We’ve got all the NFL’s most exciting games of each week mapped out
The NFL released its full schedule for the 2021 season. More and more teams are announcing that they’ll have fans in the stands this year, which will make things dramatically different — and more enjoyable — than they were a year ago. But it’s not just the fans in the stadiums that will get to enjoy those contests. Fans at home will, too.
You can find all kinds of schedule analysis all over this site, but we’re going to treat you to our list of the most notable games to be played each week. Enjoy.
(Note: We tried to limit the usage of each team so that they appear three times, at most. Otherwise, we’d basically just be keeping a running list of Chiefs and Bucs games, and that’s not as fun.)
The Buccaneers are returning all 22 starters from last season’s Super Bowl champions. The Cowboys are getting Dak Prescott back, along with Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins. One of the NFL’s best defenses will be tasked with stopping Dak, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Blake Jarwin. One of the NFL’s worst defenses from 2020, which imported a lot of talent in the draft, will get a big test in the form of Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and more. This should be loads of fun.
Also notable: Browns at Chiefs, Bills at Steelers, Seahawks at Colts, Cardinals at Titans, Packers at Saints, Chargers at Football Team, Panthers at Jets
Week 2: Chiefs at Ravens
Patrick Mahomes. Lamar Jackson. Travis Kelce. Mark Andrews. Tyreek Hill. Marcus Peters. Marlon Humphrey. Chris Jones. Calais Campbell. Tyrann Mathieu. Andy Reid. John Harbaugh. This game is absolutely chock full of stars on both sides of the ball. These teams have played memorable matchups in the recent past as well, so there’s a lot of history to draw on.
Also notable: Bills at Dolphins, Rams at Colts, Titans at Seahawks, Bengals at Bears (maybe), Cowboys at Chargers
Week 3: Colts at Titans
These two teams figure to be battling it out for AFC South supremacy throughout the season, and we’ll get an early indication of which of them has the upper hand. The Colts have a new quarterback in Carson Wentz, while the Titans have gone through a lot of turnover both on the field (Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Adoree’ Jackson, and more are no longer on the team) and on the sideline (former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is now the head coach of the Falcons). It should make for a fascinating matchup.
Also notable: Football Team at Bills, Chargers at Chiefs, Packers at 49ers, Dolphins at Steelers, Buccaneers at Rams
Week 4: Buccaneers at Patriots
Do you think people might be mildly interested in seeing Tom Brady’s return to New England?
Also notable: Jaguars at Bengals, Browns at Vikings, Colts at Dolphins, Steelers at Packers
Week 5: Bills at Chiefs
Two of the NFL’s most explosive offenses on the field in the same game? Yes, please. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen going shot for shot with two of the most electrifying receiving corps in the NFL? Yes, please. Do you like offense? Yeah? You will love this game.
Also notable: Rams at Seahawks, Browns at Chargers, Colts at Ravens, Dolphins at Buccaneers, Browns at Chargers
Week 6: Chargers at Ravens
This game might be more up your alley if you like defense. Some of the brightest defensive minds in the NFL will be doing battle in this game, with new Chargers coach Brandon Staley trying to devise a plan to stop Lamar Jackson, and Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale doing the same for Justin Herbert. There’s a whole lot of defensive-backfield talent involved here, plus some A-plus pass rushing.
Also notable: Dolphins at Jaguars, Cardinals at Browns, Bills at Titans, Chiefs at Football Team, Seahawks at Steelers
Week 7: Lions at Rams
I had this one circled on the calendar. It’s a rare DOUBLE-revenge game, with Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff each taking on their former team after they were traded for one another (and draft compensation) this offseason. Get your popcorn ready. Especially if you want to see how badly Aaron Donald wrecks Goff’s pocket.
Also notable: Chiefs at Titans, Falcons at Dolphins, Bengals at Ravens, Colts at 49ers, Saints at Seahawks
Week 8: 49ers at Bears
49ers at Bears? Really? Yes, really. These two teams may insist they’ll be starting Jimmy Garoppolo and Andy Dalton all year, but we know better. The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes are the exception, not the rule. It’s far more likely that this matchup features both Trey Lance and Justin Fields under center. And that makes it appointment viewing.
Also notable: Bengals at Jets, Steelers at Browns, Dolphins at Bills, Buccaneers at Saints, Packers at Cardinals, Cowboys at Vikings
Week 9: Packers at Chiefs
As long as Aaron Rodgers is still on the Packers in Week 9, you’re going to want to make sure you’re near a TV for this one. Rodgers and Mahomes are arguably the two most talented quarterbacks in modern NFL history, each capable of making throws that most other quarterbacks can only dream of.
