NFL experts pick best matchups, biggest winners from schedule release

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The 2021 NFL schedule is out, and the common season will start with the Dallas Cowboys dealing with the Tremendous Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Sept. 9. Week 1 additionally encompasses a assembly of AFC powerhouses within the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, the New Orleans Saints starting their post-Drew Brees period in opposition to the Inexperienced Bay Packers and new Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold dealing with his previous New York Jets staff. And the opening Monday Night time Soccer sport will see the Baltimore Ravens go to the Las Vegas Raiders.

The NFL additionally expanded the regular-season schedule to 17 video games, which begins this 12 months. The NFL had performed a 16-game schedule since 1978. And the league will return to worldwide play with the Atlanta Falcons set to host the Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars matching up with the Miami Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

However what ought to we make of the 2021 slate? Who’s the largest winner from the schedule launch? Which video games do you have to circle in your calendar? And which rookie debut would be the most fascinating? Our panel of NFL consultants weighs in.

Skip to a query:

Which matchup do you may have circled in your calendar?

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Payments at Patriots, Week 16. I actually just like the roster upgrades New England made this offseason by means of free company and the draft. There are scheme-specific gamers there. And this matchup in Week 16 in opposition to Buffalo may have main implications in each playoff seeding and the AFC East race.

Mike Clay, fantasy author: Browns at Chiefs, Week 1. Two of the league’s finest groups dealing with off within the first week? I am right here for it. The Browns are completely loaded on paper, and that is their alternative to determine themselves as a official Tremendous Bowl contender. Cleveland shall be eyeing a sizzling begin after getting crushed 38-6 by the Ravens in Week 1 final season. The Browns will even be in search of revenge after being eradicated by the Chiefs within the playoffs final season.

Jeremy Fowler, nationwide NFL author: Payments at Chiefs, Week 5. Buffalo’s dream 2020 season fizzled shortly with a shaky efficiency in opposition to Kansas Metropolis within the AFC title sport. This rematch must be tighter, with the Payments desirous to take the proverbial subsequent step. And by Week 5, Kansas Metropolis’s reimagined offensive line must be in full swing.

Dan Graziano, nationwide NFL author: Buccaneers at Patriots, Week 4. There weren’t any Patriots followers within the stands final 12 months in Foxborough, so it would not have been practically as a lot enjoyable if Tom Brady’s return had been final season. Good on the scheduling gods for ready a 12 months for the juiciest revenge sport of the season — whichever manner you assume the revenge must be directed.

Kevin Seifert, nationwide NFL author: Buccaneers at Patriots, Week 4. I assume I am a sucker for storylines, however will there be a greater one in 2021 than Brady’s return to Foxborough in prime time? And if the numbers work out proper, Brady may move Drew Brees because the NFL’s all-time chief in profession passing yards. He’ll have to common about 289 yards per sport over the primary 4 video games to do it that night time.

Seth Walder, sports activities analytics author: Chiefs at Ravens, Week 2. I believe there is a respectable probability Lamar Jackson and the Ravens recapture the magic of their 2019 season and turn out to be top-of-the-line groups within the league once more. What higher solution to discover out if they’re for actual this 12 months than taking up Patrick Mahomes? Plus, I like watching two efficient offenses which can be this stylistically completely different.


Who or what’s the largest winner of the schedule launch?

Bowen: The Week 1 prime-time slate. I see three actually good prime-time video games right here. Dallas at Tampa Bay begins it off within the Thursday night time opener with Dak Prescott and Brady. On Sunday night time, we get to look at Matthew Stafford in his first sport with the Rams’ offense, and possibly we additionally see rookie quarterback Justin Fields taking snaps for Chicago. And on Monday night time, it is Jackson in opposition to the Raiders in Vegas. That is good soccer.

Clay: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has the league’s best projected schedule primarily based on my analysis of every 2021 roster. The Bucs face the NFC and AFC East divisions, which are not significantly intimidating, and so they’ll additionally profit from a comparatively mild slate of six divisional video games in opposition to the Falcons, Panthers and Drew Brees-less Saints. Tampa Bay is ready up properly for an additional Tremendous Bowl run.

