2021 NFL season

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2021 NFL season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 9, 2021 (2021-09-09) – January 9, 2022 (2022-01-09)
Playoffs
Start dateJanuary 15, 2022
AFC Champions Cincinnati Bengals
NFC Champions Los Angeles Rams
Super Bowl LVI
DateFebruary 13, 2022
Site SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California
Champions Los Angeles Rams
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 6, 2022
Site Allegiant Stadium, Paradise, Nevada
Usa edcp relief location map.png
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Patriots
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Bills
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Dolphins
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Jets
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Bengals
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Ravens
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Steelers
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Browns
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Colts
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Titans
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Jaguars
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Texans
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Broncos
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Chiefs
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Raiders
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Chargers
AFC teams: Yellow ffff00 pog.svg West, Blue pog.svg North, Red pog.svg South, White pog.svg East
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Cowboys
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Giants
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Eagles
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Washington
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Bears
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Lions
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Packers
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Vikings
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Falcons
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Panthers
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Saints
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Buccaneers
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Cardinals
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Rams
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Seahawks
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49ers
NFC teams: Yellow ffff00 pog.svg West, Blue pog.svg North, Red pog.svg South, White pog.svg East

The 2021 NFL season was the 102nd season of the National Football League (NFL). The season was the first to feature a 17-game regular season schedule as the league expanded the 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 ended on January 9, 2022. The playoffs started on January 15 and concluded with Super Bowl LVI, the league's championship game, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on February 13, with the Los Angeles Rams defeating Cincinnati.

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 [lower-alpha 1] K Kicker [lower-alpha 2] KR Kickoff returner LB Linebacker
LS Long snapper MLB Middle linebacker [lower-alpha 3] OT Offensive tackle OL Offensive lineman
OLB Outside linebacker NT Nose tackle P Punter PR Punt returner
QB Quarterback RS Return specialist RB Running back S Safety
SS Strong safety TE Tight end WR Wide receiver
  1. Also known as Offensive guard (OG)
  2. Also known as placekicker (PK)
  3. Also known as Inside linebacker (ILB)

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. [99] Jacksonville, by virtue of having the worst record in 2020, held the first overall selection and selected QB Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson. [100]

Officiating changes

The NFL hired Maia Chaka as its second female official (joining Sarah Thomas) and first African-American female official. [101]

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. [102] [103] Without Riveron, multiple people in the officiating department will be making the final decisions over replay reviews instead of a single person. [104]

Replay official Carl Madsen died on October 24. He was in his 12th season as a replay official, after an extended career as an on-field official. [105]

The following officials were hired:

Rule changes

The following rule changes were approved at the NFL Owner's Meeting on April 21: [106]

COVID-19 protocols

The league introduced COVID-19 protocols intended to encourage vaccination among players, coaches, and staff. On July 22, the NFL sent a memo warning teams that if a game that had been postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players could not be rescheduled within the 18-week season schedule, the team responsible for the outbreak would be charged with a loss by forfeit, and be responsible for financial compensation to the other team, since teams typically do not get paid for cancelled games. [112] 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. [113]

On July 23, the league announced the following temporary rules for 2020 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. Fully vaccinated players were tested at least once per week and could opt for additional testing. Like in 2020, unvaccinated players were tested every day during the regular season and postseason except game days. [115]

2021 deaths

Pro Football Hall of Fame members

Curley Culp
Culp played 14 NFL seasons at defensive tackle for Kansas City, the Houston Oilers, and Detroit, winning Super Bowl IV with Kansas City. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. He died on November 27, age 75. [116]
Sam Huff
Huff played 13 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker with the New York Giants and Washington, and was inducted into the Hall in 1982. He died November 13, age 87. [117]
Claude Humphrey
Humphrey played 14 seasons in the NFL as a defensive end with Atlanta and Philadelphia, and was inducted into the Hall in 2014. He died on December 3, age 77. [118]
Floyd Little
Little spent all nine seasons in the NFL as a running back with Denver and was inducted into the Hall in 2010. He died January 1, age 78. [119]
John Madden
Madden coached Oakland for 10 seasons, winning Super Bowl XI. He was inducted into the Hall in 2006. He died December 28, age 85. [120]
Mick Tingelhoff
Tingelhoff spent all 17 seasons in the NFL as a center with Minnesota and was inducted into the Hall in 2015. He died September 11, age 81. [121]

