Revenge is a dish best served cold and there will be plenty of notable NFL players and coaches looking to deliver a dose of it this fall and winter.
Looking at the 2022 schedule, three of the prominent quarterbacks traded in the offseason will get a quick turnaround chance to play another game in their former home stadium. They top the list of the top reunions on the new slate.
These are the 12 biggest grudge matchups you can circle on your calendars this football season, from Seattle to Miami:
1. Russell Wilson, Broncos at Seahawks
Russ had hinted at a breakup from Pete Carroll for a couple seasons. But it was still shocking when it became official and he was shipped from the NFC West to the AFC West in the premier blockbuster move in a year of a blockbuster moves.
Wilson felt like he would be a Seahawk for life when the team stole him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He decided to pursue his second Super Bowl ring elsewhere and Denver brought the best offer. He has quickly embraced his new city, a la Peyton Manning in moving from Indy. You can bet, however, it will be a highly emotional and loud affair at Lumen Field for the return of the future Hall of Famer.
2. Deshaun Watson, Browns at Texans
Watson was the other big quarterback domino to fall to another team and Cleveland was the surprise destination. He wasn’t happy with the way things ended in Houston and should be motivated to be known again for what he did on the field as that team’s dynamic franchise QB.
Watson was special to the Texans faithful until he faced multiple sexual assault and misconduct allegations which may lead to him missing a chunk of games via league suspension in his first season with the Browns. He wasn’t suspended at all last season, but didn’t play a down for the Texans. Should he be on track to be cleared to play, Watson will be ready to light up the overmatched defense of his former team back in NRG Stadium.
3. Carson Wentz, Commanders at Colts
Wentz is returning to the NFC East after a one-year absence, which means he also will get a shot to play his first NFL team, the Eagles, twice. But as tough as his departure from Philadelphia was in favor of Jalen Hurts, his quick one and done rise and fall in Indianapolis will put more at stake in his solo chance to prove the Colts wrong.
After falling short of the playoffs tied to Wentz’s shaky late-season play, the Colts didn’t waste time making what they thought was an upgrade from the 29-year-old with 36-year-old Matt Ryan. Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard and rest of the Indy brass is making it feel like the big trade for Wentz never happened. They also touted Ryan is their ideal kind of pocket QB for Frank Reich, a la Philip Rivers in 2020.
4. Mike McCarthy, Cowboys at Packers
McCarthy won Super Bowl 45 in Green Bay but his ending there in 2018 with Aaron Rodgers before giving way to Matt LaFleur was rocky. He took a year off from coaching to recharge and after a disastrous injury-riddled first year leading the Cowboys, he flipped them into strong 12-5 NFC East champions last season.
He finally will return to coach at Lambeau Field, near where Mike McCarthy Way runs parallel to Lombardi Avenue and intersects Holmgren Way. He always will be remembered for working with Rodgers for their first rings, but there’s also some uneasy feelings after 13 mostly lucky years and 135 wins including playoffs. McCarthy and Dak Prescott vs. LaFleur and Rodgers should also have big implications in NFC seeding.
5. A.J. Brown, Eagles vs. Titans
The Titans didn’t want to pay Brown the big bucks in an extension, so they moved the 24-year-old short of finishing his rookie deal. They found an aggressive taker in the Eagles, who were willing to give Brown a four-year, $100 million contract. Brown was hinting at big things in Tennessee but he will now get a chance to do them as Hurts’ new true go-to guy opposite 2021 first-rounder DeVonta Smith.
Brown will work to roast a Titans secondary he knows well with big plays to show them what they’re missing. He also will be motivated to outplay his first-round rookie replacement, Treylon Burks. In case one is wondering, fellow traded starting wide receivers Davante Adams (Raiders), Tyreek Hill (Dolphins) and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (Cardinals) won’t get shots at their former teams in 2022.
6. Doug Pederson, Jaguars at Eagles
Pederson was dismissed not long after leading Philadelphia to a ring in Super Bowl 52. He was fired after only five seasons and a dropoff to 4-11-1 in favor of Nick Sirianni, who got the Eagles got back to the playoffs at 9-8 in 2021. Pederson took a year off, like McCarthy, to reset his options for a second stint. The Jaguars needed a big-time cleanup for Shad Khan after a disastrous year with Urban Meyer.
