The full schedule for the 2021 NFL season is out. You can view the entire thing right here. If you go to our NFL home page, you can find all kinds of schedule analysis, from the best game each week to the revenge games and from rivalry games to winners and losers of how the schedule broke down. 

What we're here to talk about right now, though, is the playoffs. Playoffs? We're talkin' about playoffs? We haven't even played a game! Still, we can look at the schedule and identify which games might have the biggest impact on postseason positioning. 

How can we do that? By taking a look at the SportsLine projections from our guy Stephen Oh, and using those projections to find games that could affect the race for the No. 1 seed in each conference (the only team that gets a bye), the race for divisional titles (the top four seeds), and the race for one of the wild-card spots.

No. 1 seed and first-round bye

Here, we included all the teams with a greater than 10% chance of securing the No. 1 seed in each conference, according to the SportsLine projections. In the AFC, that's the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens. In the NFC, it's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Rams

Team% No. 1O/U


  • Week 2: Chiefs at Ravens
  • Week 5: Bills at Chiefs

Not too many games here for the AFC, and this will be a theme throughout. The NFC is a much more balanced conference, with more teams seemingly in the mix for a potential spot in January. The Chiefs play against both potential No. 1 seed contenders, giving them an opportunity to win a head-to-head tiebreaker against both teams, which could be important. The Ravens and Bills do not play against each other this year, so any tiebreaker will be decided on one of the criteria further down the list. It's interesting that both of these games are played early in the season, given that people typically think of late-season games as having a larger impact on playoff positioning.


  • Week 1: Packers at Saints
  • Week 3: Buccaneers at Rams
  • Week 8: Buccaneers at Saints
  • Week 12: Packers at Rams
  • Week 15: Saints at Buccaneers

We start right from the jump here with (we think) Aaron Rodgers and the Packers traveling to New Orleans to take on either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill and the Saints. The Bucs and Saints play twice because they're in the same division, while each team plays one of the Packers and Rams thanks to the "play a team that finished the same place in their division as you did the year before" part of the schedule formula. The Packers might be in the worst position here, not just because of the ongoing Rodgers drama, but because their two games against fellow No. 1 seed contenders are both on the road. The Rams, meanwhile, get both of their games at home. 

Division winners

There are two divisions where the projections give one team a better than 60% chance to take home the crown: the AFC West, where Kansas City has a 76.4% shot; and the NFC North, where the Packers have a 66.5% chance of winning. Each of the other six divisions have at least two teams with a 20% chance or better of emerging atop the pack. 

Team% DivO/U
Football Team25.0%8

AFC East

  • Week 1: Dolphins at Patriots
  • Week 2: Bills at Dolphins
  • Week 8: Dolphins at Bills
  • Week 13: Patriots at Bills
  • Week 16: Bills at Patriots
  • Week 18: Patriots at Dolphins

The Dolphins-Patriots games that bookend the season should be fascinating. Doesn't it feel like Miami always plays in New England early in the year and New England plays in Miami late? I suppose it makes sense for weather reasons, but I'd like to see it the other way around sometime. The Patriots and Bills also play each other twice in a four-week span, which is always fun. Miami has a chance to get off to a really good or really bad start, playing the Patriots in Week 1 and the Bills in Week 2.

AFC North

  • Week 12: Browns at Ravens
  • Week 14: Ravens at Browns

Speaking of teams that play multiple times in a very short span, we've got the two Browns-Ravens games in three weeks. Cleveland actually plays Baltimore two games in a row, because the Browns take their bye in Week 13. I'm not sure I've ever seen something like that before. The Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers in the week between these two contests, which could give Cleveland an advantage in the second matchup.

AFC South

  • Week 3: Colts at Titans
  • Week 8: Titans at Colts

Combined, these two teams have a 97.6% chance to win the AFC South (shockingly, the projections do not have much faith in the Jaguars or Texans), so these two games carry tremendous importance. It's tough to say either team has an advantage from playing home or away early in the season rather than in Week 8, but it's worth noting that the Colts play the Rams and 49ers in Week 2 and Week 7, while the Titans play the Seahawks and Chiefs the week before these divisional matchups. 

