Ten Marquee Games on the 2021 NFL Scheduleby Christopher Gallagher May 10, 2021 0 comments
With the NFL set to release its 2021 season schedule on Wednesday night, the time to look ahead to the fall is here. The league is set to introduce a 17th game for the first time in league history. The AFC will host the extra week of football this year, while the NFC will get the additional home game in 2022. Super Bowl Sunday will be pushed back to the second week in February.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are still set to have the most challenging schedule on paper based on their opponent’s 2020 records. In contrast, the Philadelphia Eagles remain in possession of the easiest strength of schedule, with games against the Jets, Broncos, and Lions. Including a return of Tom Brady to New England with the Buccaneers, and a rematch of the 2020 AFC Championship game, here are 10 marquee games to look for on the 2021 NFL schedule.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Jets
Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will have their names etched together for the duration of their NFL careers. They are set to square off for the first time since being drafted with the first two picks in April.
Dubbed as the surefire first overall pick since his freshman year at Clemson, Lawrence is thought of by many as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. Wilson shot up draft boards after a strong final season at BYU, and the Jets selected him as their signal-caller of the future. With the debut of new head coaches Urban Meyer (Jacksonville) and Robert Saleh (New York), the matchup represents an optimistic new era for two teams looking to return to their former glory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Los Angeles Rams
In their Monday Night Football game from a year ago, the Rams narrowly defeated the Buccaneers 27-24. For the rematch, the Bucs are the to beat in the NFC after capturing the Lombardi Trophy last postseason. Tampa Bay is returning all 22 starters from their Super Bowl, including Brady. With money kicked down the road by general manager Jason Licht, they remain set on running it back in 2021.
After being defeated by the Packers in the NFC playoffs, Los Angeles sent shockwaves around the league. Choosing to move on from former number one overall pick Jared Goff, the team acquired longtime Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. It’s a new team, with the 33-year-old paired with Sean McVay at the helm of the Rams offense. Look for this one to be a potential NFC Championship Game preview.
Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Buffalo is of the premier AFC contenders after capturing their first division title in over 20 seasons a year ago. The Bills also made their first title game appearance since 1994. Backed by 2020 MVP dark horse candidate Josh Allen, the team will match up with Brady for the first time since he left the Patriots.
Narrowly missing the Bills last season in a potential Super Bowl matchup, Tampa Bay will look to knock off one of the AFC’s elite. The former New England quarterback dominated the AFC East for 20 seasons with a record 32-2 against Buffalo. Look for Sean McDermott‘s group to head into this one extra motivated. They will look to exact revenge on their longtime foe and throw a wrench in the Buccaneers Super Bowl plans.
Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
A rematch of Super Bowl 1 as a Week 17 add to the league’s new schedule results in the first face-off between Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Assuming the three-time MVP remains in Green Bay for 2021, football fans will get the matchup they narrowly missed out on in 2019. Mahomes did not play in that game with a concussion and the Packers won 31-24.
Among the NFL’s elite offenses in 2020, both teams were members of the NFL’s final four on championship Sunday. Furthermore, each quarterback finished among the top three in MVP voting, with Rodgers ultimately capturing the award. Both should remain contenders for the Super Bowl again in 2021. This matchup will have no shortage of storylines as a potential primetime game late in the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New England Patriots
Defeating their former quarterback will be on the minds of everyone in Foxborough. Brady will also have motivation in mind for his first return to New England since choosing to walk away. The teams are trending in opposite directions since they went their separate ways. Brady went on to capture his seventh Super Bowl title while Bill Belichick and company struggled to a 7-9 finish.
New England is back in the hunt in the AFC after a strong free agency period and draft. The team added tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, along with former Ravens edge rusher Matt Judon. With fans expected to return to NFL stadiums in 2021, a matchup between one of the greatest head coach-quarterback duos of all time will have football fans everywhere tuned in.
Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Breaking one of the most prolonged playoff droughts in the league a year ago, the Browns clinched their first playoff berth since the 2002 season. Backed behind a much-improved defense and one of the game’s premier rushing attacks, the team upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round before ultimately falling to the Chiefs on divisional weekend. Cleveland made improvements to their roster as they look to capture a divisional title and fight for the AFC crown next season. The team added cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson in free agency.
Remaining the team to beat in the conference, the Chiefs landed offensive linemen Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown in the offseason to help bolster the protection for their All-Pro quarterback. Surrounded with lofty expectations league-wide in 2021, this will be a true test for Kevin Stefanski’s Browns to prove they can be a Super Bowl threat.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Los Angeles Rams
The NFC West is destined to be a battle in 2021. The 49ers will look to continue their recent stretch of dominance against McVay’s group. Undefeated in their last four contests against the Rams, San Francisco finished a disappointing 6-10 last season after becoming decimated by injuries. Losing Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Nick Bosa, and Richard Sherman for an extended time, the team made the move of the draft by selecting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance third overall after trading up.
Expected to begin next season with Garoppolo under center, the Niners will be responsible for slowing down an improved Rams offense with Stafford at quarterback. Furthermore, with Kyle Shanahan remaining tasked with navigating one of the NFL’s elite defensive units led by Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, look for this to be a game of the year candidate.
Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Gaining ground in the AFC North during 2020, the Browns knocked off the Steelers for just the second time in their last 12 matchups during the regular season. Cleveland then shocked the football world in the playoffs by defeating Pittsburgh at Heinz Field for the first time since 2003. Heading in opposite directions as they enter the season, Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry has begun to add significant pieces to its roster.
Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin’s team saw pass rusher Bud Dupree land in Tennessee and longtime left tackle Alejandro Villanueva ink a deal in Baltimore with the Ravens. Pegged as the favorite by many to capture their first divisional title since the league realigned divisions in 2002, the Browns will be tasked with overtaking the Steelers and making a statement across the NFL.
Pittsburgh is as consistent as they come over the last 20 seasons with Ben Roethlisberger under center. The Steelers havs remained a significant roadblock for Cleveland fans everywhere. This makes their matchup a major statement game for each franchise next season, with their division rivalry as strong as ever.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New England Patriots
An added game to the schedule as a result of the league’s new 17-game season, the Cowboys travel to Foxborough for the second time in three seasons. Dallas was narrowly defeated by the Patriots during their last matchup in 2019. The Cowboys endured a lost season a year ago after losing Dak Prescott to an ankle injury during Week 5.
Likewise, New England struggled mightily to have any success on offense in 2020 as they began life without Brady. The team finished the season ranked 27th in the league in yards per game. With the Cowboys set to get their franchise quarterback back, and the Patriots looking to return multiple defensive starters after they opted out of the 2020 season. Both clubs head into next season with significant question marks. This makes this matchup a measuring stick game for both teams.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Arizona Cardinals
Earning the seventh and final spot in the AFC playoffs a year ago in their third season under Frank Reich, the Colts ultimately fell to the Bills in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. With quarterback Phillip Rivers choosing to retire, the team acquired longtime Eagles signal-caller Carson Wentz as they look to find a long-term answer at the position.
Disappointing down the final stretch of games to close out their 2020 campaign, the Cardinals lost their final two games of the season, forcing them to miss the playoffs. Loaded with firepower following the offseason additions of A.J. Green and J.J. Watt, both teams sport two of the best rosters across the NFL. They will each look to put the final pieces together to become true Super Bowl contenders.