When does the NFL season start in 2021? Complete Week 1 schedule, matchups

After a 2020 year and season that was anything but normal for the NFL, the 2021 season is arriving in a more standard fashion.

Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. That has created some complications for teams as far as players landing on the COVID list. However, the start of the NFL season doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy as it was this time last year.

And in 2021, the NFL preseason is making its triumphant return, though it will be a three-game affair henceforth because of the league’s switch to a 17-game season. Still, those three games will be far more preparation with live game reps than teams had in 2020, so that should help teams to operate a bit smoother out of the gate.

Yes, things are starting to get back to normal in the NFL on the field, but off the field, they are as well. The league is planning on letting fans back into stadiums this season and surely hopes there will be fewer game postponements than in 2021.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Week 1 schedule, including the first game of the 2021 NFL season and the best matchups to watch.

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When does the NFL season start in 2021?

  • Date: Thursday, Sept. 9
  • Game: Cowboys at Buccaneers
  • Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET

The 2021 NFL season-opener will broadcast live Thursday, Sept. 10 on NBC featuring the network’s “Sunday Night Football” crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

The Buccaneers will open the season at home as the defending Super Bowl champions. It has, largely, been a tradition for the NFL to schedule the defending Super Bowl champion to play the Thursday night opener. Last season, the Chiefs beat the Texans to kickstart the season behind a strong effort from Patrick Mahomes and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

This year, Tom Brady will look to start his age-44 season with a victory while Dak Prescott will look to return from an ankle injury that limited him to five games last season. Both teams have high-flying offenses, but the Bucs sport the better defense and thus should have the advantage in the contest. 

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NFL schedule Week 1

Per usual, the NFL season will start on Thursday but it won’t conclude with its usual “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. For the first time since 2005, the NFL will have just one Monday Night Football game, with the Raiders and Ravens taking center stage at Allegiant Field in Vegas. That will be the first NFL game with fans in the Raiders’ new stadium.

The rest of the Week 1 matchups will take place on Sunday, with nine games occurring in the 1 p.m. ET slate and four beginning at 4:25 p.m. ET. There are plenty of intriguing games on the slate, but the stand-out game will be between the Chiefs and the Browns.

Cleveland played Kansas City close during their 22-17 loss in the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, but Patrick Mahomes exited that game with an injury. Can the improving Browns close the gap with Mahomes on the field for four full quarters? It will be a test for them on the road in what could be a high-scoring battle.

The Packers-Saints contest will be interesting as well, as viewers will get a first look at the post-Drew Brees Saints while Aaron Rodgers is coming off an offseason-long holdout and still has some tension with the Packers. Will Sean Payton be able to pull off the victory at home with questions at quarterback? And will Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill start? Those are the big questions that New Orleans is facing.

The final Sunday game, Bears at Rams, should be a good one. Matthew Stafford faces off against a familiar opponent with an unfamiliar team in his Rams debut. Will Justin Fields be starting for the Bears at that point? That’s not what they’re planning but stranger things have happened. Both teams have strong defenses, so this could be the inverse of the Browns-Chiefs game.

Thursday, Sept. 9

Game Kickoff time TV channel
Cowboys at Buccaneers 8:20 p.m. ET NBC

Sunday, Sept. 12

Game Kickoff time TV channel
Jaguars at Texans 1 p.m. ET CBS
Chargers at Washington Football Team 1 p.m. ET CBS
Seahawks at Colts 1 p.m. ET Fox
Jets at Panthers 1 p.m. ET CBS
Vikings at Bengals 1 p.m. ET Fox
Cardinals at Titans 1 p.m. ET CBS
49ers at Lions 1 p.m. ET Fox
Steelers at Bills 1 p.m. ET CBS
Eagles at Falcons 1 p.m. ET Fox
Browns at Chiefs 4:25 p.m. ET CBS
Packers at Saints 4:25 p.m. ET Fox
Broncos at Giants 4:25 p.m. ET Fox
Dolphins at Patriots 4:25 p.m. ET CBS
Bears at Rams 8:20 p.m. ET NBC

Monday, Sept. 13

Game Kickoff time TV channel
Ravens at Raiders 8:15 p.m. ET ESPN

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