17-game season: Ranking the 16 new games added to the 2021 NFL schedule from least to most watchable

Nick Bromberg
·6 min read

Welcome to the era of the 17-game NFL season. The NFL made the addition of a 17th game official on Tuesday as teams will play one fewer preseason game and an additional regular season game starting in 2021. The cross-conference extra games will all be hosted by the AFC team and the matchups were determined via previous schedules and 2020 finishing order. 

Each game pits NFC teams against a team from the AFC division they played in 2019. For example, since the NFC East played the AFC South in 2019, and the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins finished second in their respective divisions in 2020, the Giants and Dolphins will play each other in 2021. 

Got that? Good. Here's our ranking of the 16 new games on the NFL schedule in order from least watchable to most watchable. 

16. Panthers at Texans

Both teams finished next-to-last in their respective divisions in 2020. The Panthers could have a rookie quarterback in 2021 and the Texans don’t have a pick in the first two rounds of the draft. Expecting both teams to contend in 2021 is a longshot. This ranking is also independent of Deshaun Watson’s playing status next season. The Texans’ star QB has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by myriad massage therapists.

15. Eagles at Jets

This could be a game earmarked for a primetime broadcast if either or both teams were going to be anywhere close to good in 2021. Instead, the Eagles are rebuilding with Jalen Hurts at QB and the Jets could choose to go with Sam Darnold again or pick BYU QB Zach Wilson at No. 2. No matter who is playing QB for the Jets, the team’s offense is still a work in progress.

14. Falcons at Jaguars

The NFL’s own Florida-Georgia Line rivalry will likely feature former Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence after the Jaguars presumably take him with the No. 1 overall pick. It’s also a matchup of new head coaches in Atlanta’s Arthur Smith and Jacksonville’s Urban Meyer. The Falcons are going to need this win if they want to get one more playoff appearance with Matt Ryan.

13. Lions at Broncos

It’s a game between two teams who would like to be surprise contenders in 2021. But what’s the hook in this one? Jared Goff vs. Drew Lock isn’t the spiciest of QB matchups. Though the Lions were starting David Blough when these teams played each other in 2019.

12. Bears at Raiders

This feels like a game that could ultimately impact one of these team’s chances at the No. 7 playoff spot. The Bears enter with an offense that features Andy Dalton instead of Mitchell Trubisky while the Raiders have been reshuffling the offensive line and stockpiling running backs this offseason.

11. 49ers at Bengals

Will this game feature Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Joe Burrow, or will Burrow be facing off against a QB the 49ers drafted with the No. 3 pick in a battle of top draft choices over the last two years? Given the Bengals’ road to contention, the 49ers drew one of the better matchups among NFC teams in their quest to rebound from an injury-marred 2020.

10. Giants at Dolphins

The Giants have made some win-now moves in free agency while the Dolphins are continuing to acquire draft picks in future drafts. It’ll be fun to see Saquon Barkley back at full strength for the Giants, and there’s a chance that Tua Tagovailoa could be throwing to his old/new Alabama teammate DeVonta Smith if the Dolphins use the No. 6 pick on a receiver.

9. Vikings at Chargers

The Chargers could be a sneaky playoff contender in 2021 if Justin Herbert builds off his stellar rookie season and avoids a sophomore slump. The Vikings are, well, they’re looking like a team that could somehow go 8-8-1 in 17 games to be the first team to finish at .500 in this expanded season.

8. WFT at Bills

This is the lowest-ranked matchup of division champions because it’s hard to know what to expect from Washington. As of now, WFT enters the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinecke as its top two QBs. The Bills have brought back nearly every key contributor from their stellar 2020 season as Josh Allen asserted himself as one of the best QBs in the AFC.

7. Saints at Titans

The post-Drew Brees era is finally here for the Saints as they’ll either be starting Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston at QB in 2021. And there’s more changes to come for the Saints roster. The team is still over the salary cap. The Titans, meanwhile, have added Bud Dupree, Denico Autry, Jason Brown and Janoris Jenkins to a defense that badly needed an upgrade.

6. Cowboys at Patriots

A battle of marquee NFL names misses out on the top five, though we’re pretty certain this will be a nationally televised game. The Cowboys need to find some depth at the bottom of the roster and a consistent defense while the Patriots are counting on a massive spending spree in free agency to boost a roster that had numerous flaws in 2020.

5. Cardinals at Browns

Welcome to an NFL rarity again. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray faced off in 2019 as the first Heisman-winning QBs from the same school to start against each other in the NFL. They're set to do it again in 2021 on teams that are aiming to win crowded divisions. Before Mayfield and Murray played each other two years ago, the last Heisman-winning QBs from the same school to be on opposing sidelines in an NFL game were Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer. 

4. Seahawks at Steelers

The Steelers are trying to make one more playoff run with Ben Roethlisberger at QB after a disappointing first-round playoff exit at home against a divisional rival to end the 2020 season. The Seahawks are trying to make another playoff run with Russell Wilson at QB after a disappointing first-round playoff exit at home against a divisional rival to end the 2020 season. And thanks to the constraints of the salary cap, neither team has made any notable free agent additions yet either.

3. Buccaneers at Colts

Tom Brady makes his first trip to Indianapolis since 2015 against a Colts team that’s unrecognizable from the one he last faced. The Colts are banking on a bounceback season from Carson Wentz after he regressed in Philadelphia. Like the Chiefs a season ago, the Bucs have returned most of their Super Bowl core in the hopes of a repeat while the Colts have one of the deeper rosters in the NFL.

2. Rams at Ravens

The Rams are all-in to win a Super Bowl with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey after trading Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford. The Ravens are going for their fourth consecutive playoff appearance. Both teams are in divisions that may be the toughest in their respective conferences. This could have a big impact on playoff seeding.

1. Packers at Chiefs

The Super Bowl I rematch sponsored by State Farm was the obvious No. 1 choice. Don’t be surprised if it’s a primetime game early in the season. Maybe even as early as Week 1. And it should be the first regular season matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Mahomes was sidelined with a knee injury when the Packers visited the Chiefs in 2019.

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