2021 NFL Season: 10 Games to Circle on the Calendarby Jonas Clark May 13, 2021 0 comments
With every new sports season comes a schedule scattered with intriguing matchups that keep the sport fresh. From rookie debuts to coaches or players facing their former teams, there’s a new meaning given to certain contests. Then there’s the rivalries, rematches of postseason games, and players returning from injuries. The newly released 2021 NFL regular season schedule has no shortage of “red letter” days for sure.
Looking ahead to this season, the San Francisco 49ers should be back to full health. Franchise quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow will return from their respective injuries too. Top running backs Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley also look to turn in complete seasons. That’s just scraping the surface. With a hot start in Week 1, here are 10 games worth circling for this season.
1) Week 1: Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
In the first 11 years of Aaron Rodgers’ career as a starter, the Packers had played in the Mercedez-Benz Superdome just twice. Both games resulted in a loss for Green Bay in 2008 and 2014. This coming fall will be the second time in two seasons that the teams will battle in the bayou.
After winning the matchup last year, thus ending that drought for the Packers, they may have a little momentum moving forward. The big question is whether or not Rodgers will be under center or not for the visitors. Of course, Drew Brees has retired for the Saints, but Rodgers has hinted at retirement if he doesn’t get his way out of Green Bay. This could be a fresh start at quarterback for two of the most consistent contending teams over the last 15 years. Most intriguing.
2) Week 1: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
Whether Deshaun Watson is playing in this game or not, he won’t be the reason it may be one of the highest viewed games in Week 1. The offseason additions of Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and Urban Meyer as head coach in Duval County will draw the skeptical eyes of football fans from both the collegiate and professional levels.
A consensus No. 1 pick, Lawrence has looked the part of a franchise quarterback over three seasons at Clemson. Now he aspires to live up to expectations. Preparing him for the big moment is one of the most respected college coaches in Meyer. Can he pull off a Pete Carroll-type leap to the NFL? Or will his transition to the pros be more like Nick Saban’s shot in Miami? Then there’s the Tim Tebow factor if he’s still on the roster. Houston is an after-thought right out of the gate in this divisional showdown.
3) Week 1: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers
Even though they knew for quite a while that they’d be playing the Panthers this season, the Jets still traded Sam Darnold to them for a sixth-round pick this year, and second and fourth-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. The NFL scheduling department had a no-brainer decision on their hands when faced with this matchup. They’ve set up Darnold with an opportunity to get the upper hand in the break-up right out of the gate, pitting him against his old team.
The 2018 third-overall pick is even helped by not having to face the crowd in Metlife, which has had to move on to embrace Zach Wilson, the second-overall pick this year. New head coach Robert Saleh, and the front office behind him, will have a hard time with New York media if they drop this one. What a way to get the season going!
4) Week 1: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
This postseason rematch is one that the Browns and their fans have had circled since the day after the Chiefs bounced them from the playoffs in the divisional round. While Kansas City has shored up their offensive line this offseason in response to the pressure that Patrick Mahomes faced in the Super Bowl, the Browns have worked to stack their defense that Mahomes and Henne exploited.
Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson III, Anthony Walker, Greg Newsome II, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are some of their top additions. Not to mention, there’s always a callback to one of the greatest college games ever played, when Mahomes and Baker Mayfield threw for a combined 1,279 yards in a 66-59 shootout in 2016 between Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Mayfield won that one but has been bested in both professional matchups.
5) Week 2: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens
The league’s new premiere matchup as the old guard has phased out, Mahomes versus Lamar Jackson is still the presumptive preview of the AFC Championship game. Taking center stage in Week 2 on Sunday Night Football, this early season bout should give fans and coaches the best value; players should still be fresh, and rosters still at full strength. The timing, of course, hasn’t made the difference the last two seasons. The division champions have faced off in Week 3 both times and resulted in a victory for the Chiefs. Feeling reloaded after the offseason, the Ravens look to live up to their billing as title contenders.
6) Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots
After Tom Brady’s move to Tampa Bay last year, this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for – his return to Gillette Stadium. New England’s favorite son also comes back with a brand new ring on his hand that didn’t come from Bill Belichick. The reception is likely going to be more like Peyton Manning’s 2013 return to Indianapolis with the Denver Broncos, more than it is to have the animosity of Brett Favre’s 2009 return to Lambeau Field with the Minnesota Vikings.
The crowd is sure to be heavily peppered with Brady Patriots jerseys as he steps on the field to an ovation from the fans. Facing his replacement, Favre, with revenge on his mind, defeated Rodgers and the Packers. Manning’s Broncos had a slow start and fell to Andrew Luck and the Colts. Will Mac Jones be starting for the Patriots by Week 4? If so, past and future may once again meet on the gridiron in an emotional return home.
7) Week 7: Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff’s time with the Rams had been rather successful, with a Super Bowl appearance in 2019 as part of three postseason trips in four seasons. In fact, things were looking so good with Goff that the team gave him a new contract in 2019 with massive guarantees upfront. Reaching the divisional round wasn’t enough for the team, however, who sought more experience at quarterback to challenge Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
They believe found it in Matthew Stafford, acquiring him from the Lions in an offseason trade that sent Goff to Detroit. The trade gives football fans another fantastic matchup this season when Goff makes his return to Los Angeles in the new SoFi Stadium. It’s likely the first time Rams fans get to see Goff in the new SoFi stadium, and he’s going to be a visitor. Wow.
8) Week 8: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
The Browns shocked the league in their return to the playoffs, bursting out to a 28-0 lead on the Steelers. They even hung on to win. Coming off of a regular season that started 11-0, it was an unexpected end for Pittsburgh, to say the least. Week 8 is the first time the two teams will play since that night; The Steeler’s will be out for revenge and prevent their consecutive losses to Cleveland from becoming a streak. For the Browns, this will be their chance to further assert themselves in the AFC North. They’d also like to keep their record at First Energy Stadium perfect against Pittsburgh under Baker Mayfield. Ben Roethlisberger, however, knows a thing or two about winning in Cleveland. If this is his last run, he’d surely like to remind the Browns about that.
9) Week 11: Washington Football Team at Carolina Panthers
Ron Rivera got the better of his old team when the Panthers traveled to Washington last December, but this season he makes his first return to Charlotte. Last year a wild one for Rivera. In the fall he shared his cancer journey and was announced cancer-free this past January. After being fired by the Panthers in 2019, Rivera quickly found a new home with Washington.
He helped Washington rise to defensive dominance and the top of the struggling NFC East to qualify for the playoffs. The adversity he faced on and off the field, didn’t go unnoticed. He was recognized as the 2020 NFC Coach of the Year. Rivera’s reception at Bank of America Stadium is likely to be a positive one. That won’t change his goal, as he’ll look to show his old organization, once again, that he still has it.
10) Week 16: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets
It’s a long wait but fans will get the showdown of Lawrence and Wilson before the year ends, health permitting. With a season under their belt, 2021’s top picks square off at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, December 26. This contest’s spot in the season is great, as both young signal-callers should be settled into their new teams. Wilson’s performance and maturity by December will really be something to watch, as his personal attributes saw him drafted second overall. Without an impressive college resume against top-tier competition like Lawrence, this game should provide a solid example of how Wilson truly measures up.
Bonus – Week 18: New York Giants at Washington Football Team
This game isn’t one that itself is likely to notable to watch, but it is worth circling. It’s Week 18 of the NFL regular season! Stacked with all divisional games, it is the first time teams will play their 17th regular-season game. A good friend always says, “More football is good for football.” More football in January is welcomed.
Follow Jonas Clark on Twitter @jarkclonas
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