The 2021 NFL season is exactly 100 days away, In honor of the marker, today’s Top Ten Tuesday counts down the top ten games on the schedule for Week 1, which kicks off on Thursday, September 9 with the Cowboys and the Buccaneers.
10. Cardinals vs. Titans (1:00 PM ET)
Vikings-Bengals, Jets-Panthers, and Bears-Rams (Sunday night, but personally I’m not too excited about that matchup) were all left out of the top ten, giving an indication of how all-out the schedule-makers went this year with the NFL’s opening weekend. The Cardinals added several veteran pieces this season, including future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt, who faced the Titans twice per year while with the Texans. On the Tennessee side, we’ll be getting our first look at the offense without offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, and it’s a unit that’s expected to lean heavily on Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown.
9. Chargers vs. Washington (1:00 PM ET)
Both the Chargers and Washington are seen as squads that might take a leap this season, and they’ll kick things off with one of the top interconference clashes of Week 1. Quarterback Justin Herbert looks like a superstar signal-caller for Los Angeles, while Ron Rivera’s team is now quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of the most entertaining players in football. Also, stud safety Derwin James will be back on the field for the Chargers trying to combat Washington’s likely-explosive attack that added Curtis Samuel and rookie Dyami Brown this offseason.
8. Eagles vs. Falcons (1:00 PM ET)
I’m not sure what the over/under is, and anything can happen in a given game, but I’d say the over will be a good bet in this one. Jalen Hurts will be beginning his first season as a full-time starter, and I think he’ll show this year that he can be the long-term answer at quarterback for Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan and the Falcon offense are going through another coaching change (with the aforementioned Arthur Smith as Atlanta’s new head coach), but the weapons are stacked assuming Julio Jones is not traded and will be playing alongside Calvin Ridley and promising rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. Expect plenty of offensive fireworks from both sides.
7. Seahawks vs. Colts (1:00 PM ET)
The Seahawks seem to always play in games that turn out strange, and a cross-conference matchup against a Colts team that just went to the postseason but has a new quarterback (Carson Wentz) feels like it should be a tight one. While with the Eagles, Wentz has had some struggles against Seattle throughout his career; but the Indy run game led by Jonathan Taylor will be a good test for the Seahawks defense. And the chess match between Russell Wilson and Darius Leonard and the Colts defense should be a good one.
6. Ravens vs. Raiders (Monday night)
The Monday Night Football timeslot boosts Ravens-Raiders, but it’ll be a great first test for Jon Gruden and Derek Carr in their fourth year together. It’ll also be a massive test for a retooled Raiders defense as they look to stop Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and a relentless rushing attack. Also, this is the lone Week 1 Monday night game after the NFL got rid of the doubleheader, and it’s happening in Vegas where the Death-Star-looking Allegiant Stadium should be rocking with fans for the first time.
5. Dolphins vs. Patriots (4:25 PM ET)
The Dolphins easily could have made the postseason last year after posting ten wins, but nevertheless both they and the Patriots will be looking to make a leap to contend with the Bills in 2021. Bill Belichick’s teams typically take some time to find their footing, but Week 1 will still be an early measuring stick for the AFC East foes. Dolphins second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been one of the most scrutinized players in the league dating back to last season, so he’ll get a chance to show what he can do early against a stingy defense.
4. Packers vs. Saints (4:25 PM ET)
If Aaron Rodgers continues his holdout and does not play for the Packers this season, then this matchup wouldn’t be in my top five. But if Rodgers stays in Green Bay and plays, Packers-Saints will be one of the top showdowns of the opening Sunday. Sticking with the quarterback position, New Orleans is set for an open competition between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. For different reasons for each, whoever is under center, it’ll be something to watch.
3. Steelers vs. Bills (1:00 PM ET)
The Steelers-Bills matchup last December might have been somewhat of a wake-up call for Pittsburgh. They could not run the ball—which was nothing new, but it really hurt their chances of staying in the game with a top team like Buffalo. Now, the Steelers added running back Najee Harris in the first round and made other moves that they feel will improve the rushing attack and create a balanced offense. The Bills also didn’t run the ball well last season (outside of Josh Allen), and they want to improve there—many believe they would have selected Harris (or Travis Etienne, who was selected by the Jaguars) if he was there for them in the first round.
2. Browns vs. Chiefs (4:25 PM ET)
A rematch of last season’s AFC Divisional Round, Browns-Chiefs gets a late-afternoon headlining kickoff on the first Sunday of the season. Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield have the ability to lead their offenses to big point totals, but Kansas City and Cleveland each boast strong defenses. The Chiefs are already talking about 20-0, while the Browns are looking to show that they’re one of the NFL’s elite squads.
1. Cowboys vs. Buccaneers (Thursday)
Despite how loaded the Week 1 schedule is this season, there was really no doubt for No. 1. The Cowboys and defending champion Buccaneers will kickoff the 2021 season on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium, and the field will be loaded with star-caliber players on both sides. It’ll be interesting to see a much-revamped Dallas defense try to stop Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense on a night that should bring a ton of energy when the Bucs raise the championship banner.