2021 NFL season

Last updated

2021 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 9, 2021 (2021-09-09) – January 9, 2022 (2022-01-09)
Playoffs
Start dateJanuary 15, 2022
Super Bowl LVI
DateFebruary 13, 2022
Site SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 6, 2022
Site Allegiant Stadium, Paradise, Nevada

The 2021 NFL season is the 102nd season of the National Football League (NFL). This is the first to feature a 17-game regular season schedule as the league expanded the regular season from 16 games. [1] The regular season started on September 9, 2021, with defending Super Bowl LV champion Tampa Bay defeating Dallas in the NFL Kickoff Game. The regular season is scheduled to end on January 9, 2022. The playoffs are scheduled to start on January 15 and will conclude with Super Bowl LVI, the league's championship game, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on February 13.

Contents

Player movement

The 2021 NFL league year and trading period began on March 17. On March 15, teams were allowed to exercise options for 2021 on players with option clauses in their contracts, submit qualifying offers to their pending restricted free agents, and submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2020 contracts and fewer than three accrued seasons of free agent credit. Teams were required to be under the salary cap using the "top 51" definition (in which the 51 highest paid-players on the team's payroll must have a combined salary cap). On March 17, clubs were allowed to contact and begin contract negotiations with players whose contracts had expired and thus became unrestricted free agents.

Positions key
C Center CB Cornerback DB Defensive back DE Defensive end
DL Defensive lineman DT Defensive tackle FB Fullback FS Free safety
G Guard HB Halfback K Placekicker KR Kick returner
LB Linebacker LS Long snapper OT Offensive tackle OL Offensive lineman
NT Nose tackle P Punter PR Punt returner QB Quarterback
RB Running back S Safety SS Strong safety TB Tailback
TE Tight end WR Wide receiver     

Free agency

Free agency began on March 17. Notable players to change teams included:

Trades

The following notable trades were made during the 2021 league year:

Retirements

Notable retirements

Other retirements

Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft was held in Cleveland from April 29 to May 1. [86] Jacksonville, by virtue of having the worst record in 2020, held the first overall selection and selected QB Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson. [87]

Officiating changes

The NFL hired Maia Chaka as its second female official (joining Sarah Thomas) and first African-American female official. [88]

NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Alberto Riveron retired, leaving two other senior vice presidents, Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell, to co-head the NFL's officiating department. [89] [90] Without Riveron, multiple people in the officiating department will be making the final decisions over replay reviews instead of a single person. [91]

Rule changes

The following rule changes were approved at the NFL Owner's Meeting on April 21: [92]

COVID-19 protocols

The league introduced COVID-19 protocols intended to encourage vaccination among players, coaches, and staff. On July 22, the NFL warned teams that if a game postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players cannot be made up within the 18-week regular season schedule, the team responsible for the outbreak will be charged with a loss by forfeit and will be responsible for financial compensation to the other team, as normally players on both teams are not paid for canceled games. [98] On July 24, it was reported that the league will fine players $14,650 for each violation of COVID-19 protocol if they are unvaccinated. [99]

On July 23, the league announced the following temporary rules for the 2020 season would remain in place for 2021, allowing roster flexibility due to uncertainty regarding the pandemic.

On August 30, the league and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) agreed to COVID testing protocols for the season. Players who are fully vaccinated will be tested at least once per week and can opt for additional testing. As was the case in 2020, unvaccinated players will be tested every day during the regular season and postseason except game days. [101]

2021 deaths

Pro Football Hall of Fame members

Floyd Little
Little spent all nine years of his professional career as a running back with the Denver Broncos and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. He died January 1, age 78. [102]
Mick Tingelhoff
Tingelhoff spent all 17 seasons of his professional career as a center with the Minnesota Vikings and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015. He died September 11, age 81. [103]

Others

Preseason

Training camps were held from late July through August.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game was played on August 5, as Pittsburgh defeated Dallas. The two teams were previously scheduled to play the 2020 game before it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [104]

Corresponding with the expansion of the regular season to 17 games, the preseason was reduced to three games per team. [1] NFC teams each hosted two preseason games and AFC teams each hosted one. [105] There was a league-wide bye week the weekend of September 4–5, between the final preseason game and the start of the regular season.

The August 28 game between Arizona and New Orleans was canceled due to Hurricane Ida. [106] This was only the second time severe weather canceled a preseason game (a 2017 DallasHouston game was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey). [107]

Regular season

The NFL released its regular season schedule on May 12. [108] The season will be played over an 18-week schedule beginning on September 9. Each of the league's 32 teams will play 17 games, with one bye week for each team. The regular season will conclude on January 9, 2022; all games during the final weekend will be intra-division games, as it has been since 2010.

