2021 'Sunday Night Football' preview

Tom Brady, Buccaneers try to repeat as Super Bowl champs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady holds Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LV
Posted at 9:08 AM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 09:08:36-04 takes a game-by-game glance at the complete "Sunday Night Football" lineup for the 2021 NFL season. All games can be seen on WPTV.

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Sept. 9 (Thursday)

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski after Super Bowl LV win
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87), left, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrate together after the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9.

The Buccaneers, who became the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl at their home stadium, will have a bull's-eye on their backs when the Cowboys visit for the Thursday night NFL season opener. Tampa Bay returns all 22 starters from its championship season, most notably superstar quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady joined the Buccaneers last year after spending 20 seasons with the New England Patriots. All the Super Bowl MVP did was help bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Tampa. He was also able to lure his longtime teammate out of retirement.

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams | Sept. 12

Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford during 2021 training camp
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford runs drills during training camp Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Irvine, Calif.

Welcome to Los Angeles, Matthew Stafford. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Detroit Lions will take the field for the first time as a member of the Rams. Likewise, Andy Dalton will open the season as the starting quarterback for Chicago, but for how long? The Bears drafted former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in the first round. These playoff teams from a season ago will look very different in 2021.

Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens | Sept. 19

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson hugs Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes in 2020
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes embrace after a game Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Baltimore. The Chiefs won 34-20.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson have the distinction of being former NFL MVPs. The Chiefs have made the playoffs for six straight seasons. The Ravens have made the playoffs each of the last three seasons. Will they be able to keep their streaks alive in 2021? The Chiefs beat the Ravens 34-20 last season.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers | Sept. 26

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. San Francisco 49ers in 2020
Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers calls a play during a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif.

There was plenty of offseason drama in Green Bay, where an unhappy Aaron Rodgers let it be known he never wanted to play for the Packers again. Nevertheless, the franchise quarterback is back for a 17th season with the Packers. Not even predecessor Brett Favre can make that claim. Now the Packers just have to prove they can win another Super Bowl with Rodgers. The Packers beat the 49ers 34-17 last season, avenging a 37-20 loss in the NFC Championship game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots | Oct. 3

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady waves to fans before 2021 preseason game at Houston Texans
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady waves to fans as he leaves the field after a preseason game against the Houston Texans, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, in Houston.

Step aside, Mac Jones. Tom Brady is coming home. For anyone wanting to know if Bill Belichick made Brady during their 20 seasons together in New England, this game should provide some answers. This is must-watch television for football fans.

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs | Oct. 10

Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs vs. Kansas City Chiefs safeties in 2020 playoff game
This pass to Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs is broken up by Kansas City Chiefs safeties Juan Thornhill (22) and L'Jarius Sneed (38) during the second half of the AFC Championship game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.

This is a rematch of last season's AFC Championship game. While the Chiefs made back-to-back title game appearances, it was Buffalo's first since the 1993 season. Could the Bills be even better in 2021?

Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers | Oct. 17

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in huddle for 2021 preseason game
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger calls signals against the Detroit Lions in the first half of a preseason game Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Pittsburgh.

How much more does Ben Roethlisberger have left in the tank? All signs point to the Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh quarterback hanging it up at the conclusion of this -- his 18th -- season. Roethlisberger threw 33 touchdowns last season coming off elbow surgery, but he'll need to cut back on the costly turnovers this year. After throwing four interceptions over the first nine games last season, he threw 10 over the final seven games, including four in a playoff loss to Cleveland.

Indianapolis Colts at San Francisco 49ers | Oct. 24

Indianapolis Colts QB Carson Wentz during 2021 training camp
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz prepares for a drill during practice at the team's training camp Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Westfield, Ind.

The Colts were a surprise wild-card playoff team a season ago, but Philip Rivers has since retired, leaving Indianapolis to trade for quarterback Carson Wentz in the offseason. San Francisco, meanwhile, drafted North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick, making Jimmy Garoppolo a short-time starter before the 49ers turn the offense over to Lance. The 49ers have dropped their last four games against the Colts and haven't beaten Indianapolis by the bay since 1998, when now-retired Peyton Manning was a rookie.

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings | Oct. 31

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott celebrates before 2021 preseason game
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott shows his excitement before a preseason game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

This should be a scary good game on Halloween night. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns last season before he broke his ankle and missed the final 11 games. Two surgeries and a hefty contract extension (his four-year, $160 million deal is the second-richest in NFL history) later, Prescott should be ready to roll when the 2021 season begins. The Cowboys endured one of the worst defenses in team history last season, so head coach Mike McCarthy gave defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the boot and replaced him with former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. An improved defense will be necessary against a Minnesota team that ranked fourth overall in total offense.

Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Rams | Nov. 7

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey in 2020
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is pictured during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Seattle. The Rams won 30-20.

The Titans hope to be back here in February for the Super Bowl. Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey is from Tennessee, so he'll be looking to put on a show against the team from his home state. Ramsey recorded 44 tackles, nine pass breakups and an interception in 2020.

Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders | Nov. 14

Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill runs route at Las Vegas Raiders in 2020
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill runs a route during the first quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Las Vegas.

The Chiefs are 1-0 in Las Vegas since the Raiders relocated to the desert, winning 35-31 last season. Jon Gruden enters his fourth season in his second stint as head coach of the Raiders with playoff aspirations, but to do so will likely mean dethroning the Chiefs, who have won five consecutive AFC West Division titles.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers | Nov. 21

Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert throws in 2020
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws against the Denver Broncos during the first half of a game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was impressive as a rookie last season. Herbert set NFL rookie records for completions (396), yards (4,336) and touchdowns (31). Can he lead the Chargers back to the playoffs for only the second time since the team bolted from San Diego in 2017?

Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints | Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving)

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen throws in 2020
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen prepares to throw against the Denver Broncos, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Denver.

The Bills and quarterback Josh Allen will spend Thanksgiving in New Orleans. Allen set multiple team records last season, including passing yards (4,544), touchdown passes (37) and total touchdowns (46). How will he fare against a stingy Saints defense that ranked fourth in the NFL a season ago?

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens | Nov. 28

Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Patrick Mekari at Cleveland Browns in 2020
Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Patrick Mekari blocks during a game against the Cleveland Browns, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Cleveland. The Ravens won 47-42.

This AFC North Division rivalry is filled with animosity, intensity and -- at least last season -- lots of scoring. The Ravens swept the Browns in 2020, but the game in Cleveland was a nightmare for defensive coordinators as the teams combined for an NFL-record nine rushing touchdowns. The 89 points scored in Baltimore's 47-42 win were also the most scored in the history of the rivalry.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks | Dec. 5

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson throws in 2020
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson throws against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of a game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Seattle.

All eyes will be on Russell Wilson when the 49ers visit Seattle. Despite making the playoffs and setting a team record with 459 points scored last season, the Seahawks quarterback seemed disgruntled by the direction of the franchise during the offseason. Wilson was sacked 47 times during the 2020 season and 394 times total since he arrived in Seattle in 2012.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers | Dec. 12

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur speaks to QB Aaron Rodgers and team during timeout at Houston Texans in 2020
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur speaks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers during a timeout against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Houston.

Third-year Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur is 11-1 against NFC North opponents, leading the Packers to consecutive division titles and NFC Championship game appearances. Then there are the Bears, who haven't won at Lambeau Field since 2015.

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Dec. 19

New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston hands off football at Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020
New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston hands the ball off during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.

Jameis Winston returns to Tampa Bay, which made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. But Winston became expendable once Brady joined the Buccaneers, so Winston spent last season serving as a backup to Drew Brees. Now that Brees has retired, the offense belongs to Winston, who led the NFL in passing yards, completions and attempts while also leading in interceptions during the 2019 season. Oh, and he set an NFL record for interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season. Which Winston will show up in Tampa? The Saints handed Brady the largest margin of defeat in his career in a 38-3 win in Tampa last season.

Washington at Dallas Cowboys | Dec. 26

Washington QB Ryan Fitzpatrick warms up before 2021 preseason game
Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick warms up before the start of a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, in Landover, Md.

Despite winning the NFC East Division and making the playoffs in 2020, Washington still had a losing record and went through a revolving door of quarterbacks. Entering his 16th NFL season and ninth team, Ryan Fitzpatrick comes to Washington as the clear No. 1 quarterback. Without Prescott, the Cowboys were swept by Washington in a pair of blowouts -- 25-3 at FedEx Field and 41-16 at Dallas.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers | Jan. 2

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook runs past Green Bay Packers safety Darnell Savage, Nov. 1, 2020
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook runs past Green Bay Packers safety Darnell Savage during the first half of a game Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis.

Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook finished last season with 1,557 yards -- the second-best in the NFL -- and an NFL-best 137 yards per game from scrimmage. Remember Green Bay's impressive record against NFC North teams? Well, the lone loss was a 28-22 setback against the Vikings at Lambeau Field last November.