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The Best Game Every Week of the 2021 NFL Season

Rivalry games, playoff rematches and more matchups we’re circling on the schedule.

The wait is almost over. Rosters have been trimmed down to 53 players, preseason games have concluded and the 2021 NFL season is just around the corner.

The landscape of the NFL looks a lot different from a year ago. Fans, in lieu of cardboard cutouts, will be back in stands, filling stadiums with energy and excitement. For the first time in the history of the league, the season will span 18 weeks, with each team slated for 17 games and one bye week. And the offseason was quite the thrilling quarterback carousel, both by way of the draft and trades, with at least a dozen teams expected to trot out different starting quarterbacks from Week 1 a season ago.

From classic rivalries to those of new, to battles between young stars, to rematches we’ve all been waiting for, here are the best games you should have circled on your calendar each week.


Week 1: Cowboys at Bucs

The first game of the NFL season is one you certainly don’t want to miss. Dak Prescott makes his return for the Cowboys after an ankle injury in October 2020, doing so against Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, who return all 22 starters. The Sept. 9 Thursday Night Football matchup sees the two teams square off for the first time since 2018, pitting a Cowboys offense featuring Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and CeDee Lamb against one of the best defenses in the league.

Also keep an eye on: Jets at Panthers, Browns at Chiefs, Cardinals at Titans

Week 2: Chiefs at Ravens

The Chiefs and Ravens have developed quite the entertaining rivalry in recent years,

behind star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Kansas City has come out victorious each time, with Jackson expressing clear frustration in not being able to get past the AFC foe, but each of the three games between these teams since 2018 have been thrilling. This year’s contest features tons of star talent, with seven NFL Top 100 players across both sides: Mahomes (1), TE Travis Kelce (5), WR Tyreek Hill (15), Jackson (24), DT Chris Jones (34), CB Marlon Humphrey (38) and S Tyrann Mathieu (58).

Also keep an eye on: Titans at Seahawks, Bills at Dolphins, Patriots at Jets

Week 3: Buccaneers at Rams

Last season’s Week 11 showing between the Buccaneers and Rams was electric. Tampa Bay tied the game on a touchdown with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, followed quickly by a Los Angeles field goal. Tom Brady had a chance to win it with a final drive, but safety Jordan Fuller picked him off with under two minutes left, leading the Rams to a 27–24 victory. Many were hoping for a rematch in the NFC championship game, but the Rams lost to the Packers and we never got to see it. With Matthew Stafford now under center for Los Angeles and the Bucs fresh off a championship, this has potential to be even better.

Also keep an eye on: Packers at 49ers, Eagles at Cowboys, Chargers at Chiefs

Week 4: Buccaneers at Patriots

He may have just won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers, but there’s no denying that Tom Brady’s career will always be synonymous with the Patriots. He returns to New England on Oct. 3 to play against Bill Belichick and his former team for the first time since leaving the franchise. This is sure to be a drama-filled affair as New England’s quarterback of the future takes on the one of its past, and it’ll be interesting to see how the crowd at Gillette Stadium responds.

Also keep an eye on: Jaguars at Bengals, Steelers at Packers, Cardinals at Rams


Week 5: Bills at Chiefs

The rematch of the 2020 AFC championship game is set for Oct. 10 at Arrowhead Stadium. Buffalo started that game with a nine-point lead before Kansas City stormed back to score three consecutive touchdowns and eventually win 38–24. The Josh Allen–led Bills will be looking to prove that their first 13-win season since 1991 was a sign of bigger things to come when they get another shot at Mahomes and the Chiefs, who have made the Super Bowl in each of the last two years.

Also keep an eye on: Browns at Chargers, Rams at Seahawks, Giants at Cowboys

Week 6: Bills at Titans

This Oct. 18 Monday Night Football matchup between the Bills and Titans features two of the best teams in the AFC. Both have dynamic offenses, with Buffalo’s featuring star duo Allen and Stefon Diggs, and Tennessee’s boasting Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and now Julio Jones at skill positions. The question in this one will be whether the Titans’ defense can step up to the task.

Also keep an eye on: Chargers at Ravens, Cardinals at Browns, Seahawks at Steelers

Week 7: Lions at Rams

How often do you get a revenge game on both sides of a matchup? That’s exactly what we’ll get when quarterbacks Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford face their former teams on Oct. 24, after being traded for each other in the offseason. The Rams figure to be one of the top 10 teams in the league this season and are clearly much better than the Lions, now under new head coach Dan Campbell, but this is one to circle nonetheless.

Also keep an eye on: Chiefs at Titans, Colts at 49ers, Bengals at Ravens

Week 8: Buccaneers at Saints

The Bucs and Saints always seem to pair for wild affairs. This year’s games between the NFC South foes carry even more intrigue. Jameis Winston, recently named New Orleans’s starting quarterback, will surely have a lot to prove against the team that drafted him No. 1 back in 2015.

