Get ready to see a lot of Tom Brady in 2021 — starting on Opening Night against America’s Team.
The NFL released its 2021 regular-season schedule on Wednesday night, and to little surprise the national TV lineup features a heavy dose of Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers play five prime-time games on national TV, starting with the NFL’s Kickoff Game on Thursday, Sept. 9, against the Cowboys. Not only will the Buccaneers raise their second championship banner that night, the game will also mark the return of Cowboys star quarterback Dak Prescott, who suffered a gruesome leg injury last October.
Brady and the Buccaneers play twice on “Sunday Night Football” (Week 4 at the Patriots and Week 15 vs. the Saints); once on “Monday Night Football” (Week 11 vs. the Giants); and once on “Thursday Night Football” (Week 6 at the Eagles). They also have four games in the Sunday 4:25 p.m. national time slot.
Overall, the Buccaneers’ schedule is kind to Brady, who turns 44 in August. Due to the Buccaneers playing the NFC East and AFC East, only two of their 17 games are outside of the Eastern time zone (at Saints and at Rams).
The Buccaneers get to open their season with two games at home and have a generous closing stretch, finishing the season at the Panthers, at the Jets, and vs. the Panthers. The Buccaneers also get an ideal bye week — Week 9, in the middle of the season.
A look at some other nuggets from the 18-week, 272-game schedule:
▪ The TV executives don’t seem too concerned about Aaron Rodgers not playing for the Packers, because Green Bay got six national TV games, the most in the league. Even if Rodgers is traded or holds out, the Packers should be plenty fascinating with Jordan Love under center.
▪ The uncertainty with Deshaun Watson’s availability, however, seems to have significantly reduced the buzz around the Texans. The Texans have just one national TV game, a Thursday night game against the Panthers in Week 3. It doesn’t help that the Texans’ roster is lacking talent as they start over under coach David Culley and Nick Caserio, but Watson’s ambiguous future because of sexual assault lawsuits filed against him likely played into it.
▪ The national TV darlings are mostly the teams you’d expect: The Buccaneers, Cowboys, Chiefs, Ravens, Rams, Seahawks, and Steelers each have five prime-time games. But two surprising teams do, as well: The 49ers, who went 6-10 last year, and the Saints, who no longer have Drew Brees. The 49ers should be more competitive and certainly a lot more interesting with Jimmy Garoppolo healthy and Trey Lance looming behind him. And the Saints have plenty of intrigue with Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston replacing Brees.
The Cowboys, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Packers, and 49ers each get three games on “Sunday Night Football,” the premier time slot. And the Cowboys technically get a sixth national TV game when they play on Thanksgiving.
▪ Speaking of Thanksgiving, the Turkey Day slate is: Bears at Lions for the third time in four years; Raiders at Cowboys; and Bills at Saints in the nightcap.
▪ Eight of the 32 teams will only play one national TV game, including young quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, and Zach Wilson, who don’t quite have the juice yet to draw national games.
The Panthers and Texans play each other on “Thursday Night Football”; same with the Jaguars and Bengals; the Jets, Falcons, and Broncos also get just one Thursday night game, while the Lions get just one Monday night game.
But the Jets, Falcons, and Jaguars do get a 9:30 a.m. London game, and the Lions also get a Thanksgiving game.
▪ The international slate was cut from five games to two, with no Mexico City game and only two in London: Jets at Falcons in Week 5, and Dolphins at Jaguars in Week 6. Both games are at 9:30 a.m. and will be at Tottenham Stadium.
▪ The NFL will have a handful of revenge games, in addition to Brady facing the Patriots. The Bills get another crack at the Chiefs in Week 5 after losing in last year’s AFC Championship game. Sam Darnold gets to face his old team right off the bat when the Panthers host the Jets in Week 1. Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff will face their former teams when the Rams host the Lions in Week 7. Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will face one of his many former teams when he plays in Buffalo in Week 3. And Cam Newton could potentially face the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., in Week 9.
▪ The bye weeks start in Week 6 and last until Week 14.
▪ The new stadiums that opened last year in Los Angeles and Las Vegas will finally welcome fans this year. The first game at SoFi Stadium with fans will be Bears at Rams in Week 1 on “Sunday Night Football,” and the first game at Allegiant Stadium with fans will be Ravens at Raiders in Week 1 on “Monday Night Football.” The Chargers’ first home game with fans is Week 2 against the Cowboys.
▪ Four of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round will open the season on the road. Lawrence and the Jaguars play at Houston; Wilson and the Jets play at Carolina; Lance and the 49ers play at Detroit (and Lance will probably be on the bench); Justin Fields and the Bears play at the Rams; and Mac Jones and the Patriots host the Dolphins (where he will likely sit on the bench, as well).
Lawrence and Wilson will potentially face each other in Week 16, just the fourth time ever that rookie QBs drafted 1-2 will square off. Lawrence would potentially get Jones the next week in Foxborough.
▪ Assuming Rodgers sticks with the Packers, he will face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Week 15 in a battle between the last two MVPs.
▪ Good luck to the Browns, who travel to Kansas City for Week 1 for a rematch of last year’s divisional-round playoff game. The Chiefs have won six season openers in a row under coach Andy Reid.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.