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The 2021 NFL regular season has arrived. As usual, the top teams from last season get top draw this upcoming season. In the marquee time slots for football — each prime time window as well as Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET, the Green Bay Packers lead all teams with appearing in ten of those slots. This is thanks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers staying with Green Bay despite the draft day hoopla this past spring surrounding his rumored departure.
There’s a four-way tie for runner-up marquee appearances with nine: each Super Bowl LV participating team — Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, the so-called “America’s Team” Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams. TV networks sensing the Rams could be a title contender with the arrival of former Lions quarterback Matthew Stanford.
Of course, some teams could rise up unexpectedly and be flexed in to the bigger time slots later this season. But for now, we’ve ranked the top ten most anticipated NFL games of 2021, as of the start of the season.
10. Week 1: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (CBS, Sunday, Sep. 12 1:00 p.m.)
While it is expected that both of these teams will be going through tough growing pains this upcoming season, this matchup gets notable interest because of the participants involved. It will be the first NFL game for two of college football’s most prominent figures in recent years: Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, who led the 2006 and 2008 Florida Gators and the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes to national championship titles, and the No. 1 overall draft pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence. As a freshman in 2019, Lawrence led his Clemson Tigers to an undefeated season all the way to a national championship. In his following two years, the Tigers returned to the national title game in 2020 and appeared in the Sugar Bowl earlier this year.
On the other side of the field, the Houston Texans are in a state of flux. Although they’ve reached the playoffs in four of the past six seasons, they had a disappointing 2020 that resulted in the firing of head coach Bill O’Brien after Week 4; only achieving four wins out of the subsequent eight games in the aftermath. Following the season, quarterback Deshaun Watson — Lawrence’s championship predecessor at Clemson — asked to be traded away from Houston. Immediately thereafter, 22 lawsuits were filed against Watson by several female massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct. While legal troubles have halted his playing time and future endeavors, it is expected that recent acquisition Tyrod Taylor will quarterback the Texans to start this season.
9. Week 1: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (CBS, Sunday, Sep. 12 4:25 p.m.)
The first Sunday of the regular season features a Divisional Playoff rematch where the Chiefs edged past the Browns 22-17 back in January. Cleveland, helmed by quarterback Baker Mayfield, earned a 11-5 record in the 2020 season — the franchise’s best season since 1994.
8. Week 12: Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers (Fox, Sunday, Nov. 28 4:25 p.m.)
It’s yet another matchup between quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stanford, but this time, the former longtime Detroit Lion Stanford is part of a Rams team that is expected to be an offensive juggernaut.
7. Week 5: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (Fox/NFL Network/Amazon, Thursday, Oct. 7 8:20 p.m.) & Week 15: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams (Fox, Sunday, Dec. 19 4:25 p.m.)
Matthew Stanford enters the intradivisional NFC West waters for the first time in his 13-year career, matching up against perennial MVP contender Russell Wilson twice this season. As a Lion, Stanford only managed to defeat the Seahawks once (back in 2012) out of four tries.
6. Week 5: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (NBC, Sunday, Oct. 10 8:20 p.m.)
Rising superstar quarterback Josh Allen led Buffalo to an impressive 13-3 record in 2020 and the team’s first AFC East division title in 25 years. They revisit Arrowhead Stadium in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game.
5. Week 10: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (CBS, Sunday, Nov. 14 4:25 p.m.)
This conference rivalry, which has produced memorable playoff games in years past, returns this season. Since Wilson has been Seahawks quarterback (in 2012), Green Bay and Seattle have won three games apiece head-to-head.
4. Week 1: Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NBC, Thursday, Sep. 9 8:20 p.m.)
The kickoff game to the 2021 season will be held at Raymond James Stadium. The cannons will be ready to fire once the Buccaneers’ championship banner is raised and its players receive their Super Bowl rings.
On the other side of the field, the Dallas Cowboys — the darlings of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this summer — are not looking for redemption but a Super Bowl of their own. The team has not even appeared in an NFC Championship Game since Jan. 1996. They’ll try to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2020 where they missed quarterback Dak Prescott for most of the year, and as a result, failed to reach the playoffs despite a weak NFC East.
3. Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots (NBC, Sunday, Oct. 3 8:20 p.m.)
After twenty seasons and six Super Bowl championships for the New England Patriots, what does 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady do in his first year as a Buccaneer? He earned his 7th Super Bowl title and the second championship of Tampa Bay’s franchise history. Brady and fellow former Patriot Rob Gronkowski arrive in Foxboro for the first time since their departures. The defending champions will face rookie quarterback Mac Jones who won the starting job over veteran Cam Newton in the preseason.
2. Week 9: Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (Fox, Sunday, Nov. 7 4:25 p.m.)
It’s a meeting that could have happened in each of the last two Super Bowls. Kansas City held their own end of the bargain but while Green Bay had been knocking on the proverbial NFC title door in recent seasons, they fell short with the 49ers and the Buccaneers (each respectively led by former Patriots quarterbacks) in their way. You’d figure that teams with Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers taking the snaps, we’d be in for a high-scoring affair. That was true the last time they met in the regular season: a 31-24 victory by the Packers in Kansas City on Oct. 27, 2019.
1. Week 2: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens (NBC, Sunday, Sep. 19 8:20 p.m.)
Another year, another chance to witness two of football’s most electric quarterbacks — Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson — battling it out. The AFC’s top rivalry has been one-sided in favor of the Chiefs since those two players arrived on their respective teams in 2018 and had a memorable initial meeting that resulted in an overtime Chiefs victory. The Ravens will again try to best the Chiefs, but this time around, it will be in front of a national audience on a Sunday night.
Guest contributor Mari Forth (co-host of the Wrestling RHAPup at Rob Has A Podcast) expressed her sentiment upon this game:
“As a Ravens fan, I’m excited for the Baltimore Ravens vs the Kansas City Chiefs on Sep. 19 at home. For the past 3 years, this matchup has felt like a grudge match between two great young quarterbacks.
This game will be the litmus test for the rest of the season. If the Ravens can overcome the Chiefs, that momentum could carry them through the season. Outside of their very tough divisional matchups, the schedule seems fairly easy, so a win over the Chiefs will absolutely be crucial in setting them up for the rest of the season.”
Aside from these top games, other guest contributors have offered the games they are most looking forward to in the coming months:
Steven Tito, Encompass Digital Media
Most appealing is when the Giants visit the Tampa Bay Bucs (Week 11, November 22). Last year, the Giants came very close to beating them. This year, they’ll have a chance to get vengeance and beat the defending Super Bowl champions on their field. Also, the Manning brothers will likely be commentators for this game on ESPN2. Should be fun.
Jason Jacobs, Northwest Iowa Campus Radio 103.9 (KUOO) deejay-sports announcer
I’m most excited about is Seattle at Minnesota (Week 3, September 26). The Vikings have had to go to Seattle, usually in prime time, for what seems like an eternity. It will be nice to get them in a home game.
Terence Henderson, T Dog Media
The first game of the season against the Rams at SoFi on Sunday Night Football (Week 1, September 12). The Bears will face an old nemesis, former Lions QB Matthew Stafford. Although Andy Dalton the starting quarterback for the Bears, waiting in the wings is first-round draft pick Justin Fields whom a lot of Bears fans want to see.