There’s hope the offensive-minded former QB Pederson can have the same influence on a Year 2 Trevor Lawrence the same way he got the best out of Carson Wentz early. You can bet Pederson wants to pull out a Philly special and upset his former team as big underdogs on the road.
7. Von Miller, Bills at Rams
Miller looked like he was “ready to run it back” and seek a repeat after Super Bowl 56, for his third overall ring on his second team. He had major impact on the Rams’ defense flanking Aaron Donald in a half-season and delivered like his best Broncos DPOY days during the playoffs. The Bills, hoping to get their Super breakthrough, too, stole Miller as a free agent with an unbeatable 6-year, $120 million deal for a 33-year-old edge pass rusher.
Miller jumped to another contender and will be hungry to make a difference in one of the schedule’s best interconference matchups. He will try to re-create the good times in L.A. by trying to wreak havoc on former teammate Matthew Stafford.
8. Brian Flores, Steelers at Dolphins
Flores was shockingly fired as Miami’s coach after two improving winning seasons for a rebuilding team with limited roster resources. Following his firing, Flores became front and center of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams (including the Dolphins), alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices.
There was concern that bold move would cost Flores’ future coaching opportunities. But Mike Tomlin was happy to boost his staff by making Flores his senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach. You can bet Flores would love to help Tomlin and Pittsburgh rip Tua Tagovailoa and Miami with Black and Gold dominating the stands in South Florida.
9. Josh McDaniels, Raiders vs. Patriots
Here’s going from Flores to another former Bill Belichick top assistant seeking revenge. McDaniels finally gets his second chance as an NFL head coach after his failed 2009-2010 stint in Denver, back in the AFC West in Las Vegas. The Raiders are trying to emulate the Patriot Way with McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler, the former director of player personnel in New England.
They can put that project to that test against the original model at home. How will Belichick’s knowledge of McDaniels’ scheme come into play vs. what could be a high-powered passing game with Derek Carr? Will McDaniels have some offensive wrinkles up his sleeve to catch the master off-guard? It’s worth watching just to see how the pregame exchange and postgame handshake go down.
10. Kirk Cousins, Vikings at Commanders
This is not the first time Cousins has quarterbacked against the football team from Washington, his former NFL team that helped give rise to his NFL starting QB status. He won with the Vikings at home in a 2019 matchup. But this is the first time he’s returning to Washington to play since signing multiple big deals with Minnesota and breaking out of the consecutive franchise-tag cycle.
Cousins bet on himself a couple times and ended up winning big with a cushier gig. He got another contract extension from the Vikings this year, for one year at $35 more million. We can already see Cousins yelling “You like that?!” from the visitors locker room before and after the game. When Mr. Kirk goes to Washington, expected a motivated performance to light up the Commanders.
11. Matt Judon, Patriots vs. Ravens
This doesn’t sound like one of the sexiest revenge games. But Judon, after five solid years in Baltimore rushing the passer, broke out in spectacular fashion in his sixth NFL season with the Patriots. His 12.5 sacks was the first double-digit effort of his career and earned him his third Pro Bowl spot. He proved quickly to New England he was worth signing to a four-year, $56 million deal with the ideal versatility for Belichick.
Judon wasn’t thrilled about playing on the 2020 franchise tag in Baltimore and had some rough moments as a Raven, including an on-field run-in with an official and tension toward a prominent beat reporter. But there’s no doubt he is a devastating disruptive defender and is critical part of the Patriots’ latest defensive success. Judon will be pumped to chase down Lamar Jackson from the other side.
12. Mike McDaniel, Dolphins at 49ers
While Flores tries to win with his team over McDaniel, McDaniel, like McDaniels, will be trying to show his master, Kyle Shanahan, what he has learned to break out as his own offensive-minded padawan. There won’t be any real bad blood here, as McDaniel is beloved by 49ers players, especially on offense, and Shanahan should be proud that his offensive influence is starting to spread more across the league.
But you can bet McDaniel, being bet on as a wunderkind to turn around Tagovailoa with a much-upgraded coaching staff including Hill, will want to match what Shanahan brings with his team in a potential shootout. This is one of the season’s most underrated games as Miami makes a long road trip to San Francisco with some of the same concepts in tow.