The NFL’s 2021 schedule has been released, and that means we have an idea about the roadmap for each franchise. The league has added an extra game to the schedule, officially meaning that 2021 will be the first 17-game season in NFL history. Here, we’ll break down the effect bye weeks could have on each team on the schedule here and for your fantasy football rosters.
The Falcons’ first quarter of the season could be fairly easy. They’ll face the Eagles, Giants, Washington Football Team, Jets, and the Buccaneers ahead of Week 5. Atlanta will only play five games against teams that were over .500 last season after its bye week. The offense has never been the problem for the Falcons. Improvement on defense could put them in a great spot at the end of the year.
The NFL hasn’t made things easy on the post-Drew Brees Saints. They’ll have a tough Week 1 matchup against the Green Bay Packers if Aaron Rodgers is still there and will take on the sturdy defense of the New York Giants and Washington. Things get even tougher for New Orleans after Week 6, as matchups against the Seahawks, Buccaneers, Titans, Bills, and Dolphins are on schedule over the next six weeks. Winston could be benched for Taysom Hill by the midpoint of the season if he doesn’t excel early.
The 49ers are expected to have a bounce-back season after being devastated by injuries last year, but things won’t be easy early on. Tune-up games against the Lions and Eagles will precede matchups against the Packers, Seahawks, and Cardinals. The back half of San Francisco’s schedule isn’t forgiving either. Matchups against the Colts, Bears, Cardinals, and Rams will follow the 49ers’ bye week. If healthy, they can still be dominant.
New York will only have to face one team that was above .500 last season in its first five weeks. That matchup will be against the Titans in Week 4. Seven of the 12 games the Jets will play after Week 6 are against teams that missed the playoffs last year. New York is rebuilding and could improve upon its 2020 record if it takes advantage of the other bottom dwellers.
Week 7: Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers
America’s team will kick off the year against the reigning champs before facing five teams that missed the playoffs last year. Dak Prescott is expected to elevate the Cowboys’ offense to an elite level, and their defense won’t face many heavy hitters in the first quarter of the season. Dallas will face the Falcons, Chiefs, and Cardinals in the back half of the season, and those games could end up being shootouts.
The Vikings will be tested before their first bye against the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Browns. There are easier games in the first six weeks against the Bengals, Lions, and Panthers. Things really get tough for Minnesota in week 8, when it’ll face the Cowboys before taking on the Ravens, Chargers, Packers, and 49ers. The Vikings have a chance to claim the AFC North if Rodgers leaves Green Bay, and the Bears will be their toughest competition,
The Bills are expected to run away with the AFC East this year but have one of the NFL’s tougher early-season schedules. Buffalo will take on the Steelers, Dolphins, Football Team, Chiefs, and Titans before getting its bye. Seven of the Bills’ last 11 games will be against teams that missed last year’s playoffs, though. Buffalo just has to take care of business on the front end and hope Josh Allen can continue building on the breakout season he had in 2020.
Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars get a chance to pick apart the Texans in a division game to open up the year. Their porous defense will be tested against the Cardinals, Bengals, and Titans before the bye week, though. Jacksonville’s young quarterback will face some of the NFL’s best defenses in the back half of the season. He’ll face the Colts twice, as well as the 49ers and Rams. Nobody expects much from one of the worst all-around teams in football, but it’ll be fun to see how they fare against different levels of competition.
All eyes will be on Justin Herbert after he put together one of the best rookie seasons ever in 2020. The second-year quarterback will have to lead the Chargers against some tough teams to start. He’ll see the Football Team’s ferocious pass rush in Week 1 and will take on the Cowboys, Chiefs, Browns, and Ravens ahead of Week 7. Fortunately for Los Angeles, nine of its last 11 games will be against teams that were sub-.500 in 2020.
Week 8: Baltimore Ravens, Las Vegas Raiders
Baltimore’s first seven weeks will be highlighted by another early-season matchup against the Chiefs. There’s nothing like a Lamar Jackson-Patrick Mahomes battle to get your blood pumping. The Ravens will also take on the Colts, who they beat in the first round of last year’s playoffs, in Week 5. Baltimore can’t afford to be one-dimensional on offense against the host of top-notch defenses it’ll face in the second half of the year. Baltimore will face the Dolphins, Bears, Steelers, Rams. and Browns twice after Week 9.