The 2020 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed by league owners and the NFLPA allowed for an expansion of the regular season from 16 to 17 games. On March 30, 2021, owners approved the expanded schedule. [1] The extra game was added to the league's existing 16-game scheduling formula. Each team will continue to play the other three teams in its own division twice, one game against each of the four teams from a division in its own conference, one game against each of the four teams from a division in the other conference, and one game against each of the remaining two teams in its conference that finished in the same position in their respective divisions the previous season (e.g., the team that finished fourth in its division would play all three other teams in its conference that also finished fourth in their divisions).

The added game is a fifth interconference matchup between divisions that had played each other two years earlier, based on the position in their respective divisions the previous season (e.g. the team that finished fourth in its division would play a club that finished fourth in a division of the other conference). AFC teams would host the extra game in odd-numbered years, including 2021, with NFC teams getting the extra home game in even-numbered years. [109] [110]

The division pairings for 2021 are as follows:

Four intra-conference games
AFC East vs AFC South
AFC North vs AFC West
NFC East vs NFC South
NFC West vs NFC North

Four inter-conference games
AFC East vs NFC South
AFC North vs NFC North
AFC South vs NFC West
AFC West vs NFC East

Added game
NFC East at AFC East
NFC West at AFC North
NFC South at AFC South
NFC North at AFC West

Highlights of the 2021 season will include:

Saturday flexible scheduling

When the entire season schedule was released on May 12, the league announced that in Weeks 15 and 18, two games would be moved to their respective Saturdays.

Week 15

Two of the following five designated games will be moved to Saturday, December 18 at 4:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. ET exclusively on NFL Network. The final times of these games will be announced no later than four weeks prior to game day: [114]

Week 18

For the first time in league history, two games with playoff implications will be moved to the last Saturday of the regular season, January 8 at 4:30 pm and 8:15 pm ET airing on ESPN and ABC. This move will be in the same manner that the final Sunday Night Football game will be announced following the conclusion of Week 17. [115] [116]

Scheduling changes

This section lists games that were moved or canceled because of severe weather, COVID-19 outbreaks, by way of flexible scheduling, or for other reasons:

Regular season standings

Division

Conference

AFC
#TeamDivisionWLTPCTDIVCONFSOSSOVSTK
Division leaders
1 Houston Texans South1001.0001–01–0.000.000W1
2 Las Vegas Raiders West1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
3 Pittsburgh Steelers North1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
4 Miami Dolphins East1001.0001–01–0.000.000W1
Wild cards
5 Kansas City Chiefs West1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
6 Denver Broncos West1001.0000–00–0.000.000W1
6 Cincinnati Bengals North1001.0000–00–0.000.000W1
In the hunt
8 Los Angeles Chargers West1001.0000–00–0.000.000W1
9 Cleveland Browns North010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
10 Baltimore Ravens North010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
11 Jacksonville Jaguars South010.0000–10–1.000.000L1
12 New England Patriots East010.0000–10–1.000.000L1
13 Buffalo Bills East010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
14 Indianapolis Colts South010.0000–00–0.000.000L1
15 New York Jets East010.0000–00–0.000.000L1
16 Tennessee Titans South010.0000–00–0.000.000L1
Tiebreakers [lower-alpha 1]
  1. When breaking ties for three or more teams under the NFL's rules, they are first broken within divisions, then comparing only the highest ranked remaining team from each division.
NFC
#TeamDivisionWLTPCTDIVCONFSOSSOVSTK
Division leaders
1 San Francisco 49ers West1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
2 New Orleans Saints South1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
3 Philadelphia Eagles East1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
4 Minnesota Vikings North010.0000–00–0.000.000L1
Wild cards
5 Los Angeles Rams West1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers South1001.0000–01–0.000.000W1
7 Arizona Cardinals West1001.0000–00–0.000.000W1
In the hunt
8 Carolina Panthers South1001.0000–00–0.000.000W1
9 Seattle Seahawks West1001.0000–00–0.000.000W1
10 Washington Football Team East110.5001–01–0.000.000W1
11 Detroit Lions North010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
12 Atlanta Falcons South010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
13 Dallas Cowboys East010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
14 Chicago Bears North010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
15 Green Bay Packers North010.0000–00–1.000.000L1
16 New York Giants East020.0000–10–1.000.000L2
Tiebreakers [lower-alpha 1]
  1. When breaking ties for three or more teams under the NFL's rules, they are first broken within divisions, then comparing only the highest ranked remaining team from each division.

