A 44-year-old Tom Brady will begin his quest for an eighth Super Bowl victory when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Dallas Cowboys in the N.F.L.’s first game of the 2021 regular season on Sept. 9, a Thursday. The veteran quarterback Brady will face a team led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who will be 16 years Brady’s junior when he makes his expected return from a gruesome ankle injury that caused him to appear in only five games last season.
The league on Wednesday released its regular-season schedule, which incorporates the addition of a 17th game for each of the 32 teams. It is the first expansion of the N.F.L.’s regular season since 1978. The change was approved by team owners in March even as some players expressed their opposition.
To make way for the added game, the league moved the Super Bowl by one week, to Feb. 13, and shrank the exhibition preseason to three games from four. In Week 18, ESPN and ABC will broadcast two games with playoff implications on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The opponents will be decided after Week 17.
The N.F.L. will return to London for two games after canceling its overseas trips last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Atlanta Falcons will play the Jets there on Oct. 10 and the Jacksonville Jaguars will face the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 17, both at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Week 1 will showcase two multibillion-dollar stadiums that opened in 2020 but will host N.F.L. fans for the first time this season. On Sept. 12, a Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams and their new quarterback, Matthew Stafford, will open the $5 billion SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., against the Chicago Bears in an evening game.
The Raiders will host fans at the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium the next day, when they face the Baltimore Ravens on “Monday Night Football.” The jet-black venue, nicknamed the Death Star, opened in 2020 but did not have fans in attendance for N.F.L. games because of restrictions last year. The team will make up for it in Las Vegas fashion with a lower-level section that offers a “nightclub experience” with bottle service, DJ booths and large television screens. Fans have already shown a desire to attend. Early data compiled by SeatGeek, a ticket-purchasing company, show the Raiders as its top-selling team.
Other interesting games in Week 1 include a matchup between the Green Bay Packers, possibly led by the disgruntled quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the New Orleans Saints in the first game of their post-Drew Brees era. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns will also face off, in a rematch of a division-round playoff matchup last season.
Perhaps the most anticipated matchup will happen three weeks after the start of the season. On Oct. 3 at 8:20 p.m., Brady will do what he did many times over 20 seasons — play a game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. But this time, he will be an opponent as the Buccaneers (the team Brady just led to a Super Bowl title over Kansas City) face the Patriots (the team Brady led to six Super Bowl titles).
If Brady wins, he will have defeated every N.F.L. team in his career. Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre are the only other quarterbacks in league history to accomplish that feat. If the Patriots win, it will be a significant victory for the team, which struggled to a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs last season. Attending will not be cheap. The average price of a sold ticket on Wednesday was over $1,300, according to the online ticket marketplace Vivid Seats.
With few exceptions, the Detroit Lions and the Cowboys have hosted games on Thanksgiving annually since 1934 and 1966, respectively, and the tradition continues this season. The Lions play the Chicago Bears, their N.F.C. North division rivals, on Nov. 25 at 12:30 p.m., while the Cowboys play the Raiders afterward. That night, the Buffalo Bills, fresh off their first A.F.C. championships game appearance since the 1993 season, will face the Saints.
Other notable matchups include a showdown between the first two draft picks, the Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, on Dec. 26 at 1 p.m.; an A.F.C. championship game rematch between the Bills and the Chiefs on Oct. 10 at 8:20 p.m.; and the Packers against the San Francisco 49ers, who are expected to have key defensive players back from injury and could potentially start quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick, on Sept. 26 at 8:20 p.m.
Regarding the 17th game, teams will play an interconference opponent based on last season’s divisional standings. For instance, the Packers, who won the N.F.C. North, will face the Chiefs, who won the A.F.C. West, on Nov. 7 at 4:25 p.m. The additional home game will rotate on a yearly basis, starting this season, with A.F.C. teams hosting nine games.