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. [122]

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. [123] 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. [124] This was only the second time severe weather canceled a preseason game (a 2017 DallasHouston game was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey). [125]

Regular season

The NFL released its regular season schedule on May 12. [126] The season was played over an 18-week schedule beginning on September 9. Each of the league's 32 teams plays 17 games, with one bye week for each team. The regular season concluded on January 9, 2022; all games during the final weekend were intra-division games, as it has been since 2010.

The 2020 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed by team 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 existing scheduling formula. Each team continues 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 plays a club that finished fourth in a division of the other conference). AFC teams host the extra game in odd-numbered years, including 2021, with NFC teams getting the extra home game in even-numbered years. [127] [128]

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 include:

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, including games that were moved to Saturday. 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.

  • The New Orleans–New York Jets game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was cross-flexed to CBS, remaining at 1:00. [133]
  • The San Francisco–Cincinnati game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was flexed to 4:25 p.m ET, still on CBS. [133]
  • On November 23, the NFL announced that two games would be moved to Saturday, December 18: Las VegasCleveland at 4:30 p.m. ET and New EnglandIndianapolis at 8:15 p.m. ET, both exclusively on the NFL Network (though the Las Vegas-Cleveland game was later moved to Monday, December 20 due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Cleveland players [134] ). The three other games that the league had the option of scheduling on Saturday (CarolinaBuffalo, New York JetsMiami, and WashingtonPhiladelphia), remained on Sunday, December 19 (though the Washington-Philadelphia game was delayed to Tuesday, December 21 due to a COVID-19 outbreak by Washington). [135]
  • The Green Bay–Baltimore game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was flexed to 4:25 p.m ET, still on Fox. [133]
  • The Las VegasCleveland game, originally scheduled for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, was moved to Monday at 5:00 PM ET, remaining on the NFL Network, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among Cleveland. [136]
  • The PhiladelphiaWashington game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was moved to Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. ET, remaining on Fox, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among Washington. [136]
  • The Los Angeles Rams–Seattle game, originally scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox, was moved to Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. ET, remaining on Fox, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among Los Angeles. [136]
  • The Los Angeles Rams–Baltimore game, originally scheduled at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox, was flexed to 1:00 p.m. ET, still on Fox. [137]
  • The Carolina–New Orleans game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was flexed to 4:25 p.m ET, still on Fox. [137]
  • The Arizona–Dallas game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET, still on Fox. [138]
  • The Las Vegas–Indianapolis game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was cross-flexed to Fox, remaining at 1:00. [138]
  • For the first time in league history, two games with playoff implications were moved to the last Saturday of the regular season. This move was announced at the same time as the final Sunday Night Football game on January 2, 2022. [139] [140] [141] The Kansas CityDenver game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS, was moved to Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN, and the Dallas–Philadelphia game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was moved to Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET, on ABC/ESPN. [142]
  • The Los Angeles Chargers–Las Vegas game, originally scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS, was flexed into NBC Sunday Night Football at 8:20 p.m. ET. [142]
  • The Cincinnati–Cleveland game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was cross-flexed to Fox, remaining at 1:00. [142]
  • The New EnglandMiami game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET, still on CBS. [142]
  • The New York Jets–Buffalo game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET, still on CBS. [142]
  • The New Orleans–Atlanta game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET, still on Fox. [142]
  • The Carolina–Tampa Bay game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was cross-flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS. [142]

Regular season standings

Division

Conference

Postseason

The 2021 playoffs began with the wild-card round, with three Wild Card games played in each conference. Wild card weekend took place from January 15–17, 2022. This marks the first time that the wild card games were played over three consecutive days. Two games were played on Saturday, three on Sunday, and one on Monday night, [143] marking the first Monday playoff game since 1988.