Postseason

The 2021 playoffs are scheduled to begin on the weekend of January 15–16, 2022, with the Wild Card Round. Three Wild Card games will be played in each conference. [118] Three games will be played each day. [118]

In the Divisional Round scheduled for January 22–23, the top seed in the conference will play the lowest remaining seed and the other two remaining teams will play each other. The winners of those games will advance to the Conference Championships scheduled for January 30. [119] Super Bowl LVI is scheduled for February 13 at 6:30 p.m. EST on NBC at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. [119]

Awards

Players of the week/month

The following were named the top performers during the 2021 season:

Week/
Month
Offensive
Player of the Week/Month
Defensive
Player of the Week/Month
Special Teams
Player of the Week/Month
AFCNFCAFCNFCAFCNFC
1 [120] Patrick Mahomes QB
(Kansas City)
Matthew Stafford QB
(Los Angeles Rams)
Maxx Crosby DE
(Las Vegas)
Chandler Jones LB
(Arizona)
Evan McPherson K
(Cincinnati)
Bradley Pinion P
(Tampa Bay)
2
WeekFedEx Air
Player of the Week
(Quarterbacks) [121]
FedEx Ground
Player of the Week
(Running backs) [121]
Pepsi Zero Sugar
Rookie of the Week [122]
1 Tom Brady
(Tampa Bay)
Joe Mixon
(Cincinnati)
Ja'Marr Chase
(Cincinnati)
2

Head coaching and front office changes

Head coaches

Off-season

TeamDeparting coachInterim coachIncoming coachReason for leavingNotes
Atlanta Falcons Dan Quinn Raheem Morris Arthur Smith FiredAfter an 0–5 start, Quinn was fired on October 11, 2020. He had a 43–42 (.506) record during his 5+ season tenure with the Falcons, with two playoff appearances, including one Super Bowl appearance. [123]

Morris, the team's defensive coordinator, was previously the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with a record of 17–31 (.354) and no playoff appearances. He finished out the 2020 season with a 4–7 (.364) record. [124]

Smith served as an assistant coach for the Tennessee Titans from 2011 to 2020 and most recently served as offensive coordinator for the last two seasons; the Falcons hired Smith on January 16. This would be his first NFL head coaching job. [125]

Detroit Lions Matt Patricia Darrell Bevell Dan Campbell Patricia was fired on November 28, 2020. He had a 13–29–1 (.314) record during his 2+ season tenure with the Lions, with no playoff appearances and finishing both complete seasons in last place in the NFC North. [126]

Bevell, the team's offensive coordinator, was promoted to interim head coach. This was his first head coaching position. He finished out the 2020 season with a 1–4 (.200) record. [126]

Campbell, who had a 5–7 (.417) record as interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins for part of 2015, was hired on January 20. He previously served as the assistant head coach/tight ends coach of the New Orleans Saints from 2016 to 2020. [127]

Houston Texans Bill O'Brien Romeo Crennel David Culley After an 0–4 start, O'Brien was fired on October 5, 2020. He had a 52–48 (.520) record during his 6+ season tenure with the Texans, with four AFC South titles. [128]

Crennel, the team's associate head coach, was previously the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, with a combined record of 28–55 (.337) and no playoff appearances. At age 73, he became the oldest head coach in NFL history. He finished out the 2020 season with a 4–8 (.333) record. [129]

On January 29, the Texans hired Culley, whom for the last 42 years, was an assistant coach for several teams, most recently for the Baltimore Ravens. This would be his first head coaching job. Culley became the oldest first-time head coach in NFL history at age 65. [130]

Jacksonville Jaguars Doug Marrone Urban Meyer After 4+ seasons with a 23–43 (.348) record, Marrone was fired on January 4. The Jaguars made the playoffs once during his tenure, advancing to the AFC Championship Game. They finished 1–15 (.063) in 2020, ending the season on a 15-game losing streak. [131]

Meyer, an experienced college football head coach with a combined record of 187–32 (.854) with Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State, and three national championships, was hired on January 14. This would be his first NFL coaching position. [132]

Los Angeles Chargers Anthony Lynn Brandon Staley Lynn was fired on January 4 after four seasons with the team with a 33–31 (.516) record and one playoff appearance. The Chargers finished 7–9 (.438) in 2020. [133]

Staley was hired on January 17. He had spent the previous season as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. This was his first head coaching position. [134]