Las Vegas’s offense will be put to the test in the first seven weeks of the season with matchups against the Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, and Bears. Derek Carr has Darren Waller and a crowded backfield to support him, but the rest of his receiving corps needs to step it up if the Raiders want to make some noise. Most people assume that the Chiefs will win the AFC West, but Las Vegas has a chance to compete for second place in the division. The Raiders’ schedule for the second half of the season isn’t friendly, though. They’ll face the Chiefs, Cowboys, Football Team, Chiefs, Browns, and Colts over the last eight weeks.
Week 9: Washington Football Team, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks
Washington unexpectedly won the NFC East last season but could face much stiffer competition this time around. The Football Team’s first eight weeks are highlighted by matchups against the Bills and Chiefs. The second half of the season will begin with a rematch from last year’s playoffs against the Buccaneers, and all the Football Team’s divisional games will be crammed in down the stretch. If the NFC East race is close again, Washington will have to be at its best toward the end of the year.
Detroit won’t have it easy this year. The Lions will play 10 games against teams that were at least .500 last season, and they’ll kick off the year against a 49ers team that’ll likely have a resurgent season. They’ll also face the Packers, Bears, and Rams before Week 9. Life doesn’t get easier after Detroit’s bye week. The Steelers, Rams, Bears, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Packers are on the Lions’ schedule down the stretch. Jared Goff is in for a rude awakening with his new team, and the Lions could very well be the NFL’s worst team in 2021.
Week 10: New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans
Daniel Jones has to prove that he’s New York’s quarterback of the future in year three, and he should have plenty of help. Saquon Barkley will return from injury, and Kenny Golladay has bolstered the Giants’ receiving corps. New York will have key matchups against the Football Team, Saints, Cowboys, Rams, and Chiefs ahead of Week 10. Most of the Giants’ last eight games should be tough, too, though. The Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Bears will face New York between Weeks 11 and 18.
Do the Bears finally have an above-average quarterback? All eyes will be on Justin Fields in Chicago, but the Ohio State product might not be ready to go against the pestering Rams in Week 1. Andy Dalton could have to face Los Angeles, the Browns, the Buccaneers, the 49ers, and the Steelers through the first nine weeks of the season, and the threat of getting benched will be constant if he’s mediocre. The defenses won’t be as tough after a matchup against the Ravens in Week 11. We’ll have to wait and see when Fields gets his number called.
The Bengals have a healthy balance of good and bad teams over the first nine weeks of the season. While there will be tough games against the Steelers, Bears, Ravens, and Browns, Cincinnati will also face three of the NFL’s worst teams — the Jets, Lions, and Jaguars — from last season. Joe Burrow will look to bounce back from his knee injury by making use of his talented, young receiving corps. Cincinnati seems likely to have a rough patch down the stretch. It will face the Steelers, 49ers, Ravens, Chiefs, and Browns after Week 11.
It looks like the Texans will have to move on from Deshaun Watson, so they’ll likely take a HUGE step back in 2021. Tyrod Taylor has been brought in as a bridge quarterback, but Will Fuller’s departure dealt a blow to the receiving corps. Six of Houston’s first nine games will be against teams that were at least .500 last year. Five of Houston’s last eight games will be against teams that were .500 or better last year.
Week 11: Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos
The NFC West might be the toughest division in the NFL, and the Rams are hoping that trading for Mattew Stafford will give them a leg up on the competition. Los Angeles will still have an elite defense with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey running the show, but consistency on offense could be what sets the team over the top. The Rams will open up the year against the Bears’ stout defense before taking on two of last year’s top 10 defenses against the Buccaneers and Colts. Things soften up after Week 3, but Week 12 and forward could be tough because of games against the Seahawks, Ravens, and 49ers. If Stafford makes Los Angeles significantly better on offense, the West Coast could get a lot more competitive.
The masses are waiting to see whether Denver can swing a trade for Rodgers to raise its ceiling, and that move could raise the Broncos’ ceiling significantly. Seven of the Broncos’ first 10 games will be against teams that had losing records last year. Five of Denver’s last seven games will be against teams that missed last year’s playoffs. Denver will likely be a middle-of-the-pack team in the AFC West again if Drew Lock remains under center. A star signal-caller could help maximize the potential of its talent at wide receiver.
