The 2021 NFL schedule is available in its entirety. With 272 games and 18 weeks of regular-season play, this will literally be the biggest season in league history. But not everyone will necessarily benefit from the expanded slate, which includes everything from additional prime-time clashes to later-season bye weeks. Which teams are clear winners from Wednesday's full schedule release? And which ones probably would've preferred a different schedule? Here's a rundown of those helped and hurt by the schedule:
The opener against the reigning champion Buccaneers won't be easy, but after that, they've got eight straight teams who missed the playoffs in 2020. The Chargers (Week 2), Panthers (Week 4) and Patriots (Week 6) should all be better, but still, that makes a very doable first-half slate. If they live up to their on-paper talent (a big "if" for this team), they should be atop the NFC East going into the home stretch.
The early slate is tough: The Browns, Ravens, Chargers and Bills are four of their first five opponents. But K.C. can afford an early-year hiccup or two. It's the latter stages that really benefit them. Here's their lineup after a Week 12 bye: Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, Steelers, Bengals, Broncos. That just screams for another cruise into the postseason.
New England Patriots
They don't rest until a Week 14 bye, but seven of their first nine are against non-playoff teams from 2020. Throw the Saints in there, a club that could take its lumps while transitioning to Jameis Winston, and New England has a feasible path to an early-season rebound. Whether it's Cam Newton or Mac Jones, the Pats aren't likely to cruise back to title contention overnight, but at least their schedule isn't daunting out of the gate.
Their first half is actually quite tough. After an opener in Atlanta, they've got the 49ers, Cowboys, Chiefs, Panthers and Bucs. They could easily be 2-4 or even 1-5 after that. But then comes relief: They don't get on a plane after Week 10, they never play a team coming off a bye, and their last six games are against either the Jets or NFC East rivals.
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They've got a fine blend of home and road matchups, but there's a killer stretch right after their Week 8 bye, which also forces them to play 10 straight to close the year. After a home game against the Vikings in Week 9, they've got five of their next seven on the road, including showdowns with Miami, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Andy Dalton in prime time against the Rams in Week 1? Tough. Not a single stretch of back-to-back home games? Tougher. And listen to this midseason slog between Weeks 6-11: Packers, Bucs, 49ers, Steelers, Ravens. Even if Justin Fields is under center by then, Chicago won't necessarily have a smooth path back to the playoffs.
Las Vegas Raiders
Try opening with this slate: Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, Chargers, Bears. Would anyone be surprised if they started 1-4 or 2-3 there? The back half isn't any prettier, with two Chiefs games and a Week 14-18 stretch that goes Chiefs, Browns, Broncos, Colts, Chargers.
They may be all in on this year for Ben Roethlisberger, but the home stretch looks awfully daunting for a playoff run. A Week 7 bye means they'll have 11 straight to finish the season. And from Week 11 on, they're up against the Chargers, Bengals, Ravens, Vikings, Titans, Chiefs, Browns, Ravens. That's one heck of a journey to a potential postseason trip.