Also keep an eye on: Steelers at Browns, Dolphins at Bills, Packers at Cardinals

Week 9: Packers at Chiefs

This matchup features two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and is a potential Super Bowl preview. Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes face off for just the second time in their careers, when the Packers travel to Arrowhead on Nov. 7. Their only other meeting ended in a 31–24 win for Green Bay in Oct. 2019, but a lot has changed for both sides since then.

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Also keep an eye on: Titans at Rams, Cardinals at 49ers

Week 10: Seahawks at Packers

The Seahawks and Packers don’t face each other often, but whenever they do it makes for incredible football. The two franchises dealt with their fair share of drama over the offseason, with Aaron Rodgers’s making it clear he wasn’t happy with the Packers and showing up late to camp, while rumors circulated surrounding Russell Wilson’s desire to stay in Seattle. Both are clearly hungry for some hardware. The matchup of the two quarterbacks is intriguing in itself, but this contest also features two of the top wide receivers in the league as well, in Davante Adams and DK Metcalf.

Also keep an eye on: Chiefs at Raiders, Rams at 49ers, Ravens at Dolphins

Jun 10, 2021; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera stands on the field during drills as part of minicamp at Inova Sports Performance Center.

Week 11: Washington Football Team at Panthers

Washington coach Ron Rivera will make his first return to Bank of America Stadium since being fired by the Panthers during the 2019 season. The two teams played a close matchup in Washington last year (the Panthers won 20–13), but both feature new starting quarterbacks, with Sam Darnold joining Carolina from the Jets and journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick landing with Washington at 38 years old.

Also keep an eye on: Cardinals at Seahawks, Ravens at Bears, Cowboys at Chiefs

Week 12: Browns at Ravens

There’s been a lot of debate this offseason about whether the Browns or Ravens are the better team in the AFC North. Cleveland made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 last year but still lost twice to Batlimore, including a wild second meeting where Lamar Jackson dealt with cramps but still led the Ravens to win 47–42. Come Nov. 28, with a pairing of two great defenses, quarterbacks and run games, this is anybody’s contest.

Also keep an eye on: Rams at Packers, Seahawks at Washington, Eagles at Giants

Week 13: 49ers at Seahawks

The NFC West figures to be one of the best divisions in the league, and this could be a key game for those standings in the second half of the season. The matchup between a high-powered Russell Wilson–led offense for Seattle and a San Francisco defense that almost has to be healthier than last year should be a lot of fun to watch. And at this point in the season, there’s no telling who will be at quarterback for the 49ers.

Also keep an eye on: Patriots at Bills, Ravens at Steelers, Cowboys at Saints

Week 14: Bills at Buccaneers

If the Bills had gotten past the Chiefs, this would have been the Super Bowl matchup last season. This game will be a big test for the Bills to see how they stack up against the reigning champions, and the offense will surely be fired up to go against such a dominant Buccaneers defense. This Dec. 12 contest also features a collection of electrifying wide receivers: Stefon Diggs, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Emmanuel Sanders.

Also keep an eye on: Ravens at Browns, Bears at Packers, Rams at Cardinals

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Week 15: Chiefs at Chargers

The Chiefs haven’t faced much competition in the AFC West in recent years, but the Chargers are on the rise behind young quarterback Justin Herbert and looking to change that. Mahomes and most starters didn’t play in their second meeting last season, but their first had to be decided in overtime, eventually ending in a 23–20 Kansas City victory. If that was any indication of future matchups, this should be a good one.

Also keep an eye on: Titans at Steelers, Seahawks at Rams, Packers at Ravens

Week 16: Jaguars at Jets

The first two picks of the 2021 draft go head to head on Dec. 26. There’s been an overhelping of hype surrounding Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson in the months leading up to the draft and throughout the preseason, and this game should be no different. It’ll be exciting to see how they fare against each other in their rookie seasons, especially this deep into the year.

Also keep an eye on: Bills at Patriots, Steelers at Chiefs, Browns at Packers

Week 17: Browns at Steelers

Last year was a tight race to the finish line in the AFC North, with the Steelers, Browns and Ravens all making the playoffs, and this year figures to be more of the same. This Jan. 3 Monday Night Football matchup is sure to have major implications on the postseason. The Browns and Steelers played in Week 17 last season as well, with Cleveland taking the win to clinch a playoff berth before proceeding to take down Pittsburgh once again in the wild-card round for the franchise’s first playoff win since 1994.

Also keep an eye on: Jaguars at Patriots, Dolphins at Titans, Chiefs at Bengals

Week 18: Steelers at Ravens

As noted previously, there could be some chaos at the top of the AFC North; this Jan. 9 matchup will likely also play a big factor in playoff seeding. Rivalry games between the Steelers and Ravens have rarely disappointed in recent years. Pittsburgh got the best of Baltimore in both matchups last season, sweeping the series for the first time since 2017, which is sure to have the home team fired up. This has all the makings for a heated, gritty, defensive showdown to end the regular season.

Also keep an eye on: Seahawks at Cardinals, Patriots at Dolphins, Cowboys at Eagles

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