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Chris Canty explains why he is extra all for seeing how Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will bounce again for the upcoming season.

Fowler: Dallas Cowboys. 9 of Dallas’ opponents had a dropping document final season (together with your entire NFC East, after all). There are the Saints, Bucs and Chiefs, however not a lot else to scare you. Prescott ought to rebound properly from his ankle surgical procedure in opposition to a number of defenses that do not thoughts giving up huge passing yardage.

Graziano: Philadelphia Eagles. The entire NFC East groups acquired nice-looking attracts (which, primarily based on final 12 months, all of them may use), however the Eagles do not need to get on a aircraft after Week 10. Late-season journey is a giant a part of what gamers take a look at once they assess the schedule. I have never dug in sufficient to know whether or not Philly is the largest winner, however I did see that late-season journey be aware and thought it was value declaring right here.

Seifert: Capability for hype. The NFL added a brand new degree to this ridiculous and delightful day by teasing out the Week 1 schedule on its companions’ morning reveals. As a substitute of consuming one night of the offseason, the NFL stole a full day’s value of consideration. Spectacular.

Walder: Carolina Panthers. A very powerful a part of the order of a staff’s video games is how a lot relaxation they’ve relative to their opponents. Carolina would not play any groups coming off a bye and total has a plus-13-day relaxation differential relative to its opponents over the course of the 12 months. That is tied for the very best relaxation differential amongst all staff schedules since 2002 (although there may be an additional sport this 12 months).


Which rookie debut are you most all for, and why?

Bowen: Kyle Pitts, Eagles vs. Falcons. Pitts has a good finish body however the traits of a large receiver. There’s matchup capacity in any respect three ranges of the sphere with scoring upside within the purple zone. And I am desirous to see how new Falcons head coach Arthur Smith schemes him up within the passing sport.

Clay: Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars vs. Texans. Granted it is a street sport, however Lawrence is in any other case arrange about in addition to you might be in your NFL debut. The primary total choose will face what’s arguably the league’s shakiest protection on paper. Houston’s protection was one of many league’s worst final season and shall be with out offseason departures J.J. Watt and Benardrick McKinney, in addition to suspended cornerback Bradley Roby. Lawrence is positioned for a sizzling begin to his profession.

Fowler: Najee Harris, Steelers at Payments. Pittsburgh’s schedule is brutal, the offensive line is patchy and Ben Roethlisberger is pushing 40 years previous, so counting out the Steelers is a handy factor to do. However Harris is the franchise’s finest every-down again since Le’Veon Bell and can set a tone in Week 1.

Graziano: Zach Wilson, Jets at Panthers. I believe this can be a brutal break for Wilson, to need to beat Sam Darnold in Week 1. I am not saying he cannot do it, or that he will not change into higher than Darnold. However I’ve lived virtually my complete life in New Jersey or Connecticut, and I do know Jets followers. If Wilson struggles in Week 1 and Darnold lights it up in the identical sport, it’s not going to be a enjoyable week for the rookie.

Seifert: Travis Etienne, Jaguars vs. Texans. New coach City Meyer justified his resolution to draft a operating again within the first spherical, regardless of the presence of James Robinson and Carlos Hyde, by suggesting a Percy Harvin-like “hybrid” function for Etienne. I am doubtful. Harvin was a once-in-a-generation playmaker. However Week 1 shall be our first alternative to see what Meyer has in thoughts, assuming he would not give a lot of it away within the preseason.

Walder: Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals vs. Vikings. It is the Joe Burrow-Chase reunion. And will probably be further candy after we missed Chase in 2020 (he opted out of the school season) and Burrow within the latter half of his rookie 12 months (because of damage). They have been a particular pairing in faculty, and so they’d jolt Cincinnati to life if they’ll stick with it on the subsequent degree.


Which win whole over or below do you’re feeling finest about choosing proper now?