NFC South

  • Week 8: Buccaneers at Saints
  • Week 15: Saints at Buccaneers

Mentioned above, but I do think the Saints get a slight break here not having to play the Bucs early in the season, when they could still be figuring out their quarterback situation and how the new, Drew Brees-less offense will work. They should be in a better rhythm by the middle of the year.

NFC West

  • Week 4: Seahawks at 49ers
  • Week 5: Rams at Seahawks
  • Week 10: Rams at 49ers
  • Week 13: 49ers at Seahawks
  • Week 15: Seahawks at Rams
  • Week 18: 49ers at Rams

The projections really think the NFC West is kind of up for grabs, despite the Rams being the only team with a sizable shot at the No. 1 seed. We'll talk more about this in the next section, because the Cardinals give this division four teams with a pretty good shot at getting into the playoffs, even though they lag behind in their chances to win the division.

NFC East

  • Week 12: Cowboys at Football Team
  • Week 16: Football Team at Cowboys

Dallas not having to face the ferocious Washington pass rush early in the season is nice for Dak Prescott... unless the offensive line has injury issues again, which could cause some problems when they have to face the Football Team late in the year. Will Ryan Fitzpatrick still be under center for these games? Probably, because Washington doesn't really have anyone else to put there. But it's worth noting that Fitz's floor is as low as his ceiling is high, and things could get weird. 


SportsLine is very confident in the Chiefs, Ravens, Bills, and Colts making the playoffs, giving each of them an 74.6% chance or better of advancing beyond the regular season. There are then six teams whose chances range between 30% and 70%, and those are the ones we'll discuss below. In the NFC, the Packers are the only team above 70%, assuming they have Aaron Rodgers. There are then nine teams whose playoff chances are a bit more up in the air, between 30% and 70%. 

Team% PlayoffsO/U
Football Team33.3%8


  • Week 1: Dolphins at Patriots
  • Week 5: Browns at Chargers
  • Week 8: Steelers at Browns
  • Week 8: Patriots at Chargers
  • Week 11: Steelers at Chargers
  • Week 12: Titans at Patriots
  • Week 15: Titans at Steelers
  • Week 17: Dolphins at Titans
  • Week 17: Browns at Steelers
  • Week 18: Patriots at Dolphins

The aforementioned divisional games make up most of the slate here. But the Browns also have two games against the Steelers and one against the Chargers. L.A. also plays the Patriots and the Steelers, and all three of those games are at home, which is a nice break to catch. The Titans have to go on the road to face the Patriots and Steelers, but at least get to host the Dolphins. 


  • Week 1: Bears at Rams
  • Week 4: Cardinals at Rams
  • Week 4: Seahawks at 49ers
  • Week 4: Falcons at Football Team
  • Week 5: 49ers at Cardinals
  • Week 5: Rams at Seahawks
  • Week 5: Saints at Football Team
  • Week 7: Saints at Seahawks
  • Week 8: 49ers at Bears
  • Week 9: Cardinals at 49ers
  • Week 9: Falcons at Saints
  • Week 10: Falcons at Cowboys
  • Week 10: Rams at 49ers
  • Week 11: Cardinals at Seahawks
  • Week 12: Seahawks at Football Team
  • Week 13: Cardinals at Bears
  • Week 13: 49ers at Seahawks
  • Week 13: Cowboys at Saints
  • Week 14: Cowboys at Football Team
  • Week 14: Rams at Cardinals
  • Week 15: Falcons at 49ers
  • Week 15: Seahawks at Rams
  • Week 16: Bears at Seahawks
  • Week 16: Football Team at Cowboys
  • Week 17: Cardinals at Cowboys
  • Week 18: Saints at Falcons
  • Week 18: Seahawks at Cardinals
  • Week 18: 49ers at Rams
  • Week 18: Saints at Falcons

We've got 29 (TWENTY-NINE!) games with potential implications here, which is pretty awesome. There's at least one of them in 15 of the 18 weeks, with the only exceptions being Weeks 2, 3, and 6. The Seahawks have the most of any team, with nine of their 17 games being against this group of teams. They also play against the Colts, Titans, Steelers, and Packers, so their schedule is pretty wild. Unsurprisingly, their fellow foes in the NFC West rank highly in games against this group of teams. The Bears have just four of them, while the Falcons and Saints have six and the Cowboys and Football Team have five.