Week 12: Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs
The Cardinals finished 8-8 last season and are doing everything they can to ascend to the next level. Kyler Murray ran for nearly 4,000 yards and ran for 819 last season, and added more talent out wide with AJ Green. Arizona’s defense is a work in progress, but there’s enough firepower on offense to help it overcome its weakness. Arizona’s schedule is fairly balanced before and after Week 12 with a mix of good and bad teams. The front half of the year seems a little tougher, though, as the Titans, Rams, 49ers, Rams, Browns, and Packers will have played the Cardinals by the end of Week 8.
The NFL will challenge the Super Bowl favorites early with 2021 with matchups against the Browns and Ravens in the first two weeks. The Bills, Football Team, and Titans are also scheduled to face Kansas City ahead of Week 12. The Chiefs have it pretty easy down the stretch, though, and will only face one team that had a winning record last year in its final six games.
Week 13: Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans
Rodgers’ presence will determine how the Packers’ season goes. Jordan Love will have his work cut out for him if he’s Green Bay’s Week 1 starter. The Packers will play the Saints, 49ers, Steelers, Bears, Football Team, Cardinals, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Rams before Week 13. They’ll see the Bears, Ravens, and Browns in Weeks 14 through 16 before finishing up the year against the Vikings and Lions.
The Panthers are ready to usher in the Sam Darnold era, and that will start with a Week 1 matchup against his old team (the Jets). Carolina will face eight teams that finished 2020 with losing records over the next 11 weeks, and divisional games against the Falcons and Saints will be a part of that stretch. Few teams will have a tougher final four games than the Panthers, who will face the Bills, the Buccaneers twice, and the Saints. Carolina has its work cut out for it.
The Browns finally exceeded expectations in 2020 and will look to climb even higher in 2021. Cleveland will get the ball rolling with the Chiefs in Week 1 and has big-time matchups against the Bears, Cardinals, Steelers, and Ravens ahead of Week 13. The Browns will face their divisional rival Ravens once more in Week 14 and will have to go through the Packers and Steelers during their final five games. Can Odell Beckham Jr. help them ascend to new heights? We’ll have to wait and see.
The AFC South is a two-horse race between the Colts and Titans, but Tennessee has chemistry on its side. Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and A.J. Brown are running it back in hopes of winning the division. Kicking off the first three weeks against the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Colts won’t make that goal easy. Tennesee will also have to face the Bills, Chiefs, and Rams before its bye week. Three of the Titans’ final five games will be against the Steelers, 49ers, and Dolphins, so there won’t be much time to coast.
Week 14: Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts
The Eagles are all in on Jalen Hurts and drafted one of the 2021’s best wideout prospects in DeVonta Smith to bolster their receiving corps. Every team has a chance to win the NFC East, and Philly will begin its journey against the Falcons. The 49ers, Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Saints are also on the Eagles’ schedule ahead of their bye week. They’ll finish up the year with four straight divisional games against the Football Team, Giants, and Cowboys. The NFC East race could go down to the wire again given that setup.
The Dolphins just missed out on making the playoffs last year and improved their offense by getting Tua Tagovailoa another weapon in Alabama wideout Jaylen Waddle. Miami is talented on defense, and its secondary will be put to the test in 2021. The Bills, Buccaneers, Falcons are sure to challenge the Dolphins’ defensive backs ahead of Week 14, but they’ll also have to improve against the run. Miami’s final three games against the Saints, Titans, and Patriots will help the front line be battle-tested by the time the postseason comes around.
The Patriots have brought back Cam Newton and backed him up with Mac Jones via the 2021 NFL Draft. They’ve also had a boatload of players back who opted out last season and hope to reclaim control of the AFC East. It’s unclear if New England has done enough over the offseason to compete, though. The growth of the passing game will be tested in Week 1 against the Dolphins’ elite secondary. The Saints, Buccaneers, and Browns will also test the Patriots’ offensive versatility ahead of Week 14. Three of New England’s final four games will be against playoff-caliber teams. How the Patriots fare against the Colts, Bills, and Dolphins in Weeks 15 through 18 could determine whether they make the playoffs.
The Colts’ one-year trial run with Philip Rivers is over, and Carson Wentz has taken over the mantle. Indianapolis unexpectedly had one of the NFL’s best defenses last season but struggled to find consistency through the air. The development of its receiving corps could make or break the upcoming season. The Colts will see plenty of quality defensive backs against the Rams, Dolphins, and Ravens ahead of Week 14. Coverage should soften up after a Week 7 matchup against the 49ers. If the Colts have a respectable record at the midpoint in the season, there’s no reason they shouldn't compete for the top spot in the AFC South.