Only one week of preseason stands in the way of real NFL games. That's right; the 2021 season is finally upon us. And boy, is the Week 1 slate loaded with spicy matchups. Who plays who on Opening Weekend, you ask? And where can you catch the official return of football? We've got you covered below with a rundown of all 16 Week 1 matchups, from Thursday to Monday night, including TV channels and things to know for each:
Thursday, Sept. 9
The official 2021 kickoff, this marks the anticipated return of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who's coming off both ankle and shoulder injuries. Prescott's first mission: Survive Todd Bowlers' ferocious defensive front, and out-duel the reigning Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady, on the road.
Sunday, Sept. 12
The Urban Meyer-Trevor Lawrence regime will make its real debut against maybe the most beatable opponent in all of the NFL. Absent a last-minute resolution in Deshaun Watson's legal dispute, the Texans will open with Tyrod Taylor and a bunch of veteran castoffs in their lineup.
Justin Herbert's bid for second-year MVP honors starts against Ron Rivera's defense, one of the most well-rounded in the league. Ryan Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, gets his first crack at owning a full-time starting quarterback job against Brandon Staley's own "D."
Indy would like nothing more than to open at home with both QB Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson in the lineup. Even then, will there have been enough time for the Colts' new pieces to build chemistry, let alone stave off Russell Wilson and Seattle's motivated offensive staff?
Robert Saleh will make his debut as Jets coach here, but the real focus will be the QB battle, with Sam Darnold getting an instant crack at revenge on New York and the super-armed Zach Wilson looking to prove he's already a superior talent in the Big Apple.
Bengals Nation is hyped for the anticipated return of QB Joe Burrow, who now has more weapons to play with. But Mike Zimmer is no stranger to Cincy, and he's rolling out a restocked veteran "D" featuring Danielle Hunter, Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson. This one could either be a slugfest or a shootout, with Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook set to test the Bengals' own remade defense.
A.J. Green and Julio Jones entered the NFL together, and here, they'll debut for new teams for the first time in their respective careers. Tennessee is far more bruising in its approach, but Kyler Murray's play-extending legs could make Arizona an upset candidate.
Whether it's incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo or rookie Trey Lance under center, the 49ers will hit Motown as big favorites now that they're healthy again. Jared Goff, meanwhile, will just be hoping to stay upright in his first real snaps as Rams outcast-turned-Lions QB.
A dark-horse AFC Championship preview? Ben Roethlisberger is reportedly fitter and feisty for what could be his last year, but Pittsburgh's scrapyard front might have its hands full against Sean McDermott's "D." Oh, and Josh Allen, too.
Matt Ryan will look to kick his career into a new gear under new coach Arthur Smith, but the Eagles might be more intriguing: The peppy Nick Sirianni is debuting in place of Doug Pederson, along with the poised but unproven Jalen Hurts at QB.
Talk about a big test right out of the gate ... for both sides! Maybe the matchup of the week, this playoff rematch pits Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett against Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu. And that's only a small fraction of the big names set to square off at Arrowhead. This may give us an early, if premature, indication of whether Cleveland is still for real.
Vic Fangio's seat may be hot, but he'll roll into New Jersey with a safety net at QB (Teddy Bridgewater) and an improved "D" welcoming back Von Miller. For the Giants, this is all about seeing Daniel Jones take a legitimate step with weapons around him.
Like the 49ers, the Pats will draw eyes regardless of whether it's the vet (Cam Newton) or the hotshot rookie (Mac Jones) at QB. Miami might be the AFC East's No. 2 contender, though, if Tua Tagovailoa can capitalize on his more explosive outlets.
Game: Bears at Rams
Kickoff: 8:20 p.m. ET
All of Windy City wants rookie Justin Fields under center, but the Bears will roll with Andy Dalton for the prime-time meeting with Aaron Donald and Co. Does that spell trouble? You be the judge. L.A. is also debuting Matthew Stafford, who will replace the departed Jared Goff while throwing to the likes of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and DeSean Jackson. Prepare for the fireworks.
Monday, Sept. 13
Las Vegas is arguably a forgotten team in the West, where the Chiefs and Chargers are playoff favorites and the Broncos at least boast a stingy defense. Their one saving grace for Week 1: They get to stay home. Other than that, they'll be hoping Lamar Jackson and the run-heavy Ravens are experiencing an unprecedented level of jet lag while kicking off a hopeful title run.