This annual article used to be my top 10 games of any given season, but I have pushed the envelope and bent the rules year after year because there are just too many great contests across the NFL that cannot be ignored.
This year I have used some artistic license to highlight 21 games that could define the 2021 season. To be honest, I could have picked out 50 or more excellent head to heads as I went through the schedule. Probably a great deal more than that. There is intrigue and drama smattered across every week of the season.
I have not been able to include all 32 teams, but I am quite proud of the fact that my list covers off 23 clubs. There is no science to any of this… these are merely games I will be looking forward to watching when the 2021 season kicks off. I hope you enjoy them, too!
Week 1 | Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It doesn't get much better than this. America's Team led by fit-again quarterback Dak Prescott taking on the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who return all 22 starters from last season; including a certain Tom Brady at quarterback.
Week 1 | Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
This was a thoroughly entertaining playoff encounter last season with the Browns giving KC all they could handle. The clubs meet at Arrowhead Stadium once more and we'll get an early idea of Cleveland's ability to go toe to toe with the AFC's heavyweights.
Week 2 | Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
The AFC East promises to be one of the most fiercely-contested divisions in football. Buffalo look like being top dogs as they enter the season but this early trip to South Florida will be a real test. The Dolphins have built a competitive, young roster and will fancy their chances.
Week 2 | Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Chargers
I am intrigued to see what Justin Herbert can do for an encore in his second NFL season. And if he progresses as we expect, this could be a big early-season challenge for a Chargers team competing for at least a wildcard berth in the AFC this term.
Week 3 | Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Awkward! If Aaron Rodgers is still on the Packers roster, he will head out west to a team that picked up the phone and asked if the reigning NFL MVP was available via trade this offseason. The Niners were rebuffed and turned back to Jimmy Garoppolo and/or Trey Lance.
Week 4 | Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots
How strange is this going to look? Tom Brady trots onto the field at Foxboro, runs from goal line to goal line before throwing a fist into the air and screaming, 'Let's go!' I know he has performed that act hundreds of times in New England, but never in a Bucs uniform.
Week 5 | Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
For me, these are the two leading contenders in the AFC and with only the number one seed getting a first round bye come the playoffs, this could be a huge October clash. This repeat of last year's AFC title game could be a classic with Josh Allen taking on Patrick Mahomes.
Week 6 | Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars
London baby! We can consider ourselves very fortunate to have this game which pits Miami's Tua Tagovailoa against Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence. This contest between two young and ambitious teams would have gone down very well with football fans across Florida.
Week 6 | Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns
The battle of first overall picks out of Oklahoma has a nice sub-plot as Cleveland's Baker Mayfield (2018) takes on Arizona's Kyler Murray (2019). But this game will be about much more than a quirky storyline… this is a fascinating intra-conference battle between two playoff hopefuls.
Week 7 | Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Rams
Quarterback Swap Bowl! All eyes will be on the signal-callers in what might otherwise be a less-than-stellar contest. Jared Goff is now with the Lions, while former Detroit passer Matthew Stafford is in LA. Who will come out on top and make their general manager look smart?
Week 8 | Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
The AFC South gets overlooked at times, but this will be a big midseason clash for supremacy. If the Carson Wentz-led Colts can survive their tough start – they open with Seattle, the Rams, Titans, Miami, Baltimore and San Francisco in the season's first seven weeks – they will be full of confidence here.
Week 8 | San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
Depending how quickly the 49ers have turned to their new man under center, this could be a fascinating look at dual-threat rookie quarterbacks in San Francisco's Trey Lance and Chicago's Justin Fields. Both offer a lot of hope but also come with great pressure to perform well.
Week 9 | Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs
This game is, once again, dependent on Rodgers staying put in Green Bay. We missed the first Rodgers-Mahomes clash in 2019 when the latter was injured. And they just missed out on a Super Bowl meeting last season. This would be their first – and possibly only – NFL head to head.
Week 10 | Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
This one will be intriguing on the field as we will know by this stage of the season if the Seahawks are genuine contenders. If they are, this game has massive ramifications in the NFC. But just as interesting will be the post-match handshake and chat between disgruntled QBs Russell Wilson and Rodgers.
Week 12 | Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints
Football fans around the world will be undoing their trouser buttons and pouring themselves a nightcap on Thanksgiving Day. I've talked about the pedigree of the Bills already but what of the Saints? Who will their quarterback be by this stage of the year? Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill?
Week 12 | Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
While the Pittsburgh Steelers are not going quietly into the night (they are perennially far too competitive for that), this Browns-Ravens clash could end up deciding the AFC North. There is no love lost between these two sets of fans either, making this an historically-spicy affair.
Week 14 | Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team
If 'Fitzmagic' has truly taken hold in America's capital where Washington are putting together a nice-looking football team under Ron Rivera, this is a late-season contest that will give one team the inside track in the NFC East for the season's final month.
Week 15 | Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will Tom Brady still own the Buffalo Bills in another uniform? During his time in New England, Brady went 32-3 against Buffalo and he has a perfect 3-0 record against Josh Allen. But we know these are not the Bills of old and this could very well be a Super Bowl dress rehearsal.
Week 15 | Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
If there is any controversy-inspired slip in Green Bay, these two teams will be lying in wait. Minnesota will once again field one of the most entertaining offenses in the NFL with Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. And Chicago will be way more watchable in 2021.
Week 16 | Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers
If there really is a Santa Claus, he will deliver us a snow game in Lambeau Field on Christmas night. Even if we don't get a snow globe game in Wisconsin, open up another box of chocolates, pour yourself a nice drink and enjoy what should be a cracker (pun intended) between two contenders.
Week 18 | Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
You can't have a 'best games' list without including the Steelers against the Ravens. Their showdowns are still too spicy to ignore and both teams are genuine playoff hopefuls. What will Ben Roethlisberger have left in the tank by Week 18? Will this be a division decider? It certainly has playoff implications.