
For the Dolphins, Chandler Cox could be paving the way in the run game. Noah Igbinoghene will be looking to intercept former teammate Stidham, and Ricardo Louis could be catching passes from Tagovailoa. This game is littered with Auburn talent and will be an excellent one to watch as two franchises look to reinvent themselves.
Caleb Jones, sports writer:
5. Week 6, Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos
The Broncos loaded up on weapons at receiver for quarterback Drew Lock in the 2020 Draft, selecting Jerry Jeudy of Alabama and KJ Hamler of Penn State in the first two rounds. Combined with Courtland Sutton, the Broncos now have a talented group of receivers.
It will be interesting to see how Dolphins’ first-round pick and former Auburn cornerback, Noah Igbinoghene, will match up with Denver’s receiving core when Miami visits the Mile High City in Week 6.
4. Weeks 5 and 8, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons
Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, once teammates and roommates are now rivals in the NFC East. The two held a friendly competition between themselves in their final season at Auburn to see who could take home the most SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards.
Davidson won the competition by taking home four, and Brown took home three. The dynamic duo, while now apart, should still prove to make for an entertaining series.
3. Wherever Cam Newton ends up
Former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton had his tenure with the Panthers come to an end this offseason when he was released on March 24th. His next landing spot is unknown, but the 2015 MVP is the last big free-agent quarterback on the board after Tom Brady signed with the Bucs and Jameis Winston with the Saints. Newton’s future is unknown, as many of the available starting jobs around the league have been filled thanks to the draft and free agency.
2. Week 15, New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
Assuming Jarrett Stidham becomes the starting quarterback for the Patriots, he’ll face off against former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins twice a year in the AFC East. The two only faced off once in college, a 52-21 Alabama victory, but it should still be an entertaining quarterback battle between two college rivals.
1. Week 1, New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
It will be an odd sight for football fans not seeing Tom Brady taking snaps as the New England Patriots quarterback. With his departure from New England, the door is now open for a new dynasty to begin. Former Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham seems to be the favorite to land the job, seeing that the Patriots didn’t draft a quarterback.
The Patriots did sign Brian Hoyer this offseason, but given Hoyer’s age and past performance in the NFL, it seems unlikely he’s the next guy up. Nonetheless, when the Patriots host Miami in Week 1, we’ll know who Bill Belichick gives the reins.
Alex Husting, Sports Writer:
5. Week 11, Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
In Week 11, Kerryon Johnson and the Detroit Lions travel to Carolina to face off against Derrick Brown and the Panthers. This game could also potentially feature three other Auburn players from the 2019-2020 season if they make the roster as Jeremiah Dinson and Arryn Siposs were signed by the Lions, and the Panthers signed Mike Horton. The backfield for the Detroit Lions has some of the best running backs from the SEC in the last four years with D’Andre Swift and Bo Scarbrough on the roster alongside Johnson.
This is a big test for Derrick Brown as he will be dealing with three great running backs, two of which that he faced during his time at Auburn. Kerryon Johnson and Derrick Brown are two of the best players to come out of Auburn in the last five years, and this game is an opportunity to see these two finally go head-to-head.
4. Week 6, Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
Four former Auburn players will get considerable playing time in this Week 6 game, which has inside linebacker Josh Bynes, tight end C.J. Uzomah and outside linebacker Carl Lawson on the Bengals and offensive tackle Braden Smith on the Colts. Despite going undrafted after the 2010 National Championship season, Josh Bynes has had a nice career in the NFL as a bit of a journeyman and contributor on every defense that he has been a part of.
Following Tyler Eifert’s departure, C.J. Uzomah will be the unquestioned starter and top tight end target for rookie Joe Burrow. Auburn fans will also get to watch Carl Lawson and Braden Smith go one-on-one a few times as Smith has become a consistent starter for the Colts, and while Lawson has struggled with injuries, he has been a good contributor for that defense.
3. Week 8, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants
This Monday Night Football matchup features some of the more successful players in the NFL that came from Auburn. Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean are two of the best defensive backs for the Buccaneers and look poised to improve in 2020. Darius Slayton was the leading receiver for the Giants last year, and with Daniel Jones getting more comfortable with the offense, he could break 1,000 yards this season.
This game presents a unique opportunity for Auburn fans to watch Auburn players go one-on-one, something they were not able to see when these players were at Auburn. This game could easily turn into a shootout, which means Auburn fans will get to see a lot from Slayton, Dean and Davis. Former Auburn offensive guard Chad Slade also plays for the Giants.