Also notable: Browns at Bengals, Titans at Rams, Patriots at Panthers
Week 10: Ravens at Dolphins
This is another fascinating defensive matchup. Dolphins coach Brian Flores is one of the most creative defensive play-callers in the NFL, but his Bill Belichick-style defense, built back-to-front, is not the best kind of unit to go against Baltimore’s offense. How will he adjust? And can Tua Tagovailoa and company handle what the Ravens have in store for them both up front and on the back end? I can’t wait to find out.
Also notable: Saints at Titans, Seahawks at Packers, Falcons at Cowboys, Panthers at Cardinals, Rams at 49ers
Week 11: Colts at Bills
The Colts and Bills played a terrific playoff game last season, and we get to see a rematch of that matchup here. Styles make fights, and the contrast in style between these two teams makes for a really interesting fight. The Bills want to spread it out and throw all game, while the Colts want to pound the rock and control the flow. It all comes down to which of them can impose their will.
Also notable: Football Team at Panthers, 49ers at Jaguars, Cowboys at Chiefs, Packers at Vikings, Ravens at Bears, Seahawks at Cardinals
Week 12: Browns at Ravens
Coming off their first playoff appearance in (approximately) 400,000 years, the Browns have one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the NFL. In Year 2 of the Kevin Stefanski era, they should be able to get their offense on track more quickly than they did a year ago. The Browns and Ravens also played a late-season barn-burner featuring 89 total points last year, so maybe they can recapture that magic in 2021.
Also notable: Bills at Saints, Buccaneers at Colts, Eagles at Giants, Rams at Packers, Vikings at 49ers
Week 13: Cowboys at Saints
The Cowboys and Saints always seem to play extremely weird games. Granted, most of those games took place with Drew Brees under center. But either you’ll have Jameis Winston and his Jekyll and Hyde game going against a defense that was awful last season, or you’ll have that defense trying to deal with a dramatically different offense quarterbacked by Taysom Hill. Plus, it’s always fun when Sean Payton’s team plays against Jerry Jones’ team, because you know Jerry will somehow feed into the never-ending Payton-to-Dallas rumors.
Also notable: Chargers at Bengals, Jaguars at Rams, Ravens at Steelers, 49ers at Seahawks, Patriots at Bills
Week 14: Bills at Buccaneers
This might be the best wide receiver matchup of the year. Please, give me Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, and Jaelon Darden smoking corners off the line of scrimmage all day.
Also notable: Bears at Packers, Ravens at Browns, Rams at Cardinals, Raiders at Chiefs
Week 15: Titans at Steelers
These two teams each seem likely to be in the playoff mix for much of the year — if the Steelers can get their offensive line and Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow issues figured out, at least. Derrick Henry going up against one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts, even after Bud Dupree left in free agency, makes for an extremely fun matchup. Plus, it’ll be fun to see if Ben even needs to throw the ball more than 5 yards downfield against a dramatically revamped Titans secondary.
Also notable: Chiefs at Chargers, Packers at Ravens, Falcons at 49ers, Seahawks at Rams, Saints at Buccaneers, Cowboys at Giants
Week 16: Jaguars at Jets
We’ve got No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence against No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson. Buckle up, this one is going to lead to some Hot Takes.
Also notable: 49ers at Titans, Browns at Packers, Colts at Cardinals, Steelers at Chiefs, Football Team at Cowboys, Dolphins at Saints
Week 17: Browns at Steelers
Cleveland beat Pittsburgh in Week 17 to clinch a playoff berth, then beat the Steelers again in the wild card round. As if we really need more reason to care about a Browns-Steelers game beyond the fact that they’re the Browns and Steelers and they’re two of the oldest rivals in the league. We’ve got one anyway.
Also notable: Dolphins at Titans, Chiefs at Bengals, Cardinals at Cowboys, Rams at Ravens, Jaguars at Patriots
Week 18 (!!!): Seahawks at Cardinals
It’s Week 18! It exists! The Seahawks absolutely always play the strangest games in the NFL, up to and including in the last game of the year. If there were a way to bet on this being the “Sunday Night Football” game in Week 17, I’d suggest doing it. It seems like destiny. These two teams will be battling it out for either a playoff spot or playoff seeding in early January, and it’ll be fun.
Also notable: Cowboys at Eagles, 49ers at Rams, Steelers at Ravens, Bengals at Browns, Patriots at Dolphins, Chargers at Raiders