The 2021 NFL schedule was released on Wednesday.
Can quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers repeat as champs?
Brady kicks off the NFL season Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Dallas Cowboys at the Buccaneers. ESPN’s Monday Night Football opener is Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).
Based on strength of schedule — which is determined by opponents’ records in 2020 — the Philadelphia Eagles, Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons have the easiest schedules of the 2021 season, while the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ravens and Chicago Bears have the toughest.
The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played January 9, 2022. The playoffs begin January 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium.
Here’s a bold prediction for every team following the schedule release. Click on the links to see the full schedule and more analysis.
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
Is it still bold to say the Bills will win their second straight AFC East title? Probably not, so let’s go bolder. I said they would sweep the division last season and they did so, despite a nail-biter or two. How about this — Buffalo does so again in 2021. That’s right, two years without losing a division game, you heard it here first. Read more from Marcel Louis-Jacques
Despite the need to start strong, the Dolphins will be 1-3 after four games. That start will be too much to overcome, and the Dolphins will miss the playoffs. Read more from Kevin Seifert
The Patriots are 3-0 entering their Week 4 matchup against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, who will also be 3-0 entering the game — further heightening the hype and excitement for what promises to be one of the most memorable nights in Gillette Stadium history. Read more from Mike Reiss
New coach, new quarterback, new offensive scheme, new defensive scheme, pretty much new everything — and that’s a good thing because the old way stunk. But there will be growing pains, plenty of growing pains, so the Jets are headed to a 6-11 season. Vegas has it right. Read more from Rich Cimini
The Ravens will sweep their December division road trips to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati. How bold is this? The Ravens have gone undefeated on the road in the AFC North only twice (2011 and 2019). But Lamar Jackson has shown that he plays his best at the end of the regular season. He has won his past 11 starts in December, producing a league-high total QBR (78.5) and scoring the most total touchdowns (31). Read more from Jamison Hensley
Cincinnati wins at least two games against the NFC North and the AFC North. That combination should be enough to keep the Bengals’ playoff hopes afloat as they enter December. Read more from Ben Baby
In a rematch from last year’s divisional playoffs, the Browns will knock off Kansas City for just their second season-opening victory since returning to the NFL in 1999 (Cleveland defeated Baltimore to begin the 2004 season.) The Browns have not won a game in Week 1 since, falling to the Ravens last year in the opener, 38-6. Read more from Jake Trotter
Conference championships best bets
• Mike Clay’s favorite prop bets
• Betting nuggets & trends to know
• Each team’s record vs. the spread
ESPN Sports Betting home
The Steelers will go 0-4 to end the season and miss the playoffs in 2021. The team suffered a late-season slump a year ago, losing four of their final five games, including to a woeful Bengals squad. This time around, the Steelers could be facing four juggernauts in Tennessee, Cleveland, Kansas City and Baltimore — and two of those games are on the road. Read more from Brooke Pryor
The Texans get swept in the AFC South. Half of the Texans’ four wins in 2020 came against the Jaguars, who finished last in the division and ended up with the No. 1 pick. Jacksonville used that pick to take quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and his addition might be enough to leave the Texans in last place and 0-6 in the AFC South in 2021. Read more from Sarah Barshop
The Colts will beat Tom Brady in a game for the first time since Peyton Manning was the franchise quarterback. The Colts have lost nine straight meetings — including two in the playoffs — to Brady, with each loss occurring when he played with the New England Patriots. Indianapolis hasn’t beaten Brady since Nov. 15, 2009. Read more from Mike Wells
The Jaguars will end their eight-year losing streak in Nashville against the Titans (they haven’t won there since 2013, which was Gus Bradley’s first season as coach). Why? Because coach Urban Meyer is fantastic in rivalry games. He went 16-2 at Florida against Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State and 7-0 at Ohio State against Michigan. The Titans are the Jaguars’ biggest rival. Read more from Michael DiRocco
The Titans will sweep their AFC East opponents. Going against the revamped Patriots and improved Dolphins roster will be a challenge. But the biggest threat to the sweep is the Bills but they have to travel to Nissan Stadium to face the Titans at home. Read more from Turron Davenport
DC Dan Quinn ready to fix Cowboys’ D
• Rams’ O set to return to high-end ways?
