National Football League

2021 NFL schedule release: 5 biggest takeaways

May 12

The biggest season in NFL history has its schedule.

By "biggest," we're talking about the fact that each team has a 17th game on the docket this season, of course. But there are also a number of fascinating storylines that have come out of Wednesday's release of the 2021 schedule.

Here are five of the biggest takeaways.

1. Brady vs. Belichick

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won six Super Bowls together, then Brady earned a seventh with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the two split up prior to the 2020 season.

While the quarterback has proven he can win without his coach, the coach has yet to prove he can win without the quarterback. Belichick will get his first chance to show it in Week 4 when Brady makes his return to Foxborough.

And don't forget Rob Gronkowski, who will also be playing against his former coach for the first time.

Think this will be a big game? Jason McIntyre said "this could be the Game of the Century," on the FOX Sports "Talk the Line" schedule release special.

And as if this game needed anything else to get excited about, there is the possibility that Brady could become the NFL's all-time passing leader in that game.

2. Getting used to 17

One of the big moves of the offseason was NFL owners approving the addition of one game to the regular-season schedule. This might not seem like a big deal, but according to FOX Sports Analyst Geoff Schwartz, it will mean quite an adjustment for players.

"As a former player, I can say that the biggest fear is injury," Schwartz wrote on March 30. "While the players will make more money by playing one more game, it's also one more opportunity for them to get injured. I don’t think the players got enough in the CBA to justify more games, and I think any player would trade a one-game check to avoid a major injury. After all, that injury might alter future earnings."

Schwartz did acknowledge, however, that the move is great from a fan perspective, and could even lead to some fringe players getting an extra opportunity to shine.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how each team handles the extra game when it comes to player management, and will be fun to go through the schedules and see which opponent your favorite team has to face as a result of the extra game.

3. A tale of two schedules

They're the two questions that always pop up this time of year: Who has the easiest schedule? Who has the hardest schedule?

As far as ease of schedule goes, things appear to favor the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at least according to ESPN NFL Prognosticator Mike Clay.

Conversely, the Chicago Bears have the worst of it, with road games at the Browns, Raiders, Buccaneers and Seahawks, in addition to home-and-homes vs. the Packers. The Pittsburgh Steelers also have it rough, not only playing in a tough division but also with road games against the Packers, Chargers, Chiefs and Bills, as well as a home contest against the Seahawks.

The way the schedule plays out can also impact a team pretty quickly, either priming a squad for a fast start or, as Colin Cowherd points out about the Chargers' schedule, teeing up some potential early struggles.

4. The prime time schedules are stacked

When the stadium lights come on at night, the stars will come out, too. That includes the schedule for Thursday Night Football on FOX, which begins with Rams at Seahawks on Oct. 7. The Thursday night schedule also includes a rematch of Super Bowl LI when the New England Patriots visit the Atlanta Falcons. And the Christmas Day matchup of Browns at Packers, assuming Aaron Rodgers is still in Green Bay, could be a great stocking-stuffer for football fans.

The Monday Night Football schedule also looks great. In fact, Cowherd calls it the best MNF schedule ever, with a star quarterback featured in each of the first 14 weeks.

5. All eyes on the Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are the betting favorite to return to the Super Bowl, which makes sense. They still have Patrick Mahomes, they still have Andy Reid, and they spent their offseason bulking up on their one weakness – the offensive line.

As Geoff Schwartz wrote on May 4: "With the O-line set, how are teams going to beat the Chiefs? Outscore them? Sure, that’s a possibility. The Chiefs defense is good, but it lacks depth. An injury bug at pass-rusher or cornerback would haunt the defense. But you'll have to score more than 30 to win a shootout with K.C., and there is little margin for error. …Playing the Chiefs was difficult before and will be even more difficult now. Teams will be stressed the entire game, trying to keep up on offense, and it still might not be enough."

When you realize how good KC is, and you look at their schedule, you see a number of great matchups that will be worth watching. In addition to their divisional matchups against the Raiders, Broncos and Chargers, they also have road games against the Ravens and Bengals, as well as home matchups against the Browns, Bills, Packers and Cowboys

Get your popcorn ready.

Bonus: The Bears' laundry dilemma

You came for five reactions; we're giving you six. Check out this random schedule note about the Bears, who have an opportunity to change their jerseys every week. No long road stretches and no long homestands. The Bears can alternate their road and home gear every week through the entire season!

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