The 2021 NFL schedule has been released, which means speculation and hype can officially begin to be generated, especially considering fans can enjoy an extra week’s worth of games this season. As always, top-tier teams and divisional matchups are given priority when it comes to primetime scheduling. This article will analyze which games were not deserving of primetime slots, regardless of how big the brands are.
Carolina Panthers vs. Houston Texans – Week 3, Thursday Night Football
The Texans are in turmoil. Their team needs extend to almost every position on the field and they did not have a draft pick until the third round to fill any of them. Most importantly, they have a major problem on their hands with the Deshaun Watson situation. It remains to be seen whether or not he will play in 2021, whether or not the investigations on his behavior have been closed. He may be on the commissioner’s exempt list, or he may stick to his guns and force his way out of the organization by holding out. In short, this team is almost assuredly going to be very bad.
The Panthers are continuing their rebuild, but this season they hope they have a quarterback that amounts to more than just a bridge. The defense should be better, but still has its issues and the offense is surely getting better, especially if Darnold’s flashes of brilliance outweigh his shaky decision-making. Either way, the team is still being shaped. Darnold and Matt Rhule will only have three games’ worth of experience together, which means the offense will be far from polished. Carolina has leaned heavily on defense in the past two drafts, so even more rookies will be taking the field in 2021, again with only three games’ experience by this point.
Add on to all of the talent question marks, that the Panthers and Texans are not even in the same conference. So, even if these two teams are in contention for a playoff spot late in the season by some miracle, this game could not mean less as far as tiebreakers go.
This is going to be an ugly football game and putting it in primetime is just going to shine a light on a matchup that the NFL would probably like to pretend it did not see. A strange choice for a Thursday night game, but it will inevitably lead off Week 3, whether anyone likes it or not.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – Week 6, Sunday Night Football
Seattle and Pittsburgh both have very bad offensive lines. The Seahawks get a few points for making a trade for Gabe Jackson, but the problem is still far from fixed. The Steelers lost three of their five offensive linemen and did next to nothing to fix it.
Pittsburgh’s running game was already non-existent last year and losing three core lineman will likely make it worse. They can feel free to draft all of the running backs they want, but it will all amount to nothing if he does not have a hole to run through. Not to mention they have an aging quarterback who cannot move like he used to. So if the pass-protection takes a step back, too, then the whole offense might be entirely ineffective.
The Seahawks have managed to keep Russell Wilson happy enough to keep him, but he still sits behind a bottom-10 offensive line. He is adept at running for his life, which is good because the Steelers’ pass rush is among the scariest in the league. That front seven will absolutely demolish this line and force Wilson to run laterally and settle for short passes or throwaways. If Chris Carson is healthy it could help the watchability a bit, but not much.
No one is saying these two teams are going to be egregiously bad or have terrible seasons. But this matchup is going to get messy, fast. It looks like it could be less of a defensive struggle and more of a sloppily-executed turnover-fest.
One quarterback will be running away from pressure on every snap, while the other will may have to throw 60 times, risking a sack on every play that sees him holding the ball for more than two seconds. Primetime football, that does not make.
New York Giants vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Week 8, Monday Night Football
Placing this game in primetime is essentially a huge gamble by the NFL and ESPN that the embarrassment of riches placed around Giants quarterback Daniel Jones will create a high-flying offensive powerhouse. To their credit, eight weeks of football is a long time and it may be enough for Jones to unlock his next level of potential surrounded by such offensive talent.
Here is the issue, though; If it does not work out and the Giants continue to be just a mediocre-to-good offense, then this game is going to get embarrassing pretty quickly. New York’s defense, while not bad at all, will not stand a chance of holding Mahomes and the Chiefs under 30-35 points. If the offense cannot keep up, then this is a blowout, plain and simple.
Again, it is a bold play to give the Giants and their new-look offense a chance to go punch-for-punch with the best offense the NFL has seen in years. But this matchup has so much flop potential that the risk is not really worth the reward, even if New York does take down the back-to-back AFC champions.
One-sided contests can be fun for the fanbase of the team providing the beat-down, but for fanbases who have no stake and just want to see an entertaining game, then blowouts are just an excuse to change the channel. Therein lies the problem. Primetime games are meant to give fans with no stake and casual NFL-viewers an excuse to watch other teams play. 20-plus point margins of victory do not foster that.
New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons – Week 11, Thursday Night Football
Yes, yes, the Patriots 28-3 Super Bowl comeback against the Falcons was very exciting and an iconic moment in NFL history. But is a rematch even that big of a deal anymore? Someone in the NFL clearly thinks so, as it kicks off Week 11.
Tom Brady, who orchestrated the comeback, is not even in New England any more. No one even knows who will be taking snaps at the position by Week 11. But whether it is a worn-down Cam Newton or a fresh-faced Mac Jones, it surely will not be as exciting as Brady. Meanwhile, Atlanta has a new coach, a completely different defense and an older version of the same pocket-passing quarterback. From February 2017 to now, the teams are essentially completely different. So, why is this worthy of a primetime slot?
This matchup is really just an excuse to show clips of Super Bowl LI. To remind Patriots fans of the golden days of yore, which will end up twisting the knife into Falcons fans who had to watch it happen at their expense. All it amounts to is an inter-conference matchup between two teams that might be scraping at playoff relevancy. Call it a Super Bowl rematch if so inclined, but it looks more like a grasp at nostalgia to bring in viewers on Thursday.
Featured Image courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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