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Week 1 NFL schedule: Best, worst, sleeper games to open the 2021 season

NFL Sundays are back, finally! Here’s a primer on the games to see and the ones to skip.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, we’ll have a full Sunday of NFL football this week, the first Sunday through the end of February that we’ll have games to watch. Kickoff weekend is always a good one too. Sure, there are already some favorites and some contenders for the bottom of the cellar, but everyone is at least starting with a clean slate and anything can happen as some teams just haven’t shaken off their offseason rust yet.

Best Game

This is a toss up for me, a tough choice between two AFC matchups that we will likely be seeing again in the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the crown jewel of the early slate games. Buffalo’s got Super Bowl-or-bust expectations riding on them this year, after quarterback Josh Allen’s impressive breakout in 2020. The Steelers are hoping for one last run with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center. Both squads have oodles of talent among their offensive skill players too, and this one has all the makings of a matchup that will come down the final drive of the game. The Bills are favored by 6.5 points, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook, but that feels like a way bigger margin than we should actually expect.

The Kansas City Chiefs are the favorite to represent the AFC in the big game this year. They host the up-and-coming Cleveland Browns to start the season in the late afternoon slot on Sunday. Cleveland’s no joke anymore, and to take their proper place with the league’s elite teams, they could really use a win against the Chiefs. That’s not going to easy at Arrowhead Stadium, where Kansas City has a home-field advantage unlike any team in the league.

Worst Game

Another great thing about Week 1 is that all of the games at least have some appeal, at least in a way the slate won’t as we creep into November. The one I would skip this week is the 49ers at Lions. Sure, San Francisco is going to be fun to watch this season, but the Lions most definitely are not. With the Niners favored by 9.5 points, this one could be over by

Sleeper Game

The Jets and Panthers aren’t exactly appointment viewing based on how things have been over the last few seasons, but this week’s matchup between the two features a pair of teams that are finally on the way up after making some actually good offseason moves. The Jets are starting rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in the draft. He’s not had the same level of attention as some of the other first-round signal callers this season, but he’s looked pretty good in the preseason, giving the Jets some actual hope for a franchise QB. The big story in Carolina is former Jets franchise hope Sam Darnold, who’s looking to resurrect his career. The second biggest story is the return of running back Christian McCaffrey, who missed most of last season with a cascade of injuries. When he’s healthy, and he apparently is just that, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch.

2021 NFL TV schedule, Week 1

1 p.m.

Eagles @ Falcons — FOX
Steelers @ Bills — CBS
Vikings @ Bengals — FOX
49ers @ Lions — FOX
Cardinals @ Titans — CBS
Seahawks @ Colts — FOX
Chargers @ Washington — CBS
Jets @ Panthers — CBS
Jaguars @ Texans — CBS

4:05/4:25 p.m.

Browns @ Chiefs — CBS
Dolphins @ Patriots — CBS
Packers @ Saints — FOX
Broncos @ Giants — FOX

8:20 p.m.

Bears @ Rams — NBC