The NFL is returning to London in October and Tom Brady begins his pursuit of an eighth Super Bowl title against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys when Tampa Bay hos the league’s annual kickoff game on 9 September.
The first game in London since the coronavirus pandemic will be played on 10 October as the Atlanta Falcons face the New York Jets. A week later, the Jacksonville Jaguars meet the Miami Dolphins. Both games will be played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Falcons and the Jaguars will be the home teams.
The confirmation of NFL’s international fixtures means the top two picks in this year’s draft will be making visits to London during their rookie seasons: the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, arguably the most talented college quarterback of his generation; and Jets signal-caller Zach Wilson, the No 2 overall pick.
The NFL’s first 17-game season opens on the same field where the Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs to become the first team to win a Super Bowl at home. It’ll be Prescott’s first game since sustaining a gruesome ankle injury last October.
Brady returns to New England to face Bill Belichick and the Patriots in a Sunday night game on 3 October.
Other highlights from opening weekend include Matthew Stafford playing his first game for the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night against the Chicago Bears with SoFi Stadium welcoming fans for the first time.
Most teams are expected to be at full capacity following a season played before limited crowds because of Covid-19.
“We are excited our fans get to experience a couple of home prime-time games and our players certainly feed off the fans’ energy,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “We will be opening at home for the first time since I became head coach and I am happy our fans will be there to kick off the season with us.”
The coronavirus pandemic meant last year was the first since 2007 that there was no NFL game in London, but the league has worked with the UK government to enable a return this year, subject to the situation continuing to improve.
“We are excited to be returning to London and welcoming back our fans for two great match-ups,” said the NFL’s executive vice-president Christopher Halpin. “We expect these games to be a celebration of our sport and our robust UK fan base.
“We have been working closely with the UK government, the city of London and the relevant health organizations over the past year in planning the games. Through their successful vaccine rollout and commitment to bringing crowds back to sports events, the time is right for the return of NFL football this fall.
“We will continue to monitor the Covid environment, putting health and safety first, and will adhere to any and all future Covid regulations and restrictions.”
London has hosted 28 NFL games since 2007, with the city becoming a second home to the Jaguars, who will be playing their eighth game in the capital, while the Dolphins return for a fifth time.
Reigning AFC champion Kansas City hosts the Cleveland Browns in a playoff rematch in Week 1. The Chiefs eliminated the Browns in the divisional round last season despite losing Patrick Mahomes to a concussion.
“Every year stands on its own merit. For us, the focus is on the 2021 season,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Now, I realize that last game last year ended in Kansas City, so that certainly is something we have to learn from. It will truly be a matchup that is unique to 2021. The game won’t start in the fifth quarter from last year’s game.”
Two other matchups feature playoff teams facing off in their first game. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost to Cleveland in the wild-card round, visit the Buffalo Bills, who reached the AFC title game.
Carson Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts host Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. In Philadelphia, Wentz was 0-4 against Wilson.
The Las Vegas Raiders host the Baltimore Ravens in the first Monday night game. The Green Bay Packers open the season with or without Aaron Rodgers at New Orleans minus the retired Drew Brees.
Jaguars fans have to wait until the second game to see Clemson product Lawrence in person: Jacksonville open at Houston and hosts Denver in Week 2.
Detroit, Dallas and New Orleans host games on Thanksgiving Day. The Lions face the Bears in the first game. The Cowboys play the Raiders in the second one. The Bills visit the Saints in the prime-time matchup.
Four teams play on Christmas. Baker Mayfield and the Browns go to Green Bay and the Colts visit Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals.
The Bills visit the Chiefs in a rematch of the AFC championship game on Sunday night 10 October. A potential Rodgers-Mahomes showdown is set for Week 9 in Kansas City.
Ten teams are scheduled for a league-high five prime-time games: Ravens, Cowboys, Packers, Rams, Steelers, Seahawks, Chiefs, Saints, 49ers and Buccaneers.
The 17th game, which was added in the new CBA last year, features teams from opposing conferences that finished in the same place within their respective divisions at the end of the previous season. AFC teams have the extra home game this year.
“One of the tremendous benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to bring more games to more fans,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
The regular season concludes on 9 January 2022, featuring all divisional games for the 12th consecutive season. Super Bowl LVI is on 13 February 2022 in Los Angeles.
The Pro Bowl will be played a week earlier at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Some scheduling notes:
The Browns play the Ravens twice in a three-week span with Cleveland’s bye sandwiched in between.
The Eagles don’t have to take a plane trip after Week 10 because they have four home games, a bye, and train rides for three road games against the Giants, Jets and Washington.
The Raiders have back-to-back road games only once in Weeks 14-15 at Kansas City and Cleveland.
The Titans have five consecutive games against playoff teams from 18 October to 14 November. Their eight games against 2020 playoff teams sets a franchise high since the team became the Titans in 1999.
Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the top two picks in this year’s draft, are scheduled to meet in Week 16 when the Jaguars visit the Jets. If both players start, it’ll be the fourth game in NFL history between rookie starting quarterbacks selected first and second overall.
Fifteen games are rematches of Super Bowls.