On Wednesday night, the 2021 NFL schedule was released. Let’s take a look at 10 quirks and observations that could shape the season.
The final piece of the NFL offseason puzzle was put into place on Wednesday.
After a day full of leaks, the 2021 NFL Schedule was presented in its full, 18-week glory. It all begins Sept. 9 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys, and will end with the Super Bowl being played at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Feb. 13.
Between those dates, the longest NFL season ever. Here are 10 notes from seeing the 32 slates:
– Dolphins have every right to be bloody furious
Excuse the terrible English pun, but in all seriousness, the Miami Dolphins should be irate. Typically, a London date is followed by an off week. Not for the Dolphins, who will host the Atlanta Falcons the following weekend after crossing back over the pond. Very hard assignment.
– Bears have one of the more balanced slates of all time
This year, the Chicago Bears don’t have a single multi-game homestand … or road trip. Somehow, they alternate perfectly throughout the season. Not sure I recall ever seeing that before.
– Ravens schedule downright bizarre, finishing with brutal stretch
No team has a quirkier docket than the Baltimore Ravens. From Weeks 5-9, the Ravens don’t leave Charm City. They’ll host the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals before a Week 8 bye, followed by welcoming in the Minnesota Vikings.
However, they also draw the Kansas City Chiefs on a quick turnaround in Week 2 after visiting the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football. Finally, an absurd seven-game jaunt to finish things:
- vs. Cleveland
- at Pittsburgh
- at Cleveland
- vs. Green Bay
- at Cincinnati
- vs. Los Angeles Rams
- vs. Pittsburgh
Five divisional games, all three road tilts, and a pair of NFC contenders. Not fun.
– Despite AFC hoarding home games, it also gets the longest trips
With the new 17-game schedule, the AFC is getting nine home games while the NFC gets an extra plane ride. However, the only NFC team with a three-game road trip? The Cowboys. Meanwhile, the AFC’s Bengals and Colts are also saddled with one. Tough break for those clubs.
– Quartet of Week 14 byes could present problems
The last time the NFL gave a bye week this late into the campaign was 2001. This year, the Philadelphia Eagles, Colts, Patriots and Dolphins all will play 13 straight games before a much-needed vacation. With byes not starting until Week 6, no other squads will have such a straight shot without a break.
– Panthers better make moves early
You think your team has it rough? The Carolina Panthers’ last four games include three road trips to Buffalo, New Orleans and Tampa Bay with a Week 16 hosting of the Buccaneers sandwiched in. Tough sledding for Matt Rhule and Co.
– Jets won’t be leaving home in the winter very often
While you’d expect AFC teams to have long home stretches with the unbalanced docket, the New York Jets enjoy a ridiculous homestand.
New York will be home for six-of-eight from Weeks 10-17, with away games against the Houston Texans (Week 12) and Dolphins (Week 15). So between Nov. 5 and Jan. 8, the Jets will spend approximately 48 hours away from their own beds. Not a bad assignment for first-year head coach Robert Saleh.
– 49ers have long, arduous stretch to start it all
The San Francisco 49ers must have annoyed the schedule gods. Over the first two weeks, a pair of Eastern Time Zone trips to play the Eagles and Detroit Lions, both with early start times. The good news? Philadelphia and Detroit could both be last-place teams. Then, the Niners come home for a pair of dates with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. If it can survive the first month, San Francisco could make noise.
– If Raiders are to make playoff push, it better start very early
By most estimations, the Las Vegas Raiders had a tough offseason. It didn’t get any easier with the schedule reveal. Come December and early January, the Raiders will play three road games in four weeks, with the Chiefs (Week 14), Browns (Week 15) and Colts (Week 17) on deck. Just a gauntlet for Jon Gruden’s club, with two of those games in cold-weather settings.
– Vikings face major challenge at season’s midway point
If Minnesota is going to challenge in the NFC North, it’ll need to survive five games spanning Weeks 9-13. The Vikings have a pair of two-game road trips with a home date spliced in, starting with away tilts against the Ravens and Chargers. After hosting the Packers, they go back out west for the 49ers before finishing with the Lions. A daunting rip for Minnesota at a crucial time.
10 best non-divisional games of the 2021 NFL season
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots (Week 4) – Tom Brady returns
2. Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 9) – Rodgers vs. Mahomes
3. Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 5) – Rematch of the AFC title game
4. Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 3) – NFC title game preview?
5. Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (Week 10) – Wilson vs. Rodgers
6. Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens (Week 2) – Lamar vs. Mahomes
7. Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 14) – Brady and the Bills again
8. Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens (Week 17) – Super Bowl preview?
9. Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers (Week 16) – What a wonderful Christmas gift
10. Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers (Week 11) – AFC playoff implications?
