TAMPA, Fla. — The NFL schedule will be released on Wednesday for the 2021 season and, as with all things, the NFL is making a spectacle of it− complete with a prime time show announcing the schedules that will have already leaked hours beforehand.
There will be experts and analysts breaking down the season, projecting records, and making Super Bowl predictions. But, there's only a handful of things that will come out of Wednesday night a guarantee: the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions will play on Thanksgiving, the last week of the season will be all divisional match-ups, and the reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the season on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.
But who will they face?
The Bucs find themselves in some marquee games this year, including against the AFC runner-up Buffalo Bills, facing off against the entire NFC East - who are always on prime time - and the highly anticipated return of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. However, none of these make sense to begin the season.
The NFL knows that the Bucs will be kicking the year off, so why waste a sure prime time slot that could be used on NBC or ESPN during Sunday or Monday night football? Putting the Bucs and Patriots on a Monday night slate in the middle of the year would generate tons of buzz when the season begins to hit a lull around week nine or ten. The Cowboys always generate ratings, so why not utilize that game in week five or six? Blowing a slam dunk prime time game in week one would be silly on the part of the NFL and the schedule makers.
As boring or routine as it may be, the obvious choice for week one on Thursday night is the Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. You have division rivals squaring off after one eliminated the other in the playoffs the previous year, effectively ending their Hall of Fame quarterback's career. Not only that, but their new quarterback just happened to be picked number one overall by the team raising a championship banner in the pregame ceremonies. We all know how the NFL and the countless hours of coverage it generates loves a good storyline and this one has plenty already built in to rile everyone up to start the year.
It may not be “Brady vs. Belichick” flashy, but it's the safe and smart bet when it comes to looking at the best move for the NFL, their ratings through the course of the season, and not blowing an opportunity to show the defending champions in prime time against the up-and-comer Josh Allen in week twelve− where, instead, there's a game between two teams with a combined five wins.
For more on this story and for more on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, check out the Locked On Bucs Podcast.