With the NFL draft in the books, it’s time to start looking forward to next season – and what better way to do that than to dive right into the newly released 2021 schedule.
We’ve parsed through the schedule set to be played this year – the first in which each team will be playing 17 games – and picked out half a dozen of the ones we’re most looking forward to.
Here are six games in the 2021 NFL season that you will not want to miss.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys – NFL Kickoff
September 9 at 8:20 p.m. ET
It’s impossible to leave a game of this magnitude off this list because the 2021 season opener has it all.
Tom Brady’s Buccaneers will watch their Super Bowl LV banner get raised to the rafters at Raymond James Stadium, the very same stadium where they captured the trophy back in February, and kick off their title defence with a team that boasts arguably one of the best rosters in the NFL.
And on the other sideline: the return of Dak Prescott.
The Cowboys experienced in 2020 what life would be like without their franchise quarterback – and it wasn’t pretty. So, as Prescott continued rehabbing from a season-ending ankle injury, Dallas rewarded their star pivot with a six-year, $160-million extension.
New contract in hand, Prescott returns to the field with an offence can be as explosive as it was before his injury, but it’s the Cowboys’ defence and coaching staff that are the biggest question marks heading into 2021.
Fans will get their first chance to see if Dallas is the real deal on the opening night of the campaign against the defending champs.
New England Patriots vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Brady Returns to New England
October 3 at 8:20 p.m. ET
It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for since March 17, 2020 – the day news broke that Brady would be leaving the Patriots to sign with the Buccaneers.
In the months since, Brady has won his seventh ring and become just the second QB ever to lead two different teams to Super Bowl titles. The Patriots, on the other hand, struggled through a very mediocre first season with their former on-field general and followed it up with a wildly uncharacteristic off-season filled with big-money free-agent signings.
And it will all culminate with the first-ever Brady vs. Belichick bout at Foxborough in prime time, which is sure to make for must-watch TV no matter how the game plays out.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills – AFC Championship Game Rematch
October 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET
The Chiefs and Bills will enter the 2021 season in the same position as how they ended the 2020 campaign: as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the AFC, respectively.
Last January’s AFC title clash was disappointing for the Bills, who had no answer for Mahomes and Josh Allen wasn’t able to maintain the MVP-type play that got Buffalo to its first conference championship in nearly three decades.
While Kansas City rebuilt their offensive line in the off-season, Buffalo did all it could to get the gang back together with hopes the team that failed to upset the AFC’s perennial favourite last season will get it right the second time around.
Will the Bills be able to overcome the Chiefs in 2021 and stake a claim for No. 1 in the AFC in a game that could have major playoff implications? We’ll find out on Oct. 10.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers – Finally, Mahomes vs. Rodgers… maybe?
November 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET
First off, let’s address the elephant in the room: this being a “can’t-miss” game very much hinges on Aaron Rodgers being a member of the Packers next season. If we were to bet on it right now, we’d put money on Rodgers staying in Green Bay, hence the pick.
It’s hard to argue Patrick Mahomes versus Rodgers isn’t a QB battle every NFL fan dreams of: the league’s last two MVPs – and, frankly, two of the best ever to play the position – leading a pair of its most potent offences in a game very unlikely to disappoint (unless Rodgers pushes himself out of Green Bay, of course).
It’s also a first as Mahomes and Rodgers have yet to face off in their careers to this point. The last time these two teams met – a 31-24 Sunday night Packers win in October 2019 – Mahomes missed the game due to a knee injury and Matt Moore led the K.C. offence.
Chiefs versus Packers will be the very early Super Bowl prediction for many pundits across the football world and fans could be getting a sneak peak on Nov. 7 in Kansas City next season.
Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens – Rematch of 2020’s Game of the Year
December 12 at 1 p.m. ET
The Browns and Ravens blessed us with arguably the game of the season in 2020 when the two AFC North rivals went blow for blow in a mid-December Monday nighter in Cleveland before Lamar Jackson led Baltimore to a thrilling come-from-behind 47-42 win that included Lamar’s infamous exit because of “cramps.”
But the potential for even more fireworks is just one reason we’ve picked this game as one of our can’t-miss games in 2021; the other is because of what’s happened since the 2020 campaign came to an end.
In Cleveland, GM Andrew Berry has been busy boosting the Browns defence with big free agency signings and marquee draft picks as his team looks to take another step after ending a 17-year post-season drought in 2020. The Ravens, meanwhile, have worked this off-season to better equip the offence around Jackson, who makes this team a perpetual contender.
We’re predicting a down year for the Steelers in 2021, so the Ravens and Browns will be two of the AFC’s top five teams squaring off in a late-season game that could very well decide the winner of the AFC North.
New York Jets vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – No. 1 vs. No. 2
December 26 at 1 p.m. ET
The future is now in Jacksonville and New York as quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the top two picks in the 2021 draft, are both expected to take over in centre immediately for their respective teams.
And, barring injury, NFL fans will be treated with a showdown between two of 2021’s top rookies when the Jets host the Jaguars on Boxing Day.
Lawrence was the no-doubt can’t-miss top prospect in the 2021 draft and had been expected to go first overall this year ever since he took over in Clemson as a freshman in 2018. Will he live up to the hype?
Wilson saw a meteoric rise up the draft board in 2020 after a breakout season at BYU. With NFL teams desperately searching for the next Patrick Mahomes, Wilson’s ability to make plays outside of structure coupled with an impressive arm were enough for the Jets to bank the future on the 21-year-old.
Rookie QB against rookie QB can sometimes be hit-or-miss as the players are often still finding their footing in the big leagues, but we expect the hype in the lead-up to this game will make it impossible to ignore.