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 are must-see TV, regardless of how big the brands are.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals – Week 4, Thursday Night Football
Maybe a game between two teams that have next to no playoff hopes does not seem like an obvious pick for a great primetime game. But the storylines for this game are so plentiful and interesting, they easily qualify it for this list.
This will be Trevor Lawrence’s first NFL primetime game, giving the entire country a chance to see him with his professional team, which the sports world has been waiting for since he first emerged onto the seen at Clemson. It will also be Joe Burrow’s first primetime game since he was memorably injured last season.
The last time Lawrence and Burrow met, it was in the CFP championship, as Burrow and his LSU Tigers defeated Clemson on their way to an undefeated season. So even though it is their first NFL matchup of many to come, it is still a rematch game. Plus, both quarterbacks were first overall picks in their respective drafts.
Urban Meyer, now the coach of Lawrence and the Jaguars, was once Burrow’s coach at Ohio State. He chose quarterback Dwayne Haskins over Burrow for the starting role at OSU, causing him to transfer to Louisiana State. Meyer was proven wrong in an embarrassing fashion. All Burrow did was win the Heisman Trophy, the CFP Championship and throw 60 touchdowns in what some call the best season by a single player in the history of college football. He will want to continue to twist that knife into the Jaguars’ new coach.
These teams may not be great in 2021, but both see themselves on a trajectory that hopefully results in being AFC powerhouses. The first matchup between these two quarterbacks could be one that is looked back on fondly as they will be dueling for a long time to come. It makes nothing but sense to put the eyes of the entire country on it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New England Patriots – Week 4, Sunday Night Football
Tom Brady returns to Gillette Stadium in New England, fresh off of a Super Bowl win with his new team. That statement just about explains completely why this matchup can be listed among the best primetime contests the 2021 NFL schedule has to offer.
The Buccaneers have given the 43-year-old Brady everything he could have wanted. A new, sturdy offensive line, weapons that are among the best in the league, a defense filled to the brim with mercenaries that can attack the quarterback and the coaches to make it all gel. The cherry on top being that the Bucs somehow brought every single player back that was involved in the Super Bowl championship.
Herein lies the drama, as Brady left New England due to not really getting anything he asked for. Belichick was inefficient in drafting receivers and free agents were not to Brady’s liking. New England was consistently more interested in planning for the future, assuming Brady’s high level of play was either behind him, or coming to an end quickly.
Belichick now has his new quarterback (Mac Jones), a veteran to bridge the gap (Cam Newton), two shiny new tight ends, among other pass catchers and a defense that will be much improved. The future has arrived for the Patriots, but now the past is coming back to town to exact even more revenge.
Who will win the reunion game? Will Brady and Belichick shake hands? Will a microphone pick up a soundbite and will it be contentious or amicable? These are questions all die-hard NFL fans have. Luckily they will only have to wait four weeks into the season to get the answers, in the bright lights of primetime.
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Week 5, Sunday Night Football
An AFC Championship rematch is always good, regardless of where it sits on the schedule. In fact, earlier in the season may actually be better, as it is more likely that both teams’ key players will be healthy. That is what NFL fans get in the Sunday finale of Week 5.
The Bills have finally risen to relevance under head coach Sean McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen, who had an MVP-caliber season in 2020. This team is chock full of talent and eager to prove their 13-3 season and Championship Game appearance were not one-offs, but rather harbingers of things to come for the franchise.
Kansas City may have gotten battered down against the Buccaneers, but they lost just two regular season games (resting a majority of their starters in one of them), won a divisional round in which their backup played down the stretch and made it to their second straight Super Bowl. Plus, they fixed their one area of need, offensive line, in spectacular fashion. They are ready to forget that particular loss and keep wrecking the AFC.
This matchup is going to be a great litmus test of where both teams stand early in the season. It also creates talking points and tape to be pored over for when these teams potentially meet again in the playoffs. A meaningful game with lasting impact is perfect for primetime.
Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers – Week 16, Saturday, Christmas night
First things first, this article will assume that Aaron Rodgers will remain Green Bay’s quarterback for the entirety of the 2021 season.
A Christmas Day game is special enough. Throw in two teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations that will surely be in position to win their divisions and it makes for one of the best games of the entire 2021 NFL schedule.
This is a game for football fans. These are two historic teams that are both filled to the brim with talent. It will be held on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in the dead of winter. They both have potent air attacks and ground games. By week 16, both defenses will have shed their “new-look” monikers and become the units they are going to be as they enter the playoffs.
Depending on the wind, this game could become a ground-and-pound contest quickly, which is still fun as both running back cores are fantastic. If the offensive coordinators just cannot help themselves though, imagine the arm of Rodgers going blow-for-blow with the pass-catching talent of the Browns. In any kind of weather, that is a game worth watching.
In short, this kind of contest is what primetime games are made for. These teams are unfamiliar with each other, they are both made to play in cold weather and they both will be battling for first in their division, maybe even for a first round bye. Browns-Packers will be a great Christmas nightcap and will start revving fans’ engines for playoff football.
Featured Image courtesy of Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
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