Leading up to the release of the schedule for the 2021 season, the biggest game that most football fans had circled was Tom Brady's pending return to New England to face his former team in the Patriots and, of course, Bill Belichick. It's a game that has been eyed effectively since the seven-time Super Bowl champion elected to leave the organization back in the spring of 2020 to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were slated to visit Foxborough in 2021. Well, now we know exactly when arguably the most anticipated regular-season game in NFL history will be: Sunday, Oct. 3 at 8:20 p.m. ET.
For some, the timing of this game may be a bit perplexing. Instead of its Week 4 mark, why wouldn't this epic head-to-head occur a little bit later in the year to create even more build-up? The answer is pretty straightforward.
While speaking to NBC Sports' Peter King for his "Football Morning in America" column, the NFL's senior VP of broadcasting Howard Katz explained that the league wanted this showdown to be more focused on Brady returning to face his former team, rather than any playoff implications being on the line or any other outside circumstance.
"[Week 4] is less about whether these teams are fighting for division races, playoff implications, less likely to have an injury, less likely to have weather," Katz told King. "The story can be about Brady's return. It would be different if Tom's standing on the 50-yard line watching a tribute video in November in six inches of snow. Or, the later in the season we go, the more likely somebody's injured. Getting in early, having that story told, made some sense."
By all accounts, this is a pretty logical stance by the league. Not only does a game earlier in the season take any sort of playoff implication out of the discussion, but it's also a savvy move by the league to get this game in as early as possible to ensure Brady is actually able to participate. While he has been an ironman throughout his career, Brady, who'll turn 44 prior to the start of the regular season, is no spring chicken and is coming off offseason knee surgery, so it wouldn't be out of the question if a player under that circumstance was more prone to injury as the year progressed. The only thing worse than him watching a tribute video in six inches of snow is if an injured Brady is watching it in a boot with Blaine Gabbert warming up to play on the sideline.
The football world wants to see Tom Brady go toe-to-toe with Bill Belichick on the field and slotting that game within the first month of the season is the league doing its best to make sure that's what we'll see.