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Matchups to look out for ahead of 2021 NFL schedule release

(AP Photo / Ed Zurga)

You know the NFL’s schedule release is a big deal when people get excited about the league announcing the date when the full schedule will be revealed.

Football fans tend to love anything they can get throughout the calendar year. Whether it’s the start of training camp, the beginning of the regular season, or the journey to the Super Bowl, everything tends to generate excitement for the sport’s diehard followers.

So, it’s not surprising to see people circle a date on their calendar during the offseason, which is really just a date for them to circle even more dates on that calendar.

>>RELATED: NFL set to host 2021 draft in Cleveland with players, fans

It all has turned into an annual exercise, and fans can finally take a breath knowing that the NFL will release the schedule for the 2021 regular season on May 12.

Each team’s entire list of opponents for the upcoming season is set as a result of the league’s annual formula, even with the addition of a 17th regular-season game in 2021.

But, the league’s 32 teams will get some direction on May 12 when they find out the specific weeks in which they will be playing their biggest games of the year.

Ahead of 2021’s schedule release, we pinpointed some of the matchups that you should be looking out for when May 12 rolls around.

(AP Photo / Charlie Riedel)
  • Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers

Many wanted to see the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers play in Super Bowl LV in February.

Many wanted to see a quarterback duel between Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers back when the two teams squared off two years ago.

Alas, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Packers in the NFC Championship, and Mahomes was out of action due to an injury midway through the 2019 regular season.

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Even when considering all of those details, and the missed opportunities for the NFL on two separate primetime stages, it’s tough to avoid the excitement that comes when seeing a collision between the Chiefs and Packers on the horizon.

Each team should be a top-tier contender in their respective conference in 2021, and those who enjoy State Farm commercials will finally get to see the brand’s two biggest spokesmen battle it out on the gridiron (hopefully).

If you’re against the idea of a 17th regular-season game, just think about the fact that this game wouldn’t have been on the schedule without it.

(AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New England Patriots

After 20 years in Massachusetts, Tom Brady decided in 2020 that it was time to pursue a new endeavor, leaving the New England Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That endeavor famously led to Brady bringing home his seventh Super Bowl ring in February of 2021, and helping the Buccaneers become the first NFL team to win a Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium.

When this year’s regular-season schedule is released, Brady will certainly be on the lookout for his return to his old home stadium, with the Buccaneers set to travel to Foxborough to take on the Patriots in 2021.

>>RELATED: Breaking down Tom Brady’s 10 best games with the Patriots

It’ll be Brady’s first-ever game against the Patriots. It’ll be Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s first opportunity to gameplan against Brady for a real game.

Plus, it’ll be Patriots fans’ first chance to show how they truly feel about Brady’s departure, whether it’s through emotional cheering or raucous jeering.

This one is a primetime candidate for 2021, and will almost certainly get penciled in for Sunday Night Football or one of the league’s holiday games.

(AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)
  • Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Injuries have kept Patrick Mahomes from top-tier matchups before, but perhaps the biggest of the bunch came in the Chiefs’ Divisional Round matchup against the Cleveland Browns in January.

Mahomes left midway through the playoff game after taking a hit that sent him into the concussion protocol, and was replaced by backup quarterback Chad Henne.

While fans prepared for the possibility of an AFC Championship game without Mahomes on the field, the Browns inched closer and closer to one of the biggest upsets in postseason history.

>>RELATED: What will the world look like when Patrick Mahomes’ long-term extension with the Chiefs ends?

Then, Henne did the unthinkable, running the ball himself to convert on a key fourth down late in the game, sealing the win for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs are almost certainly the team to beat in the AFC heading into 2021, but the Browns are turning into a perennial contender themselves, as well.

If they want to be considered the real deal, they have to take down Mahomes and the Chiefs. This regular-season game will be the perfect opportunity for them to do just that.