Bowen: Washington over 8 wins. Ron Rivera’s staff has one the very best defenses within the league, and I see an upgraded offense that may have extra explosive-play capacity within the passing sport. Give me Washington to high the eight-win mark — and problem for the NFC East title.

Fowler: Raiders over 7.5. If Vegas had shored up its protection final 12 months, it might need been a 10-win staff. If the Raiders can get a semblance of a move rush and a move protection, I like their probabilities to surpass final 12 months’s 8-8 clip. They’ve made strikes to deal with these spots by means of the draft and free company. The wild card is a rebuilt offensive line that misplaced some high-caliber expertise, however they needed to get youthful, and which may rejuvenate the operating sport.

Graziano: Vikings over 8.5 wins. Aaron Rodgers may not be within the division anymore. The Bears have questions at QB, and their protection is not what it was. The Lions are … a methods off. Minnesota has stability at key positions and must be the very best staff within the NFC North if Rodgers is not in Inexperienced Bay. And even when he’s, I nonetheless assume they’ll get to 9-8. Yeah, that is not a typo. Welcome to the 17-game season.

Seifert: 49ers below 10 wins. What’s extra seemingly? The 49ers undergo a full 17-game season with Jimmy Garoppolo as their quarterback? Or, for one cause or one other, Garoppolo provides solution to rookie Trey Lance sooner or later throughout the season? Assuming you agree with the latter, 10 wins is a giant quantity for a staff that transitions to a rookie quarterback.

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Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh and Tyler Fulghum share their favourite Week 1 matchups.

Walder: Steelers below 9 wins. With an growing older Roethlisberger and a really questionable offensive line, this offense may get ugly quick. The protection was elite final season, however we all know that facet of the ball is much less steady from 12 months to 12 months, significantly with a number of gamers — Cam Heyward and Joe Haden, amongst others — reaching the twilight of their careers.


What’s your early Tremendous Bowl choose?

Bowen: Chiefs over Rams. Stafford elevates a passing sport in L.A. that shall be extra vertical and extra explosive. And we all know the Rams’ protection can play. However I nonetheless just like the Chiefs to win it. Mahomes is the difference-maker right here, with the playmaking capacity to take over video games.

Clay: Buccaneers over Browns. Tampa Bay will return its complete beginning lineup from final season’s Tremendous Bowl run, and its younger protection ought to solely be higher in 2021. Cleveland’s offense was already excellent final season, and the entrance workplace did an A-plus job overhauling and bettering its protection throughout the offseason. So long as Baker Mayfield would not stumble, the Browns must be official Tremendous Bowl contenders.

Fowler: Packers over Payments. Let’s put aside Inexperienced Bay’s acrimony with Rodgers and bear in mind the Packers have been on the brink for 2 years. A staff with back-to-back 13-win seasons and NFC title sport appearances returns its core, and it may be a contract extension away from one other spite season from Rodgers. Buffalo has made a leap in every year with quarterback Josh Allen, coach Sean McDermott and basic supervisor Brandon Beane collectively. This is to a different.

Graziano: Payments over Rams. I don’t know who to select within the NFC, however I do not wish to choose the Bucs as a result of I do not imagine in repeats on this league. The Rams look good, and we’ll go together with them — till the following time I am requested for a choose. However the headline right here is the primary Tremendous Bowl title in Payments historical past and a statue for McDermott in Buffalo.

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Peyton Manning goes by means of all of the groups he has crushed on the Broncos’ schedule.

Seifert: Chiefs over Buccaneers. It is a boring repeat, but it surely’s an early choose. The Chiefs have crushed the offseason by overhauling their offensive line, and the Buccaneers have their complete beginning lineup and all of their key coaches again from the staff that caught hearth within the 2020 playoffs.

Walder: Browns over Rams. Cleveland’s roster is simply overflowing with expertise. From Myles Garrett to Odell Beckham Jr. to Denzel Ward to a robust offensive line, the Browns are stacked to the purpose the place they need to have the ability to win — even with out an elite-tier QB. The Rams have unbelievable upside with stars on protection and potential enchancment on offense with Stafford now below middle.

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