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The top 10 NFL games to circle on your calendar for 2021

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May 14th, 2021

The NFL released its full schedule for the upcoming 2021 season on Wednesday, and granted fans a collection of mouthwatering matchups to eagerly anticipate.

After playing the second-easiest schedule last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the most difficult test in 2021.

On the flip side, the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, drew the second-easiest slate of games, which bodes well for their opportunity to lock a top seed in the playoffs.  

The landscape of the league could end up far different than expected, though, following a wild offseason of blockbuster trades — and another one possibly on the horizon.

Five quarterbacks were also picked up in the first round of the draft in April, and a few of those rookies are expected to make an immediate impact this season.

On top of all that, we get the first ever Week 18 in NFL history, as the league expanded to a 17-game regular season.

With so much intrigue packed into the 2021 NFL season, let’s break down the top 10 games to circle on the upcoming schedule.

Week 1: Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thursday Night Football

Tampa Bay and seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady will host the NFL kickoff game against a familiar Brady opponent.

The Dallas Cowboys, whom Brady went 5-0 against while in New England, will visit the Bucs on Thursday Night Football on Sept. 9.

Fri, September 10 2021, 12:20 AM

TB Buccaneers

Moneyline

-278

Spread

-6.5

Total

O 52

DAL Cowboys

Moneyline

+220

Spread

+6.5

Total

U 52

The game will also mark the return of Cowboys franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 of the 2020 season.

Week 1: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers

One of the most surprising trades of the NFL offseason was New York’s dealing of fourth-year quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers. 

Under second-year head coach Matt Rhule, Darnold will attempt a career comeback in the NFC South. To kickstart his first season in Carolina, he’ll square off with his old team and new head coach Robert Saleh, the former defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers.

Sun, September 12 2021, 5:00 PM

CAR Panthers

Moneyline

-200

Spread

-4.5

Total

O 43

NY Jets

Moneyline

+160

Spread

+4.5

Total

U 43

Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, the 2021 No. 2 overall draft pick out of BYU, is also projected to make his first NFL start.

Week 1: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs

The Cleveland Browns made huge strides in Kevin Stefanski’s first season as head coach. The team ended an 18-year postseason drought and downed Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Round, which marked Cleveland’s first playoff win since 1994.

The Browns head into the 2021 season with high expectations, and in Week 1, we’ll get a glimpse of what this team is capable of, when they meet Kansas City — the team that ousted Cleveland in last year’s Divisional Round.

Sun, September 12 2021, 8:25 PM

KC Chiefs

Moneyline

-240

Spread

-5.5

Total

O 53

CLE Browns

Moneyline

+190

Spread

+5.5

Total

U 53

If the Browns can take down Patrick Mahomes and company at Arrowhead, the rest of the NFL should be on high alert.

Week 3: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday Night Football

We still don't know if Aaron Rodgers will take another snap in Green Bay, but we do know the Niners inquired about a trade to land the three-time league MVP this offseason.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst would not budge, and the 49ers went the route of drafting 21-year-old dual-threat quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick.

This Sunday Night Football game could see Lance going head-to-head with Rodgers — assuming he and the Packers front office repair their relationship.

On the other hand, Jimmy Garoppolo may still be the guy leading the Niners in the early part of the season.

So many questions are set to be answered in this Week 3 contest, filled with exciting potential. 

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots, Sunday Night Football

The moment many of us have longed for comes to fruition in Week 4, when Brady clashes with his former team for a battle in Foxborough.

Either Cam Newton or rookie Mac Jones will get the start for New England, while Brady will bring his Tampa Bay superteam — which includes former Patriot Rob Gronkowski — to Bill Belichick's home. It's still early, but this is already the most in-demand ticket in the NFL.

Week 4: Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday Night Football

Another Week 4 matchup provides a reunion, of sorts, when rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence takes on Bengals QB Joe Burrow.

Lawrence and Burrow last met on the 2020 College Football Playoff national championship stage, where Burrow’s LSU Tigers routed Lawrence and Clemson.

Lawrence went No. 1 overall in the 2021 draft, a year after Cincinnati selected Burrow with the top pick. 

Both the Bengals and Jaguars wallowed in obscurity last season, but with these two QBs dueling on Thursday night, this matchup is must-see TV.

Week 7: Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Rams

One of the first blockbuster trades of the offseason saw the Detroit Lions ship Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff, a 2021 third-round pick, and two first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.

In Week 7, we get a showdown between Stafford and Goff and find out which team got the better deal in this mega-trade.

Sun, October 24 2021, 8:05 PM

LA Rams

Moneyline

-590

Spread

-10.5

DET Lions

Moneyline

+420

Spread

+10.5

Week 8: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

Another quarterback who found a new home this offseason was longtime Philadelphia Eagles signal caller Carson Wentz.

The Pro Bowler landed in Indianapolis to play under his former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich.

In Week 8, Wentz will meet with his new divisional rival, Tennessee, who narrowly beat out Indianapolis for the division crown last year.

This matchup should give us a clearer picture of the AFC South. And by this point in the season, it should tell us whether the Wentz-Reich reunion experiment is a success.

Week 9: Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs

In 2021, we finally get Mahomes vs. Rodgers.

For now, that meeting is set to occur in Week 9 of the 2021 season. But if Rogers forces a trade to another team, keep an eye on Week 13 and Week 18 on the Chiefs’ schedule.

The Broncos boast the best odds to land Rodgers in a trade, and as a member of the AFC West, Rodgers would toil with Mahomes twice at the end of next season.

Week 12: Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints

The final matchup of the NFL's three-game Thanksgiving Day slate will feature the projected winner of the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills, against a new-look New Orleans Saints team. 

With Drew Brees in retirement, Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston will preside over the Saints offense and attempt to feast on Buffalo inside the Superdome.

The earlier Thanksgiving Day games (Chicago vs. Detroit, Las Vegas vs. Dallas) should whet the appetite for this primetime showdown featuring a Saints team that is 3-0 on this holiday. 

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