Looking Ahead to the Five Best Primetime Games of the 2021 NFL Season
By Liam McKeone
The 2021 NFL regular-season schedule was released in full on Wednesday. It was a whole thing. Every team's social profiles put out elaborate graphics and videos to celebrate the knowledge of exactly when they'd be playing their 2021 opponents. NFL Network had a three-hour special breaking down the most interesting matchups.
Those upcoming matchups are pretty much all we the fans have to talk about between now and September 9, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys in the inaugural game of the season. Well, that and the whole Aaron Rodgers thing, but we at The Big Lead have done our due diligence there. Today, we look ahead and pick out five games from the 2021 primetime schedule to be excited about.
It is, of course, a bit of a fool's errand. Every primetime game looks good on paper half a year before they'll be played. A lot can change between now and kickoff. Hell, some of the later-season matchups may not even take place when they're supposed to because of the increased flexibility the networks now have to change primetime slots in order to put on the best possible contest for fans. A team's season could be over by Week 3 if a crucial player suffers an early injury and suddenly we have a Monday night blowout on our hands that we couldn't have predicted in May.
Now that all those caveats are out of the way, let's look at five games that will take place on Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football in 2021 that we should feel most excited about as the slow march towards kickoff continues.
Week 2, Sunday Night Football: Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens
The Chiefs and Ravens have met three times in the last three seasons. In 2018 and 2019, the combined margin of victory was only eight points (both Chiefs wins). That trend was bucked last year when Patrick Mahomes handled Baltimore and Lamar Jackson easily in primetime with a 34-20 victory, but I'm betting that's the exception to the rule. These are two of the best teams in the AFC, boasting two former MVPs and the two most exciting quarterbacks in the game for vastly different reasons. With the game coming so early in the season, both sides will be looking to make a statement. Great football will be played, and that's all we really want from a primetime matchup.
Week 4, Sunday Night Football: Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots
Of course. This matchup has a very good chance of being the highest-rated NFL game of the year by season's end. Having it early means the game will matter in terms of record and lessens the chance that someone important on either side gets hurt and lowers the quality of competition. NBC must be ecstatic they landed this one. It grabs the attention of diehard and casual football fans alike with great ease. I don't need to spell out for you why this is enticing. Michael Irvin can do that just fine. The prodigal son returns to face his old boss. How will Tom Brady be received by the crowd? What will it mean if Bill Belichick flusters his old QB and comes away with a win? The pre- and post-game analysis will take up many, many hours of your favorite sports talk show. It should be a blast.
Week 5, Sunday Night Football: Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs
NBC has a lot of gems early in the season, eh? An AFC Championship Game matchup coming one week after the Brady-Belichick duel, this will be a great football game. Neither team made significant changes over this offseason. It will once again be Sean McDermott's defensive genius pitted against Andy Reid's offensive mastery, Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes, Tre'Davious White vs. Tyreek Hill. Great players and football minds on both sides. It also will likely have playoff implications in terms of tiebreakers down the line if both squads are as successful as they were in 2020. Every box is checked here.
Week 14, Monday Night Football: Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
This is somehow the first primetime game between the Cardinals and Rams. That seems a travesty because these two squads always beat the hell out of each other when they play. It will feature two of the league's brightest playcallers in Kliff Kingsbury and Sean McVay. Kyler Murray will duel against Matthew Stafford. The Rams got to the divisional round last year and the Cardinals missed the postseason by one game. A competitive, intra-divisional game featuring two high-scoring offenses with playoff seeding on the line? Sign us up.
Week 17, Monday Night Football: Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
This is one of the aforementioned games that looks real good before the year but could end up completely meaningless by Week 17. In the spirit of optimism, we're going to assume this game will matter and get excited about it. The Steelers are bringing back most of the key contributors from last year that led them to a division title. The Browns have every key contributor from last year that led them to a victory over these same Steelers in the playoffs before just barely losing to the Chiefs in the divisional round. Late-season AFC North matchups are always chippy affairs regardless of what's on the line, and quite a bit could be on the line for this one.