“As soon as I got the call I was being cut, it was an automatic reset in my brain of I’m nowhere near being done, I feel like I got a lot of years left in me. I was actually thinking about that this morning driving back from rehab. It’s going to be an awesome reset for myself and a fresh slate, keep working and finish the second half of my career off on a good start. I’ve been thinking about that and excited to kind of have that reset.”
– Colts left tackle Eric Fisher on his fresh start with a new team
After playing eight quality seasons for the Chiefs, Fisher is a huge linchpin in Indy’s contending hopes this season. The 31-year-old is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in the AFC Championship Game, and while he isn’t likely to begin the season healthy, it’s possible he’s back fairly early on.
After the retirement of Anthony Castonzo, the Colts desperately needed a blindside protector for Carson Wentz. If Fisher comes back and plays at his typical Pro Bowl level, Indianapolis found a steal late in the springtime.
In 1965, the Bears produced the greatest back-to-back draft picks in pro football history, selecting Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers with the No. 3 and 4 overall selections, respectively.
Incredibly, the Bears never reached the playoffs with either of them.
Info learned this week
1. Packers continue their stance on wanting Rodgers reunion
Don’t expect the situation between Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers to be resolved quickly.
On Friday, the Packers began rookie mini camp and, of course, head coach Matt LaFleur was asked about his MVP quarterback. The third-year man responded predictably, saying there’s no update but that the team remains committed to him.
For financial reasons, Green Bay won’t entertain a deal until after June 1, when his dead cap hit would be split over two years. Additionally, though, a few things to consider for those who don’t think Rodgers and the Packers will stick it out:
If Rodgers retires, he owes $23 million in signing bonus, and forfeits over $100 million spread across the remaining three years of his contract. In short, he isn’t retiring. Rodgers could hold out and be fined daily once camp begins. Once the regular season stars, Rodgers would be losing more than $2 million per week.
Also, and finally, the Packers don’t have an owner (they’re owned by the fans). They have nobody atop the organization worried about public perception. Team president Mark Murphy — a former NFL safety — and general manager Brian Gutekunst are football men. They aren’t worried about the PR side of it.
Could Green Bay decide to deal Rodgers? Sure, but don’t take the Packers’ commitment to him as an empty bluff.
2. NFL vaccination policy change provides incentive to get jabbed
The NFL is following the CDC’s lead. Expect to see less masks, and soon, less vaccine holdouts.
On Thursday, the CDC issued a statement saying those vaccinated from COVID-19 can discard their masks both indoors and out. Social distancing can also go away, provided everyone involved is vaccinated. However, if unvaccinated, nothing changes, at least officially.
A day later, the NFL followed suit in a memo, telling clubs “fully vaccinated Tiered staff and players will not be required to wear masks anywhere in the club facility, either indoors or outdoors.” However, those who aren’t vaccinated must continue to do so.
For those who haven’t gotten the vaccine, they’ll now be watching many of their teammates and coaches go back to normalcy while they have to be tested and wear masks. It’s quite the incentive — and unsaid pressure — to get taken care of.
3. Tim Tebow going to Jaguars would be major mistake by Urban Meyer
If Urban Meyer wants to infuriate his locker room, by all means, sign Tim Tebow.
Tebow, 33, hasn’t played an NFL snap since 2012. During his three seasons in the league, he was a poor quarterback who flamed out after spending time with four teams. Now, because of his University of Florida connection to Meyer — where the pair won two national titles — he’s potentially coming back as a tight end.
So far, the Meyer Experiment in Jacksonville has all the earmarks of impending disaster.
The first-time NFL coach hired friend and former strength coach Chris Doyle in February, despite previous accusations of racist behavior. Doyle lasted less than 24 hours before resigning. Then, in the NFL Draft, Meyer selected running back Travis Etienne despite having a star second-year man in James Robinson. In the immediate aftermath, Meyer explained the pick by saying Etienne is going to be a “third-down back” behind Robinson and veteran Carlos Hyde. Now, Tebow.
In the NFL’s hyper-competitive environment, a spot on the 90-man roster is incredibly coveted. There’s no reasonable argument Tebow deserves to be included, especially when he’s playing a position he’s never tried before. Frankly, it’s borderline selfish of Tebow and mindless of Meyer.
Many players will undoubtedly be looking for Meyer to prove himself coming into the NFL, despite his college success. If he goes forward with the Tebow sideshow, he’ll be proving himself in all the wrong ways.
4. Deshaun Watson story takes an important turn
For weeks, little has come from the ugliness surrounding Deshaun Watson. Last week provided a new development.
The Texans quarterback is facing 22 civil lawsuits stemming from alleged sexual misconduct with myriad female masseuses in the Houston area. Furthermore, four have spoken with the NFL league office, detailing their allegations. As Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports deftly points out, Watson may be less likely to settle now, drawing out the legal process further.