2. Week 5, Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
The first meeting between these NFC South rivals will include five Auburn players in total. Still, it is fair to assume that most Auburn fans will be focused on Carolina’s first-rounder Derrick Brown and Atlanta’s second-rounder Marlon Davidson. While the Falcon’s long snapper is former Auburn Tiger Josh Harris and the Panthers have Mike Horton and Davonte Lambert on the roster, none are likely to have as much playing time as Brown and Davidson.
This is a chance to watch the two players that helped lead the Auburn defense for the last four years go head-to-head, and while they won’t be playing directly against each other, they will be facing off against two top running backs in the NFL. Brown and the Panthers will face former Georgia running back, Todd Gurley, while Davidson and the Falcons will have their hands full with Christian McCaffrey.
This will be an excellent opportunity for Auburn fans to watch two fan favorites from Auburn and also see how the defensive stars are adjusting to the NFL.
1. Week 1, Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
This game could be at the top of the list simply because it could be the first start for Jarrett Stidham, who left Auburn as one of the best quarterbacks in Auburn football history. For Bill Belichick to pass up on a quarterback in the draft and instead stick with Jarrett Stidham is something fans should pay attention to since the coach seemingly has confidence in Stidham.
Additionally, this matchup of AFC East rivals is filled with Auburn talent as the game features potentially seven other former Auburn players alongside Stidham. The Patriots also have defensive backs Jonathan Jones and Brandon King. The team signed undrafted free agents in wide receiver Will Hastings and defensive end Nick Coe after the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Dolphins have fullback Chandler Cox, wide receiver Ricardo Louis, and 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene. This game is just filled with Auburn talent and could be the start of a great rivalry between Stidham and Igbinoghene. The status of Tua Tagovailoa remains up in the air, but if he were to play, that only adds to this marquee matchup.
Jake Weese, sports editor:
5. Week 12, Las Vegas Raiders at Atlanta Falcons
During Auburn's 2018 season, Marlon Davidson had three consecutive games where he blocked a field goal. He blocked field goals against Mississippi State, Tennesee and Ole Miss. While those three blocked field goals were the only ones that Davidson blocked at Auburn, seeing him on the field during a Daniel Carlson field goal attempt presents a potentially explosive matchup.
4. Week 7, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Las Vegas Raiders
Tampa Bay's Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean will get a chance to go up against some former University of Alabama weapons in Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs III on Sunday Night Football when the Raiders host Tampa Bay. While former Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson and the Raiders will be playing in their second nationally televised game of the season.
Davis, Dean and Carlson will probably not cross paths in this contest, but a nationally televised matchup with some Auburn talent on both sides makes this a natural choice for the list. I also had to include it on the list because I'm interested in seeing the new stadium out in Las Vegas.
3. Week 9, Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs
One of Auburn's most dominant defensive players in program history is Derrick Brown. With the Carolina Panthers choosing him in the first round, they believe he can help anchor the team's defense for many years to come.
When the team heads to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions in Week 9, Brown will get an opportunity to go up against one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Chiefs present a tough offensive challenge, especially with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, but Auburn fans know that Brown will be ready to take on that challenge.
2. Week 8, New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As a rookie, Darius Slayton finished last season with 740 receiving yards and caught eight touchdown passes. When the Giants and Buccaneers squared off in 2019, Slayton caught three passes for 82 yards in a 32-31 win. Tampa Bay's Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis will get another opportunity against Slayton and the Giants offense in a nationally televised game on Monday Night Football.
The two former Auburn defensive backs may even line up against Slayton at some point during the game, which makes this one of the few on the list where former Auburn players could directly affect each other's performance.
1. Week 2, New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks
This may be a shocking result since most of my peers chose the Week 1 contest between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, but Week 2 is a Sunday Night Football matchup. Jarrett Stidham has a chance to be the starting quarterback up in New England this season and while seeing him play in Week 1 is exciting, Week 2 presents even higher stakes.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks versus Jarrett Stidham and the Patriots live on NBC with most of the country watching is sure to be an exciting matchup. The two teams have not met since 2016 and with a new quarterback in New England, this adds another layer to this big-time matchup.
While Stidham is the big name in New England for Auburn fans, both teams are well-represented with former Tigers. The Seahawks have defensive back, Neiko Thorpe, while the Patriots now have Brandon King, Jonathan Jones and unsigned free agents Nick Coe and Will Hastings.
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