The 2020 NFL season ended just ten days ago, but like many of you, I’m excited for next season already. One thing we know about 2021 is that the Buccaneers will kick things off at home on Thursday, September 9; and we know their eight possible opponents. The offseason could change things, but what would be the best matchup to kickoff the 2021 NFL season as things currently stand?
8. Chicago Bears
Right now, there’s just too much uncertainty surrounding the Bears’ quarterback position to have them much higher than this among the teams that could play in the season opener. That said, Chicago’s defense could present an interesting matchup versus Tom Brady and company, and the Bears at No. 8 is an indication that whatever game we get should be a good one. Also, the Bears just played in the season opener against the Packers a couple of years ago, so the NFL might not want to have them open the season for the second time in three years.
7. New York Giants
Two of Brady’s Super Bowl losses are against the Giants, and you can bet he’ll never forget that, even as he begins Year 2 with his second franchise The Giants will get a healthy Saquon Barkley back to bring major star power on the visiting team’s side, and New York could be ready to take a step forward in Joe Judge’s second season at the helm. The big market appeal doesn’t hurt, either.
6. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are similar to the Giants in that they are one of the NFL’s most popular franchise (and a lock to draw more viewers) and they are getting a star player (Dak Prescott, barring something unforeseen with his contract) back. Cowboys-Buccaneers is one of two possibilities that would include two Super Bowl-winning head coaches—Mike McCarthy and Bruce Arians—facing off.
5. Carolina Panthers
Each of the next two teams figure to be heavy in the mix to acquire Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, in which case the schedule makers might vault them up to the clear choice to kick off the 2021 season. Either way, the Panthers can probably be relied on to not lay an egg in the opener, as head coach Matt Rhule gets his squad to play hard and tough every week. All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey is yet another superstar returning from an injury-plagued 2020, making Carolina a more attractive option.
4. Miami Dolphins
Brian Flores appears to be building a Super Bowl contender in Miami, and the Dolphins should have a chance to boast the league’s best defense next season. Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, and Eric Rowe would look to slow down a stacked Buccaneers attack, and there are plenty of characters on both teams to make Fins-Bucs a lot of fun. And who knows what’ll be going on with COVID-19 by the time September rolls around, but an all-Florida matchup might be preferred to play things safe in the NFL’s big kickoff game.
3. New Orleans Saints
A playoff rematch has to be near the top of the list for the season opener, but there also might be the case of some fatigue for another Saints vs. Buccaneers showdown for the fourth time in less than a calendar year (also, the two teams played in Week 1 of last year, too). Still, the Saints are headed in another direction at quarterback with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees set to retire, and Taysom Hill under center would certainly be entertaining—and it would be interesting for both coaching staffs to get all offseason to prepare for a matchup everyone’ll be watching on September 9.
2. Atlanta Falcons
This might seem too high for the Falcons, but new head coach Arthur Smith might bring some new energy for a team with some notable names—Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Deion Jones among them. An Atlanta victory could set the tone for the entire year in a league filled with great parity, and the game would be a divisional showdown that wouldn’t feel too stale after the the teams didn’t play each other in primetime last season.
1. Buffalo Bills
I wouldn’t mind any of the eight teams opening the 2021 season versus the Bucs, but the Bills are my clear top choice. Featuring two of the final four teams from last season, this would be a potential Super Bowl LVI preview. After Patrick Mahomes struggled in the Big Game, we’d get to see how Josh Allen fares against an elite Tampa Bay defense. On the other side, Brady would be facing a Bills franchise he’s a mind-blowing 32-3 against in his career.