(AP Photo / Rick Scuteri)
  • Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks

Fans should consider themselves lucky that the league pits each team against each of their divisional rivals twice throughout the year when taking a look at the NFC West.

The NFC West is widely regarded as one of the best divisions in the NFL, evident by the fact that an NFC West team has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl in two of the last three seasons.

So, it’s scary to think that the division somehow got even better after the 2020 season wrapped up, with the Arizona Cardinals pushing towards the top of the list of the NFC’s best teams.

Looking to make the most of Kyler Murray’s third year in the league, the Cardinals added former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, and bolstered their defense by signing former Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt and former Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler.

>>RELATED: The hype is real: Watch out for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals

Standing in the Cardinals’ way is the new-look Los Angeles Rams, and the Russell Wilson-led Seattle Seahawks.

Both of the games between the Cardinals and Seahawks were decided by one-possession, with the Cardinals winning the first encounter in overtime and the Seahawks taking the second in regulation.

If the two teams can match the energy that they brought to the field in 2020, each of their battles in 2021 should be considered appointment television. At least one of the games will likely be played under the primetime lights on NBC or ESPN, and that should be looked at as one of the premier games on the league calendar.

(AP Photo / James Kenney)
  • Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans

The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans have gone down similar paths over the last few years, and they could provide one of the sneaky Game of the Year candidates when they meet during the 2021 regular season.

Each of the two teams quietly built up solid rosters over the last three seasons, with the Bills benefiting from the rise of quarterback Josh Allen, and the Titans building on a solid base known as running back Derrick Henry.

>>RELATED: Why the AFC East will be the Bills’ division for years to come

Both franchises are up-and-comers in the AFC, but the Bills are considered a true contender when looking at the conference’s playoff picture as a whole after a run to the AFC Championship game last season.

This game will be a massive challenge for both sides, and could serve as a preview for a potential postseason matchup if both teams live up to the hype in 2021.

(AP Photo / Paul Sancya)
  • Detroit Lions vs. Los Angeles Rams

The Detroit Lions represent one of the big question marks heading into 2021, specifically because of the massive turnover the franchise is dealing with after their 2020 campaign.

The team will have a new head coach in Dan Campbell, who will look to turn things around after the unsuccessful Matt Patricia era.

The offense will have a new quarterback under center, as well, as the franchise hands the keys over to former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff.

>>RELATED: Positives and negatives of NFL’s new 17-game regular season

Goff is only a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but it will take a lot for him to win over a Detroit fanbase that became accustomed to having quarterback Matthew Stafford at the helm.

Both Goff and Stafford will have the chance to settle the score once and for all in 2021, with the Lions and Rams scheduled to duel at SoFi Stadium in California.

This one could easily pop up on the league’s Thursday Night Football schedule, or even turn up as a Monday Night Football candidate for storyline purposes. Either way, fans of both teams will get to find out which franchise was on the right side of history in one of the 2021 offseason’s biggest trades.

(AP Photo / Keith Srakocic)
  • Cincinnati Bengals vs. Los Angeles Chargers

It probably sounds crazy to consider a game with the Cincinnati Bengals as one of the more notable matchups heading into the 2021 season. But, if you followed the 2020 NFL Draft class last year, you should be excited for their game against the Los Angeles in 2021.

The Bengals took quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in that year’s draft, hoping that the LSU product would be able to turn their franchise around, a la Baker Mayfield and their divisional rival Cleveland Browns.

>>RELATED: Where does the 2020 NFL Draft class rank in comparison to recent years?

Instead, Burrow faced loads of pressure due to a struggling offensive line, and wound up seeing his rookie season end early after tearing his ACL in Week 11.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, took the NFL by storm and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in the process.

Burrow should be good to go for the encounter between the Bengals and Chargers in 2021, Herbert will try to keep up the pace throughout his sophomore season, and fans will find out who the true face of the NFL’s future truly is.

Like this story? Which game on the 2021 schedule are you looking forward to the most? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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