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The most important games in the 2021 NFL schedule

Here’s everything you need to know about the schedule this year.

The 2021 NFL season is going to look a lot different. A 17th regular season game has been added to the slate for the first time in league history at the expense of a preseason game. We still don’t know how an increased slate will impact players, who were against the idea. In addition, games are returning to London for the first time since the Covid pandemic began, and there’s still considerable concern surrounding the event. We also have a slate of new quarterbacks entering the league, Aaron Rodgers drama unfolding now until the start of the season, and we get to see if Tom Brady can keep drinking from the fountain of youth.

It’s going to be so much fun.

This is everything you need to know about the 2021 NFL schedule.

The NFL’s Week 1 slate in 2021 opens with a marquee game

The NFL season begins with Thursday Night Football with the Cowboys heading to Tampa Bay to take on the Super Bowl champions. This game, between two teams who figure to be favorites in their respective divisions will be a real tone setter for the rest of the season.

Tom Brady is trying to keep the magic going following a hyped 2020 season that looked shaky at the beginning, before once again proving why Brady is so damn great. Meanwhile the Cowboys, with Dak Prescott returning under center, are ready to make up for lost time.

This is going to be a good one.

The NFL’s London games get two weeks in 2021

The NFL returns to London with the Jets and Falcons, as well as the Dolphins and Jaguars. I’ll be honest, I don’t think that Jets vs. Falcons game will be much to write home about, but Miami vs. Jacksonville will be fascinating.

London has become a de facto second home for the Jaguars, being the team that plays in the city most often, and presumably with Trevor Lawrence under center it’s going to be really fun to see how the U.K. crowd react to him.

The NFL’s 18 week schedule is going to be interesting and scary

Very few people were in favor of expanding the regular season to 18 weeks. The provision allowing the NFL to make the move was built into the last collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA, but that doesn’t mean everyone is happy.

We already see players limping down the stretch, or making comments about how brutal Thursday night games can be for players without adequate rest. It remains to be seen how the league can cope with adding another full game to the schedule.

It will be interesting to see if teams treat the final game like actual, important competition — or if it becomes an extension of the regular season itself, with the best teams resting players and everyone outside of the playoff bubble largely not caring.

Tom Brady plays the Patriots in New England in Week 4

This feels like the biggest matchup on the 2021 NFL schedule. Brady and the Bucs didn’t play the Patriots last season on their run to the Super Bowl, but the Hall of Fame QB will return the place where he won his first six Super Bowls in Week 4 when New England hosts Tampa Bay on Sunday Night Football. The game will take place on Oct. 3 and kick off at 8:20 p.m. on NBC.

8 great QB matchups on the 2021 NFL schedule

  • Week 2: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens. Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson might be the most thrilling quarterback matchup in the game today.
  • Week 2: Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys. Here’s hoping Dak Prescott will be healthy by the start of the season, because a matchup with Justin Herbert and the Chargers would be a lot of fun. Herbert had a breakout rookie season in Los Angeles last year, and could establish himself as a top-10 QB with a solid follow-up campaign.
  • Week 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams: Tom Brady’s GOAT case is stronger than ever after his seventh Super Bowl last year. The Rams have upgraded at QB with the trade for Matthew Stafford. After spending his entire career in Detroit, it will be fascinating to see what Stafford can do in LA.
  • Week 4: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals. Who wouldn’t want to watch the last two No. 1 overall draft picks go head-to-head? This game will be all about Trevor Lawrence vs. Joe Burrow — assuming Burrow is healthy coming off knee surgery.
  • Week 5: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs. This is an AFC Championship Game rematch from last year pitting Mahomes against Josh Allen. Allen is one of the few young QBs in the league who can keep with Mahomes as a playmaker on his best days. The Bills will also hope their defense can do better than the 38 points they allowed against KC in the playoffs last season.
  • Week 10: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers. Will Aaron Rodgers still be the Packers’ quarterback heading into this game? Rodgers is reportedly doing everything he can to force his way out, so this one comes with an obvious disclaimer that he may not be around. If he is, Rodgers vs. Russell Wilson — another QB who found his name in offseason trade rumors — is a showcase of two of the best veteran passers alive.
  • Week 14: Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The young gun Josh Allen vs. the future Hall of Fame inductee Brady. This could have been the Super Bowl matchup last season if the Bills had upset the Chiefs in the AFC title game.
  • Week 16: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Jets. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson just went 1-2 in the 2021 NFL Draft. They go head-to-head in Week 16.

5 more NFL games with intriguing storylines

Week 1: New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers

Both the Jets and Panthers made very conscious decisions about Sam Darnold this offseason. New York decided to move on, selecting Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick, while Carolina believes in Darnold enough after trading for him that they passed on Justin Fields in the draft.

Outside of the edge case that both Wilson and Darnold are mediocre, this game will be a litmus test on which front office was correct. Unquestionably the most drama will occur with Darnold turns into the player the Panthers thought he could be, especially if Wilson struggles. God help us the New York newspaper headlines are going to be incredible if that happens the first week of the season.

Week 18: Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots

I’m specifically looking at the second game these teams meet as the one to circle. Now, there’s a lot of moving pieces in place here, and a lot of them could fall through — but at this point in the year I’m hoping New England is trying to give Mac Jones some starting reps.

There’s been so much weird drama in the potential of a Tua Tagovailoa vs. Mac Jones matchup. Sure, they both played at Alabama, but a wrinkle was added to all this when receiver Jaylen Waddle was drafted by the Dolphins, then an interview emerged in which he said he preferred playing with Mac Jones out of the two quarterbacks.

Yes he was just answering a question, but it added drama to this whole situation. More importantly this will be the first time to see two future AFC East staple quarterbacks face off, and could provide a glimpse into the future of the division beyond Buffalo.

Week 14: Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the best storylines in 2020 was the Bills asserting their dominance in the AFC East with Tom Brady out of the picture. We cam tantalizingly close to seeing these teams meet in the Super Bowl, now we have a chance in the regular season — on Monday Night Football, no less.

The Bills vaunted defense will throw everything at Brady and try to make a statement, while Tom will respond in a familiar role: Trying to make Bills fans sad.

It’s going to be interesting to see if Tampa Bay can continue the team’s stellar performance in 2020, and whether the Bills have done enough to take the next step.

Week 1: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans

The first game of a new era is always exciting, and when it comes to Jacksonville there’s a ton to look forward to. There’s the excitement of Trevor Lawrence taking his first NFL snaps, which is enough to make it appointment television — but also the curiosity of Urban Meyer.

Meyer is trying to install his Ohio State offense in the NFL, and there are plenty of doubts whether the pass-happy scheme will work. That said, we’ve seen college-to-pro concepts work before, like Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona.

Lawrence couldn’t ask for a better game than facing the hapless Texans in the division. It’s going to give him a chance to shine an set the tone for the rest of his season.

Week 6: New York Jets vs. Atlanta Falcons

I know earlier I said I wasn’t that excited about this game, and on the field I’m really not. However, the NFL’s return to London is going to be one of the most tense, closely scrutinized weeks of the season.

The USA is still listed as an “amber” country on England’s Covid scale, meaning if the game was set to take place today players would need to quarantine for 10 days upon entering the country. That will almost assuredly change in the five months before the game, but if it doesn’t we could be looking at a logistical nightmare.

Add on top of that concerns whether teams should be traveling that far this season into a foreign country and you have a whole lot of potential issues arising that aren’t related to the game itself.