With training camp a little more than two months away, the looming uncertainty creates a problem for the league. If the NFL doesn’t suspend Watson by placing him on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, he can continue practicing and eventually playing. However, if put on the list, Watson is paid but can’t participate, keeping the avalanche of questions and stories at bay.
Hopefully, the truth comes out and justice is served both in the court of law and public opinion. Unfortunately, that could be a long way off.
5. Update on next week’s column!
As I wrote last week, I’ll be enjoying a week off with family for the next seven days. For the first time in almost four years, I won’t be writing this column. Luckily for all of you, Patrick Schmidt will.
Schmitty is our college editor and knows more about the Mountain West than anybody rightfully should. However, he’s also a huge NFL guy (Bears, go easy on him) and will provide this space with the knowledge you all have come to expect.
After that, I’m back. I apologize, but you’re stuck with me.
The Denver Broncos are a legitimate quarterback away from being a title contender.
Denver has one of the most undervalued rosters in football. Few teams wouldn’t trade for the weaponry, led by receivers Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton, alongside running back Melvin Gordon. The defense is also one of the league’s better units, headlined by cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and rookie Partick Surtain II, safety Justin Simmons and edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
However, with Teddy Bridgewater and third-year man Drew Lock fighting for the starting quarterback job, there’s little juice in the Mile High City.
Should the Packers eventually make Rodgers available, the Broncos should be all-in, much as they were when Peyton Manning hit free agency prior to the 2012 season. Denver has the cap space to make any trade work, and could supplement a bevy of draft picks in a proposal deal with one of the aforementioned young talents.
Without an elite quarterback, Denver is in the football wilderness. With one, they’d challenge the Chiefs.
Inside the league
On Thursday afternoon, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach continued his longstanding tradition. He acquired a former high-draft pick for cents on the dollar.
Kansas City’s latest project is cornerback Mike Hughes, the Minnesota Vikings’ No. 30 overall pick in the 2018 Draft. Hughes, 24, has largely been dreadful for three seasons, but with Minnesota ready to move on after this season, it sent the former top prospect to the Chiefs in exchange for a late-round pick swap in 2022 (Kansas City gets Minnesota’s seventh-round choice, and give the Vikings its sixth-rounder).
For the Chiefs, the Hughes trade follows other similar moves. In Veach’s five years as general manager, he has acquired corner DeAndre Baker, linebackers Darron Lee and Reggie Ragland, and offensive lineman Cam Erving. All were top-50 picks who washed out in their original landing spot. Lee was a bust, Erving played two contracts in Kansas City and Ragland was a pivotal run-stuffer in the Chiefs’ championship 2019 season. Baker, signed last year, remains unknown.
Yet for Veach, the gamble is minimal and the upside high. If defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive backs coach Sam Madison unlock Hughes’ potential, it’s a coup. If not, the Chiefs move on from an inexpensive player with only a few late-round draft slots as the penalty.
Additionally, a source tells FanSided the Chiefs remain open to bringing back corner Bashaud Breeland, a veteran who helped Kansas City reach the past two Super Bowls. Currently, Breeland is a free agent.
So if Hughes isn’t precluding the Chiefs from re-signing a better player, and is providing high-upside depth, why not?
It’s smart team-building from a forward-thinking organization. More front offices should follow suit.
The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers faced off in three straight NFC Championship Games, doing so from 1992-94. It’s the only time in league history two teams have met in three straight conference title tilts.
Maybe I’m the only one, but I like what I’m seeing in Detroit.
The Lions have won but a single playoff game since 1957. They haven’t hosted a postseason affair since 1993. Something had to change, and by something, I mean everything.
Detroit’s offseason has been highlighted by new head coach Dan Campbell’s infamous press conference and continued with the trade of Matthew Stafford to the Rams. Yet in return, the Lions got a young, stopgap quarterback in Jared Goff and more importantly, two first-round picks.
Still, other moves have gone far too unnoticed.
The Lions hiring of former Chiefs and Browns general manager John Dorsey to their front office is a steal. Nobody has drafted better than Dorsey over the past decade, and while he isn’t making the final decision, he’ll have influence.
How good has Dorsey been? He drafted Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Eric Fisher, Marcus Peters, Mitch Morse, Dee Ford, Steven Nelson and Chris Jones with Kansas City. With Cleveland, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward in the 2018 Draft.
Finally, the man who will make the final call, first-time general manager Brad Holmes, appears to have done well in the draft. Holmes was patient in the first round and landed Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell. In the third round, athletic defensive tackle Alim McNeill to provide punch up front. Clearly, the Lions are trying to build a tough-minded team in the image of their city. Smart move.
The returns won’t likely show up in 2021, but for the first time in forever, Detroit has hope.