New York Jets Adam Gase Robert Saleh Gase was fired on January 3 after finishing the 2020 season 2–14 (.125). He was 9–23 (.281) in two seasons with the Jets, with no playoff appearances. [135]

Saleh, who was a longtime defensive coach in the NFL and on the college level, was hired on January 14. He was most recently the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator from 2017 to 2020. This was his first head coaching position. [136]

Philadelphia Eagles Doug Pederson Nick Sirianni Pederson was fired on January 11 after 5 seasons with the Eagles, with a total regular season record of 42–37–1 (.531), and a playoff record of 4–2 (.667). His tenure included 3 playoff appearances, 2 NFC East division titles, and a Super Bowl LII title. The Eagles finished 4–11–1 (.281) in 2020. [137] [138]

Former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was hired as Eagles' head coach on January 24. This marked Sirianni's first head coaching job. [139]

Front office personnel

Off-season

TeamPositionDeparting office holderInterim replacementIncoming office holderReason for leavingNotes
Atlanta Falcons General manager Thomas Dimitroff none Terry Fontenot FiredAfter an 0–5 start, Dimitroff was fired on October 11, 2020, after 12 seasons. [123]

Fontenot was hired on January 18. He spent previous 18 seasons with the New Orleans Saints organization, most recently as vice president/assistant general manager of pro personnel. [140]

Carolina Panthers Marty Hurney none Scott Fitterer Hurney was fired on December 21, 2020, after 14+ seasons in two stints (2002–12, 2017–20). In his time with the Panthers he was responsible for drafting star players such as Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis. [141]

Fitterer, former Seattle Seahawks' vice president of football operations, was hired on January 14. He previously served with the Seahawks for 20 seasons in various executive roles. [142]

Denver Broncos John Elway George Paton ResignedElway announced on January 4 that he was stepping down from his role as general manager after 10 years, although he would remain as president of football operations. [143]

Paton was hired on January 13. He was previously a member of the Minnesota Vikings organization since 2007. This was his first GM position. [144] [145]

Detroit Lions Bob Quinn by committee Brad Holmes FiredQuinn was fired on November 28, 2020, after five seasons. [126] A combination of front office personnel would handle GM duties for the remainder of the season.

On January 14, Holmes was hired as new general manager and executive vice president. He spent last 18 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and named director of college scouting since 2013. [146]

Houston Texans Bill O'Brien Jack Easterby Nick Caserio O'Brien was named general manager of the team during the 2020 offseason, after splitting general manager duties with Easterby, the executive vice president of football operations, and other team executives in 2019. [128] Easterby took over GM duties for the rest of the season. [147]

Caserio was hired on January 7. He was a long-time member of the New England Patriots organization, as an offensive assistant, a scout, and their director of player personnel from 2008 to 2020. [148]

Jacksonville Jaguars David Caldwell Trent Baalke Caldwell was fired on November 29, 2020, after eight seasons. [149]

Baalke, the team's director of player personnel, would serve as interim GM through the end of the season. [149] Previously, he was the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016. On January 21, 2021, Baalke was named permanent GM. [150]

Washington Football Team Ron Rivera (de facto)none Martin Mayhew N/AAfter four seasons without an official general manager, the team hired Mayhew on January 22. He previously served as the GM for the Detroit Lions from 2008 to 2015, and had been working in the San Francisco 49ers' front office since 2017. [151]

Stadiums

Stadium changes

COVID-19 restrictions

Aided by the availability of vaccines, by June 29 all 32 NFL teams had received approval to play their games with no restrictions on attendance. This comes after all games in 2020 were played with either a greatly reduced audience or no fans at all due to local or state public health orders. [155] However, after a recent surge in cases due to the Delta variant, several teams implemented various fan restrictions, mainly due to local or state-level public health restrictions for events being re-enacted in response to the surge.

COVID-19 fan restrictions in place by team during season
TeamLimitationsSource
ChicagoAugust 19: Fans are required to wear masks in indoor areas, such as bathrooms, elevators, and shops. [156]
Las VegasAugust 17: All fans who attend games will be required to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination but will not be required to wear masks. Unvaccinated fans will have the opportunity to receive on-site COVID vaccinations prior to games and can then attend wearing a mask. [157]
Los AngelesAugust 17: All fans required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, unless eating or drinking. [158]
New OrleansAugust 12: Either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours prior to a game required for fan entry. Fans also required to wear a mask at all times unless eating or drinking. [159] [160]
PhiladelphiaAugust 12: Fans and staff required to wear masks when visiting indoor spaces, but not when sitting or standing in outdoor spaces. [161]
PittsburghAugust 21: Fans required to wear masks for preseason game. No determination made for regular season. [160]
SeattleSeptember 7: Proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 test taken with 72 hours prior to fan entry required. Fans also required to wear a face mask at all times unless eating or drinking, regardless of vaccination status. [162]

