The NFL announced today its first-ever 18-week, 272-game regular-season schedule for 2021, which kicks off on Thursday night, September 9, in Tampa Bay and concludes with 16 division games in Week 18 – two on Saturday, January 8, and 14 on Sunday, January 9.
Each team according to the 2021 NFL schedule, which is Powered by AWS, will play 17 regular-season games and three preseason games for the first time, providing fans an extra week of regular-season action. It marks the first change to the season structure since the 1978 campaign which ushered in the era of 16 regular-season and four preseason games.
With the 17th game featuring teams from opposing conferences that finished in the same standings within their respective divisions the previous season. The AFC was determined to be the home conference for the 17th game in 2021.The NFL’s 102nd season begins with the league’s annual primetime kickoff game, as the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, September 9 (8:20 PM ET, NBC).
Week 1 continues Sunday, September 12, with a double-doubleheader featuring four Sunday afternoon games in every market and intriguing matchups in both conferences. On CBS, the defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns (4:25 PM ET) in a rematch of their memorable 2020 Divisional Playoff game.
On FOX, the Green Bay Packers travel to face the New Orleans Saints (4:25 PM ET) in a meeting of the NFC’s top two seeds from last year’s postseason. Later that day, NBC’s Sunday Night Football begins with the Los Angeles Rams hosting the Chicago Bears (8:20 PM ET) at SoFi Stadium.
Kickoff Weekend concludes on Monday, September 13, with ESPN/ABC’s Monday Night Football, featuring the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 PM ET) at Allegiant Stadium. A year after opening, both SoFi Stadium and Allegiant Stadium are expected to welcome fans for the first time in their Week 1 primetime slates, as well as the Los Angeles Chargers’ home opener against the Dallas Cowboys (4:25 PM ET, CBS) in Week 2.
Additionally, each stadium will take center stage in February, as Allegiant Stadium will host the 2022 Pro Bowl on Sunday, February 6, and SoFi Stadium will host Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, February 13.
ESPN will televise one game each Monday night in Weeks 1-17. There will be no Monday night game on the final regular-season weekend (Week 18) to provide more flexibility for the scheduling of the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs.
Additionally, ESPN/ABC will air two games with playoff implications on the Saturday of Week 18, January 8. These games will be selected following the conclusion of Week 17.
Thursday Night Football will air exclusively on NFL Network in Weeks 2-4 and in Week 16, while FOX kicks off its Thursday night slate in Week 5. FOX will broadcast 10 Thursday Night Football games between Weeks 5-15 (excluding Thanksgiving night) as well as the Saturday, December 25, game between the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers (4:30 PM ET).
Those FOX games are slated to be simulcast via NFL Network, distributed in Spanish on FOX Deportes, and streamed on Amazon Prime Video, beginning with the Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks game on October 7.
In total, NFL Network will exclusively televise eight games (four on Thursday night, one game in London, both games in Week 15 on Saturday, December 18 and one of the December 25 games, the Indianapolis Colts visiting the Arizona Cardinals [8:15 PM ET]). Kickoff times for primetime games will remain unchanged this season.
Monday and Saturday night games will kick off at 8:15 ET.
Sunday and Thursday night games will kick at 8:20 ET. Once again this season, all 32 clubs will have at least one nationally televised game. A select number of games will be “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring potentially under-distributed games to wider audiences. Some of those contests were announced today and other “cross-flexed”games will be decided during the season.
The NFL’s International Series will return in 2021, as the schedule features two games from London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Atlanta Falcons will play host to the New York Jets in Week 5, airing exclusively on NFL Network (9:30 AM ET), while the Jacksonville Jaguars will play host to the Miami Dolphins in Week 6 (9:30 AM ET, CBS).
Thanksgiving will feature a tripleheader on Thursday, November 25.
