Top takeaways from the 2021 NFL schedule release
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL schedule was officially released on Wednesday. While we already knew the opponents each team will face this coming fall and winter, it’s always fun to break down the individual schedules.

For the first time, the NFL has opted for a 17-game schedule. That’s going to make it difficult with teams who have either an early and late bye week. Meanwhile, it seems pretty darn clear that the league is looking to focus on young quarterbacks throughout the campaign.

Below, we look at the top eight takeaways from the 2021 NFL schedule release.

NFL expects the Dallas Cowboys to rebound in 2021

By having Dallas go up against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the opening “Thursday Night Football Game” of the season, the NFL is clearly showing its hand here.

The league firmly believes that a fully-healthy Dak Prescott and an improved defense will help Dallas to playoff contention following a disastrous six-win campaign in Mike McCarthy’s first year as its head coach. A Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders adds another layer to this.

NFL schedule release signifies rookie QBs will get major action

The San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears each have five nationally televised games on the initial NFL schedule. For Chicago, that means a Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions and a Week 1 “Sunday Night Football” outing versus Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams. Can we now question the belief that Andy Dalton will be the clear-cut Week 1 starter for Chicago over rookie Justin Fields?

In San Francisco, the 49ers also have five nationally televised games. That includes interesting outings against the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts. Not only is the NFL expecting Kyle Shanahan and Co. to rebound from an injury-plagued 2020 season, it firmly believes rookie No. 3 pick Trey Lance will eventually start over Jimmy Garoppolo. With Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson already slated to start for their teams, this means we could see a ton of rookie quarterbacks get action in 2021.

Starting out of the gate strong in Week 1

Starting with the Cowboys and Buccaneers going up against one another in the season opener, Week 1 of the NFL schedule is filled with flavor. That includes the Cleveland Browns attempting to make an early-season statement on the road against the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead. Another late-afternoon matchup will pit the Green Bay Packers against the New Orleans Saints. Is there a chance Aaron Rodgers won’t be in a Green Bay uniform for that game?

As for the early-afternoon matchups, the Buffalo Bills will look to pick up where they left off last season against a lesser Pittsburgh Steelers squad. Meanwhile, it should be interesting to see how Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals perform on the road against a solid Tennessee Titans squad.

Trevor Lawrence vs. Joe Burrow was not on accident

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals each have only one nationally televised primetime game on their schedules for the 2021 season. It makes sense given that the two teams combined for a 5-26-1 record a season ago. Even then, the NFL knows full well the dynamic that this Week 4 Thursday night game in Cincinnati brings to the table.

The last two No. 1 overall picks in Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars and Bengals star Joe Burrow going up against one another in a midweek game that would otherwise seem to be meaningless. Prior to suffering a torn ACL as a rookie last season, Burrow looked every bit the part of a franchise quarterback. Meanwhile, Lawrence has been seen as a generational quarterback prospect for the past few years. This should be fun.

What the NFL schedule tells us about Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers

It’s an interesting dynamic to look at. By now, we already know that Aaron Rodgers has requested a trade from the Packers and continues to threaten to sit out the 2021 season . In what has to be considered a surprising turn, Green Bay has as many nationally-televised primetime games as the division-rival Chicago Bears (four).

While we would suggest not reading too much into this, two of those games come rather early in the season (Week 2 Detroit Lions, Week 3 San Francisco 49ers). Perhaps, this is the NFL’s way of indicating Rodgers might be around in Green Bay early in the season — only to be dealt ahead of the NFL trade deadline. But that’s just conjecture on our part.

No rest for the weary

The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers all have Week 6 byes. This means each team must played 12 games in 12 weeks to close out the regular season. That doesn’t even take into account potential playoff games.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots share Week 14 byes. Looking at the math, each of these four teams will play 13 games before they get their bye. With the NFL moving to a 17-game schedule, this is clear evidence that the league should consider a second bye week.

NFL schedule features Las Vegas

It was unfortunate for both the NFL and the Raiders that they couldn’t host fans during their inaugural season in Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that restrictions have been lifted in Nevada to an extent and with things set to get back to normal here soon, that won’t be the case in 2021.

That’s why the NFL opted to give the Raiders two huge primetime nationally televised games at Allegiant Stadium during the 2021 campaign. It starts out Week 1 on “Monday Night Football” against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. The league then opted for a Week 10 “Sunday Night Football Game” against the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas.

NFL schedule release gives us Tom Brady vs. New England Patriots

Week 4 of the NFL season is going to be an absolute blast. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers going up against one another with the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers also renewing their rivalry in Southern California. However, it’s all about one Tom Brady returning to New England as the defending Super Bowl MVP.

Just imagine the storylines here. Roughly 18 months after Brady departed New England following a brilliant two-decade career that included six Super Bowl titles, he’ll return to Gillette Stadium as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game will be featured on NBC Sunday evening and promises to boast a ton of backstories. With a full stadium expected in New England, it will be interesting to see how Patriots fans greet Tom Terrific. Anything less than a standing ovation would not be a great look.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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