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NFL schedule release highlights plenty of quarterbacks facing old teams

Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrate their Super Bowl LV championship.
Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady can show their new Super Bowl rings to fans in New England when the two face the Patriots in Week 4 next season.
(Steve Luciano / Associated Press)

This NFL season will be a mix of the red zone and Twilight Zone, as it’s Tom Brady versus New England, Jared Goff versus the Rams, Matthew Stafford versus Detroit, Cam Newton versus Carolina and Sam Darnold versus the New York Jets.

That’s part scheduling, and part serendipity.

“When we started this process, Drew Brees hadn’t retired yet and Carson Wentz was still an Eagle,” said NFL vice president of broadcasting Onnie Bose, who for the 15th year was part of the team that created the upcoming schedule of games, the latest version of which was released Wednesday evening.

The NFL revealed the complete 2021 regular-season schedule on Wednesday. Here’s the 18-week schedule, including start times and TV streaming options.

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“Whenever we look across the games, particularly when we think about prime-time games or doubleheaders, there is that story line of a player coming back to play their former team, especially with quarterbacks. We’re definitely cognizant of it. The first chess piece on the board is Tampa Bay-New England.”

But Brady returning to Foxborough in Week 4 on Oct. 3 with his glistening Buccaneers Super Bowl ring is but one of the enticing games on this year’s schedule, which includes the Rams re-cutting the ribbon on SoFi Stadium — this time before actual fans — with a Sunday night opener against Chicago, and the Chargers playing host to Dallas in Week 2.

The Raiders, meanwhile, open their season in Las Vegas on “Monday Night Football” against Baltimore.

Among the elements of the NFL schedule worth noting:

The Rams will open the 2021 season against the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium on ‘Sunday Night Football,’ as Matthew Stafford makes his Rams debut.

No escape hatches: Because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the NFL had to build all kinds of contingencies into last year’s schedule that would allow for games to be rescheduled or canceled. Entire weeks of the season could be moved around, and there was an accordion-like feel to the plan. This year’s schedule wasn’t built that way, and the focus was being more TV-friendly and team-friendly. Planners had to factor an extra week of games, as each team will play 17 over 18 weeks, but the scheduling team took an additional month to work on a challenge that has virtually infinite solutions.

Aaron on the side of caution: In Week 1, the NFL scheduled Green Bay at New Orleans and Denver at New York Giants in the Sunday afternoon time slot on Fox (1:25 p.m. PDT), giving them both more exposure. Packers-Saints makes a lot of sense, but Broncos-Giants — teams that were a combined 11-21 last season — is more of a head-scratcher.

Except … if disgruntled Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers winds up in Denver. Then putting that game in the national spotlight makes a world of sense.

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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
(Associated Press)

First things first: There’s some compelling drama starting in Week 1, with two first-time head coaches making their debuts against each other when Philadelphia (Nick Sirianni) plays at Atlanta (Arthur Smith), and an AFC divisional playoff rematch pitting Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.

Wentz gets a fresh start as quarterback in Indianapolis, which will play host to Seattle in its opener. The Wentz-led Eagles were 0-5 against Russell Wilson’s Seahawks.

Pittsburgh opens on the road for the seventh year in a row, and the quarterback matchup is Ben Roethlisberger vs. Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who has a lot of the qualities of a young Roethlisberger.

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Urban Meyer’s Jacksonville Jaguars, with No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and perhaps Tim Tebow at tight end, will open at Houston in one of the two Week 1 divisional matchups.

The 2021 NFL schedule is being released Wednesday, starting with Week 1 this morning. Justin Herbert and the Chargers will open the season in Washington.

Hello, good bye: Under the old 17-week system, the NFL would give teams their week off somewhere between Weeks 4 and 11. But with this year’s expanded schedule, there will be off weeks deeper into the season. The Browns, for instance, have Week 13 off. Some coaches aren’t going to like having to play that many games before a week off, whereas some might see it as a welcome oasis before the push for the playoffs. Just know that when a coach picks up his schedule, one of the first things he checks is, where is that off week?

Back across the pond: After scrubbing the international games last year amid the pandemic, the league is cautiously restarting them with two London games instead of four. If the health concerns are significant enough, those games will be returned to their home markets. No games will be played in Mexico this year, but those are expected to return in 2022.

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Super thinking: This season’s Super Bowl will be played at SoFi Stadium, meaning for the first time the league will stage its marquee game with only one season’s worth of fans in the building. It’s hugely helpful, of course, that both the Rams and Chargers play in SoFi, so it’s really the equivalent of two years’ worth of information in a one-team stadium.

The Chargers will play host to only-show-in-town games on Sunday (Pittsburgh), Monday (Las Vegas) and Thursday (Kansas City) nights.

Surely the NFL and NBC, which is broadcasting the Super Bowl, plan to use every prime-time game in the $5-billion venue as a dry run for that big game. Sort of a Super Bowl stress test.


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