The first game will match two NFC North division rivals, as the Chicago Bears travel to Detroit to face the Lions (12:30 PM ET, FOX). The late afternoon game will feature the Las Vegas Raiders visiting the Dallas Cowboys (4:30 PM ET, CBS). The Thanksgiving Day festivities conclude with an interconference matchup between two 2020 playoff teams, as the Bills travel to New Orleans to face the Saints on NBC (8:20 PM ET).
The regular season will conclude with Week 18 on Saturday, January 8, and Sunday, January 9. For the 12th consecutive year, all 16 games scheduled for the final week of the season are division contests, enhancing the potential for more games with playoff ramifications.
For the first time ever, the NFL’s 32 teams will each play 17 games over 18 weeks.
Byes will begin in Week 6 and end in Week 14. Eleven 2021 games are rematches of the 2020 playoffs, including the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football in Week 5 (8:20 PM ET, NBC), a rematch of the AFC Championship Game.
Other 2021 schedule notes:
- Fifteen games will be Super Bowl rematches.
- Aaron Rodgers, the 2020 NFL MVP, and Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, are scheduled to meet for the first time in their careers when the Green Bay Packers travel to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
- On Sunday Night Footballin Week 4, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to New England (8:20 PM ET, NBC), where Brady won six Super Bowls with the Patriots. He can become the fourth quarterback in league history to defeat all 32 teams. •The top two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, are scheduled to meet in Week 16 when the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to play the New York Jets (1:00 PM ET, CBS). If both players start, it will mark the fourth game in NFL history between rookie starting quarterbacks selected first and second overall.
- Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Christian McCaffrey and Dak Prescott are among the exciting group of stars expected to return to the field in 2021.
“Flexible scheduling” will be used in Weeks 11-18. Additionally, in Weeks 5-10, flexible scheduling may be used in no more than two weeks.
In Weeks 5-17, the schedule lists the games tentatively set for Sunday Night Football on NBC. Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the tentatively scheduled Sunday night game would be moved to an afternoon start time.
Flexible scheduling will not be applied to games airing on Thursday or Monday nights. In Week 15, two of the five matchups designated as TBD will be played on Saturday with the remainder to be played on Sunday. Specific dates and start times for such designated Week 15 matchups will be determined and announced no later than four weeks prior to game day.
For Week 18, two Saturday games and the Sunday night game will be announced no later than six days prior to January 9. The schedule does not list Saturday games or a Sunday night game in Week 18, but games with playoff implications will be moved to those time slots.
Flexible scheduling ensures quality matchups in all Sunday time slots in those weeks and give “surprise” teams a chance to play their way into primetime. In Week 18, two games will be played on Saturday, one at 4:30 PM ET and one at 8:15 PM ET with the remainder to be played on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 PM ET and 4:25 PM ET, and one matchup to be played on Sunday night at 8:20 PM ET.
Specific dates and start times for Week 18 matchups will be determined and announced following the conclusion of Week 17.
Introduced last year and continuing in 2021, a total of 14 teams – seven each in the American and National Football Conferences – will make the postseason. The No. 1 seed in each conference will receive a bye in the Wild Card round. The remaining division champions in each conference with the best records will be seeded 2, 3, and 4, followed by the next three teams per conference with the best records seeded 5, 6, and 7.
Since 1990 – a streak of 31 consecutive seasons – at least four new teams have qualified for the playoffs that missed the postseason the year before, including seven of the 14 playoff teams in 2020.AFC and NFC Wild Card games will feature the 2 seed hosting the 7 seed, the 3 seed hosting the 6 seed and the 4 seed hosting the 5 seed.
Wild Card Weekend for the 2021 season will feature six games, starting on Saturday, January 15. Wild Card Weekend winners join the top seeds in each conference in the Divisional Playoffs on Saturday and Sunday, January 22-23.
The AFC and NFC Championship Games, presented by Intuit TurboTax Live, will be played on Sunday, January 30. The winners meet two weeks later on Sunday, February 13, in Super Bowl LVI at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium (NBC), marking the first time the league’s final game is played in the Los Angeles area since Super Bowl XXVII in 1993.