With the 2021 schedule released, the upcoming season provides plenty of headlines. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off their Super Bowl victory, while teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets will turn to rookie quarterbacks. Here, we discuss the top ten matchups of the new season:
10. Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Jets (Week)
With the top two selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets predictably selected their quarterbacks of the future. The Jaguars landed Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, while the Jets selected BYU’s Zach Wilson. Each team added to their offense through the draft as well, with Jacksonville grabbing running back Travis Etienne in the later stages of the first round. Meanwhile, Jacksonville added wide receiver Elijah Moore in the third round, and then running back Michael Carter two rounds later.
Both teams were incapable of moving the ball down the field last season, finishing below the league average in passing, rushing, and scoring. The Jets’ 15.2 points per game were the lowest total since the 2018 Arizona Cardinals. The Jets and Jaguars were both active in free agency, leaving plenty of question marks about what is to come between a matchup headlined by the top two picks.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints (Week 8)
Even without Drew Brees under center for the New Orleans Saints, this is a roster that will still draw attention. At this time, Jameis Winston should be the projected starter and would face his former team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers, coming off their Super Bowl victory, retained a vast majority of their roster. When Winston last represented Tampa Bay, he notoriously led the NFL in passing yards (5,109) and interceptions (30).
Another headline will be the impact of Michael Thomas without Brees. The three-time Pro Bowl talent has played in 70 games in his career, but only 10 have been without Brees. In those games, he has totaled 77 receptions for 923 yards and three touchdowns. With a full 2021 season on the horizon, will he remain one of the league’s top receivers?
8. New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (Week 5)
A new season brings along a continued rivalry within the NFC East. Both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys have key players returning from injury, such as running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Dak Prescott. The Giants addressed their key concerns through free agency, adding Kenny Golladay as the centerpiece of their receiving core. For Dallas, their adjustments came primarily through the hiring of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to go along with six defensive players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys have won each of their last four home matchups versus the Giants, averaging a win margin of 11 points. New York is seeking their first playoff entry since the 2016 season, and a win over a divisional foe would be a step in the right direction.
7. Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 17)
The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers had opposite trajectories last season. The Steelers won each of their first 11 games of the regular season, but lost four of their final five contests, including the regular season finale against the Browns. For Cleveland, they allowed 76 combined points to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1 and Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6, but won six of their final eight games to reach the playoffs. In a wild card game where many expected the Steelers to move on, the Browns put up 48 points en route to advancing to the divisional round.
Pittsburgh has addressed their immediate need for support in the backfield by adding running back Najee Harris, while the Browns bulked up their defensive front by signing Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley. The AFC North is once again up for grabs, as the Browns remain hopeful to secure their first division title since 1989.
6. Detroit Lions @ Los Angeles Rams (Week 7)
In one of the biggest revenge games of the 2021 season, Lions quarterback Jared Goff and Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford will suit up to face their former teams. For Stafford, this will break his streak of 165 games played for Detroit. He joins an upgraded roster that contains Cam Akers, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and the newly-signed DeSean Jackson.
For Goff, his biggest support on the offensive end may be none other than rookie tackle Penei Sewell. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in the 2021 Draft, Sewell is regarded as one of the best value selections of the first round. The offensive weapons appear lackluster in Detroit, but Goff has posted a QBR of 90+ in three of the last four seasons.
5. Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers (Week 3)
As long as both sides remain healthy and intact, this could be one of the greatest regular season matchups of the 2021 season. It remains unclear on whether Aaron Rodgers will remain in Green Bay, but if he does, this is a classic case of one of the best offenses versus one of the best defenses.
Even with the ongoing injuries to key players for San Francisco, their defense finished fourth against the pass and seventh against the run. While the quarterback situation remains a question for the 49ers, this is an offense that will contain a healthy George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. For Green Bay, they were the top scoring offense last season and finished fifth in total yards per game. Despite losing Corey Linsley in free agency, the Packers have the pieces to make another competitive run at the Super Bowl this year.
4. Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens (Week 2)
For the fourth consecutive season, the Chiefs and Ravens will be scheduled to face one another. The Chiefs have taken each of the last three contests since Patrick Mahomes has entered the league, but two of those games have been a one-score game.
Over the course of the offseason, Kansas City invested in their offensive line, despite only allowing 24 sacks last season; the fifth-lowest mark in the NFL. Baltimore landed Sammy Watkins in free agency, but further addressed their need for wide receivers by selecting Rashod Bateman in the first round of the 2021 Draft. Both teams are striving to establish themselves as the favorites in the AFC, making this particular matchup a must-watch event.
3. Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs (Week 5)
Speaking of AFC favorites, the Buffalo Bills reached their first Conference Championship game since the 1993 campaign last season. Josh Allen lived up to his Pro Bowl nomination, totaling 4,544 passing yards and 37 touchdowns to go with a 107.2 QBR. The team improved over the free agency period, adding both linebacker Matt Milano and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders among others.
The AFC continues to run through Kansas City, however, as the Chiefs have defeated the Bills in each of their two meetings last season by an average margin of 12.5 points. In those games, Mahomes has totaled 550 passing yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. In this AFC Championship rematch, there should be a lot of points on the board.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots (Week 4)
This will surely be one of the most anticipated games this season, as 43-year old Tom Brady makes his return to Gillette Stadium against former head coach Bill Belichick. The two have previously dominated the AFC with a total of six Super Bowl titles. After Brady departed for Tampa Bay, he secured his seventh Championship.
The Patriots spent the most amount of money in a single free agency period, adding tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith on the offensive end. The defense remains stable, as multiple players have opted back into the 2021 season. The last time the Buccaneers defeated the Patriots was back in the 2000 season, where Shaun King led the Buccaneers under center against Drew Bledsoe in a 21-16 victory.
1. Green Bay Packers @ Kansas City Chiefs (Week 9)
In what many projected as the 2020 Super Bowl last season, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes will meet for the first time in their careers. The two sides previously met in the 2019 season, but Mahomes was not active at the time. The Packers went on to win by a 31-24 score, with Rodgers totaling 305 passing yards and three touchdowns.
At this time, Kansas City (+450) is still the favorites to win the Super Bowl this season. Green Bay (+1800) has seen their odds slip since the Aaron Rodgers speculation began. Depending on the outcome of the regular season, there may be newfound hope that these two sides meet once again in February.