Six playoff teams — five of them division winners. Three games in prime time. A five-week, all-division run to close the season.
The NFL released its 2021 schedule Wednesday, and Washington’s 17-game slate contains plenty of intrigue as the team looks to repeat as NFC East champs next season. The most notable stretch for Washington will be its five straight division games to end the season — the first of its kind in franchise history since 1970, when Washington closed with six straight divisional foes.
In Week 14, on Dec. 12, Washington hosts the Dallas Cowboys 1 p.m. and then moves on to face the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Cowboys again in Dallas, the Eagles at home and then closes the season at New York against the Giants. That run could very well swing the division.
Despite winning just seven games in 2020, Washington pulled out the NFC East in part because the team went 4-2 in a historically weak division. No team, however, has won the NFC East in consecutive years since the Eagles repeated in 2004.
Washington’s playoff run last year seems to have restored the franchise’s standing among networks. The NFL gave Washington three prime-time games in 2021 after originally scheduling them for none a year ago. First, Washington will play the Giants at FedEx Field on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 2 on Sept. 16. Then on Nov. 29, Washington will square off against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Almost a month later, Washington travels to AT&T Stadium to face the Cowboys on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” on Dec. 26.
Last season, Washington appeared to be shut out from prime time for the first time since 1982 — though league executives eventually flexed the team’s season-finale showdown with the Eagles to Sunday night in Week 17.
To begin the season, Washington hosts the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 12 at 1 p.m. in a game televised by CBS. The matchup marks just the fourth time in NFL history that the reigning offensive and defensive rookie of the year clash in Week 1, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
The schedule doesn’t get much easier from there. After facing the Giants on a short week, Washington will travel to face the AFC East-winning Buffalo Bills on Sept. 26. The team will then have its second straight road game, heading to Atlanta a week later.
Week 5 kicks off a brutal three-game run of facing teams that each had at least 12 wins in 2020. Washington hosts the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 10 at 1 p.m. before meeting Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs (Oct. 17, home) and Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers (Oct. 24, away). After its trip to Lambeau Field, Washington faces the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium on Halloween.
The bye week arrives exactly in the middle of the season in Week 9. Each team must now play 17 games after the NFL and the players’ union agreed to expand the schedule under the new collective bargaining agreement. The change, which involves cutting one preseason game, goes into effect this year.
Following the bye, Washington will meet Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay on Nov. 14. The Buccaneers knocked Washington out of the postseason in January. Brady returns to FedEx Field, where he threw for 318 yards in Tampa Bay’s 31-23 win.
In Week 11, coach Ron Rivera returns to Carolina for the first time as an opponent since the Panthers fired him in 2019. Washington hosted the Panthers in Week 16 of last season, but fell 20-13. Washington, meanwhile, will not play on Thanksgiving in 2021 after making the holiday lineup in four of the last five seasons. This year’s slate includes Bears-Lions, Raiders-Cowboys and Bills-Saints.
Washington’s strength of schedule ranks as the 15th-hardest in the NFL. The team’s opponents combined for a .504 win percentage — going 136-134-2 in 2020. According to CBS Sports, that schedule would have ranked as the 22nd-hardest if the league did not expand to 17 games. The expansion means Washington has to face the Bills.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, have the hardest strength of schedule, while the Eagles have the easiest.
Washington’s 2021 schedule
Week 1, Sept. 12: Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 3, Sept. 26: at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Week 4, Oct. 3: at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Week 5, Oct. 10: New Orleans Saints, 1 pm. (CBS)
Week 6, Oct. 17: Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 7, Oct. 24: at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Week 8, Oct. 31: at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10, Nov. 14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Week 11, Nov. 21: at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Week 12, Nov. 29: Seattle Seahawks, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Week 13, Dec. 5: at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:05 p.m. (FOX)
Week 14, Dec. 12: Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m., FOX
Week 15, TBD: at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 16, Dec. 26: at Dallas Cowboys, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 17, Jan. 2: Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Week 18, Jan. 9: at New York Giants, 1 p.m. (FOX)
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.