Uniforms

Uniform changes

Patches

Media

Broadcast rights

Television

This is the eighth year under the current nine-year broadcast contracts with CBS, Fox, and NBC; and the eighth and final year under the current contract with ESPN. This includes "cross-flexing" (switching) Sunday afternoon games between CBS and Fox before or during the season, regardless of the conference of the visiting team. NBC airs Sunday Night Football , the Kickoff Game, and the Thanksgiving games. ESPN's rights to Monday Night Football was modified this season, allowing ABC to simulcast a few select games (Weeks 1, 14, and 15), as well as a new Saturday doubleheader on the final weekend of the season. [174] [175] Thursday Night Football airs on NFL Network, with Fox, Twitch and Prime Video simulcasting 11 of 15 games (weeks 5-16, excluding Thanksgiving). [176] This is the final season of the Thursday Night Football contract with Fox and NFL Network. [177]

NBC will televise Super Bowl LVI. CBS was originally scheduled to broadcast the game under the current rotation. However, CBS traded the game to NBC in exchange for Super Bowl LV. Super Bowl LVI falls during the 2022 Winter Olympics, the first to be scheduled during an ongoing Olympic Games. NBC also holds the U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics. [178] Due to NBC's coverage of the 2020 Summer Olympics, the network sold its broadcast rights to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game to Fox. [179]

On March 18, the NFL announced its future television deals for 2023–2033, which will see CBS, Fox, and NBC maintain their existing Sunday packages with expanded digital rights for their streaming services, (Paramount+, Tubi, and Peacock, respectively), and Thursday Night Football move exclusively to Amazon and Twitch. ESPN also entered into a new agreement for Monday Night Football for 2022, adding the aforementioned Saturday doubleheader on the final week of the season beginning in 2021. [174] [175] It was later announced in May that Fox and NFL Network had opted out of its final season of Thursday Night Football, so this will be Fox and NFL Network's final season for the package. [177] NBC is maintaining Spanish-language rights to Sunday Night Football for Universo, while its Spanish broadcast network Telemundo will air selected games, including NBC's primetime Wild Card games and for the first time, Super Bowl LVI. [180]

On July 19, ESPN announced an agreement with Omaha Productions, the production company of Peyton Manning, to produce alternate telecasts of Monday Night Football with Manning, his brother Eli, and guest celebrities for ten games each season on ESPN2 and ESPN+, from 2021 through 2023. [181]

For the second consecutive season, Nickelodeon will simulcast a wild-card playoff game with CBS, using the same youth-friendly broadcast modifications that were used the previous season. [182] Nickelodeon will also air a weekly NFL magazine program, NFL Slimetime, throughout the season. [183]

Most watched regular season games

RankDateMatchupNetworkViewers (millions) [184] TV ratingWindowSignificance
1September 9, 8:20 ET Dallas Cowboys 29–31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers NBC 24.8 [185] 13.4 SNF Kickoff Game
2September 12, 4:25 ET Cleveland Browns 29–33 Kansas City Chiefs CBS 19.510.0Late DH [a]
3September 12, 8:20 ET Chicago Bears 14–34 Los Angeles Rams NBC 17.69.6 SNF

*Note — Late DH matchups listed in table are the matchups that were shown to the largest percentage of the market.

  1. ^ CLE/KC was shown in 85% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of CBS coverage.

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The 2021 season will be the Jacksonville Jaguars' upcoming 27th season in the National Football League and their first under head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke. They also had the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which they used to select Trevor Lawrence.

2021 Kansas City Chiefs season 62nd season in franchise history

The 2021 season is the Kansas City Chiefs' 52nd season in the National Football League, their 62nd overall and their ninth under head coach Andy Reid. The Chiefs will attempt to become the fourth team in NFL history to play in three straight Super Bowls. They will attempt to win their second Super Bowl title in three years, following their 9–31 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV.

2021 New Orleans Saints season 55th season in franchise history

The 2021 season is the ongoing New Orleans Saints' 55th season in the National Football League, the 46th playing home games at Caesars Superdome and the 15th under head coach Sean Payton. They attempt to win their division for the 5th consecutive year, their first division title without Drew Brees since 2000, as well as improve on their 12–4 record from last year.

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