• Ravens’ Ricard: From UDFA to ‘Pancake Pat’
• Broncos’ GM Paton’s first rookie class
• Tre Brown: New look for Seattle CBs
Who will line up under center in Week 1? Will Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater compete or will the the Green Bay Packers relent and trade Aaron Rodgers? No matter who is throwing the ball, the Broncos will have two 70-catch wide receivers — Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy — for the first time since 2016 when Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders finished that season with 90 and 79 catches respectively. Read more from Jeff Legwold
The Chiefs won’t get off to their usual fast start. They have too many strong opponents in the early season. Five of their first seven games are against 2020 playoff teams. Read more from Adam Teicher
The offense will hum early, the defense will not fold late and the Raiders will win more than they lose in December and January and, backed by a raucous homefield advantage in a fan-filled Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas will finally (mercifully?) fulfill Jon Gruden’s vision and qualify for the playoffs. You wanted bold, right? Read more from Paul Gutierrez
The Chargers will make the playoffs for the third time since 2009 and beat the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs at least once. They will also beat the Raiders and Broncos in their division, setting them up for the postseason. Read more from Shelley Smith
All 259 picks | Every team’s class
• Kiper’s draft grades for every team
• McShay’s favorite pick for all 32 teams
• NFL Nation: Analysis for every pick
• Round 1: Kiper | McShay | NFL Nation
• Scouting reports | More draft coverage
The Cowboys will score a touchdown at Gillette Stadium in Week 6. Oh, you don’t think that’s bold enough? In their three trips to that stadium since 2003, Dallas has scored one touchdown in 35 possessions, including a 13-9 loss there in 2019. In their last game at Foxboro Stadium in 1999, the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown as well, losing, 13-6. So they’re due. Read more from Todd Archer
The Giants start 3-0. Yep, you heard it here first. As long as Denver doesn’t get Aaron Rodgers its offense is questionable, the Giants have Washington’s number and Atlanta is far from a world-beater. This will be huge. Getting it going early with all these new weapons will do wonders for quarterback Daniel Jones. Read more from Jordan Raanan
Philadelphia will be in contention for the division title heading into Week 18. When you play in the NFC East, you’re almost never out of it. After all the turmoil over this past year, the Eagles will have a chance to climb back into the postseason with a home win against Dallas. Read more from Tim McManus
Washington gives the NFC East its first repeat winner since 2004 — and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick plays in his first playoff game. Washington will make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1992. Read more from John Keim
Justin Fields is the starting quarterback by Week 10 — at the latest. The whole Alex Smith blueprint from Kansas City is great, but Andy Dalton is not Smith, who posted a passer rating of 104.7 the year Patrick Mahomes sat on the bench. Do not expect the Bears to enjoy the same luxury from their veteran quarterback, who remains decent, but is unlikely to play at level Smith did in 2017. Read more from Jeff Dickerson
D’Andre Swift will be the one to break the curse and rush for 1,000 yards this season. The Lions haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013, the longest active drought in the NFL. Detroit’s run game thrived during Barry Sanders’ time with the team, as it led the NFL in 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 100-yard rushing games by individual players from 1989-98. Since 1998, they’ve been arguably the worst running team in the league, but Swift should change that. Read more from Eric Woodyard
If quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play for the Packers, their prime-time games against the Bears and Vikings will be flexed to the afternoon. Read more from Rob Demovsky
Just like in 2020, the Vikings will beat all three of their NFC North opponents on the road but this time they will find their way back into the playoffs as a wild-card team. Read more from Courtney Cronin
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Tight ends usually don’t have massive production as rookies. It’s a hard position to transition to from college to the NFL. But Kyle Pitts is a rare prospect and because he can be used so many different ways, he fits in seamlessly, hitting close to 800 yards and nine touchdowns, making him a strong contender for rookie of the year. Read more from Michael Rothstein
Quarterback Sam Darnold will pass for more than 4,000 yards with 30 touchdowns, and see his career resurrected under offensive coordinator Joe Brady. He’s had no more than 3,024 yards or 19 touchdowns in any of his first three seasons, although in fairness he has also never played more than 13 games. Read more from David Newton
In a reverse of last year, this time New Orleans will get swept by Tampa Bay in the regular season — then get revenge in the playoffs. The schedule helps the Bucs in both Weeks 8 and 15 (prime time in Tampa). But the Saints still match up well against the reigning champs. Read more from Mike Triplett
It isn’t very bold to predict that a Super Bowl champion returning all 22 starters on offense and defense — the first in the salary-cap era — can actually “go for two,” as coach Bruce Arians put it. Every Super Bowl champion thinks they can. The Kansas City Chiefs nearly “ran it back” last year. But few have done it (eight teams to be exact). One of them happens to be a team Tom Brady played on though. This team can — it’ll be hard to count Brady out. Read more from Jenna Laine
The Cardinals should win at least seven games but that could turn into 10 or more if the offense plays steady and the defense plays like it should with all the talent it has on paper. Optimism may be hard to come by after losing six of their final nine regular-season games last season. Read more from Josh Weinfuss
A year after they played an entire season in their new home without fans, the Rams will play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. The Rams went all in — again — to make a Super Bowl run when they completed a blockbuster trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford, then spent their first draft pick on another speedy receiver in Tutu Atwell after signing receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency. The Rams’ way of building is clear: Win now and address future roster needs later. Read more from Lindsey Thiry
The 49ers will win the NFC West. San Francisco’s record the past four years indicates 2019 was an aberration but that ignores important context around why those losing seasons occurred. The injury situation will improve, it would almost have to, and the 49ers will go from worst to first in the division for the second time in three seasons. Read more from Nick Wagoner
The Seahawks will go at least 7-1 at home — and maybe 8-0 for the first time since 2012. They’re 22-3 at home in prime-time games under coach Pete Carroll, so you have to like their chances in their three this year at Lumen Field (Rams, Saints, 49ers) — especially if fans are allowed back. They host two teams in full-on rebuild mode (Jaguars, Lions) and there’s a good chance they’ll be favored in their other three (Titans, Cardinals, Bears). Read more from Brady Henderson