In the divisional round, which was played on the weekend of January 22–23, the top seed in the conference played the lowest remaining seed and the other two remaining teams will play each other. The winners of those games advanced to the Conference Championships, which were played on January 30. [144]

Super Bowl LVI was held on February 13 at 6:30 p.m. EST on NBC at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. [144]

Bracket

Jan 16 – AT&T Stadium Jan 22 – Lambeau Field
6 San Francisco 23
3 Dallas 17
6San Francisco13
Jan 30 – SoFi Stadium
Jan 17 – SoFi Stadium 1 Green Bay 10
NFC
5 Arizona 116San Francisco17
Jan 23 – Raymond James Stadium
4 LA Rams 344LA Rams20
NFC Championship
Jan 16 – Raymond James Stadium 4LA Rams30
2Tampa Bay27
7 Philadelphia 15
Divisional playoffsFeb 13 – SoFi Stadium
2 Tampa Bay 31
Wild Card playoffs
N4LA Rams23
Jan 15 – Paul Brown Stadium Jan 22 – Nissan Stadium A4Cincinnati20
Super Bowl LVI
5 Las Vegas 19
4 Cincinnati 26
4Cincinnati19
Jan 30 – Arrowhead Stadium
Jan 15 – Highmark Stadium 1 Tennessee 16
AFC
6 New England 174Cincinnati27*
Jan 23 – Arrowhead Stadium
3 Buffalo 472Kansas City24
AFC Championship
Jan 16 – Arrowhead Stadium 3Buffalo36
2Kansas City42*
7 Pittsburgh 21
2 Kansas City 42

* Indicates overtime victory

Records, milestones, and notable statistics

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 10

Week 11

Week 12

Week 13

Week 14

Week 15

Week 16

Week 17

Week 18

Wild Card Round

Divisional Round

Conference Championships:

Super Bowl LVI

Regular-season statistical leaders

Individual [213]
Scoring leader Nick Folk New England 150
Daniel Carlson Las Vegas
Most field goals madeDaniel CarlsonLas Vegas40
Touchdowns Austin Ekeler Los Angeles Chargers 20
Jonathan Taylor Indianapolis
Rushing yardsJonathan TaylorIndianapolis1,811
Passing yards Tom Brady Tampa Bay 5,316
Passing touchdowns43
Interceptions thrown Matthew Stafford Los Angeles Rams 17
Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville
Passer rating Aaron Rodgers Green Bay 111.9
Pass receptions Cooper Kupp Los Angeles Rams 145
Pass receiving yards1,947
Combined tackles Foye Oluokun Atlanta 192
Interceptions Trevon Diggs Dallas 11
Punting Cameron Johnston Houston 4,108; avg 47.2
Sacks T. J. Watt Pittsburgh 22.5

Awards

Individual season awards

The 11th Annual NFL Honors, saluting the best players and plays from 2021 season, was held on February 10, 2022, at the YouTube Theater in Inglewood, California.

AwardWinnerPositionTeam
AP Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers QB Green Bay
AP Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp WR Los Angeles Rams
AP Defensive Player of the Year T. J. Watt LB Pittsburgh
AP Coach of the Year Mike Vrabel HC Tennessee
AP Assistant Coach of the Year Dan Quinn DC Dallas
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase WR Cincinnati
AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons LB Dallas
AP Comeback Player of the Year Joe Burrow QB Cincinnati
Pepsi Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase WR Cincinnati
Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Andrew Whitworth OT Los Angeles Rams
PFWA NFL Executive of the Year Bill Belichick HC/GM New England
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Cooper Kupp WR Los Angeles Rams

All-Pro team

The following players were named First Team All-Pro by the Associated Press:

Offense
QB Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)
RB Jonathan Taylor (Indianapolis)
WR Davante Adams (Green Bay)
Cooper Kupp (Los Angeles Rams)
Deebo Samuel (San Francisco)
TE Mark Andrews (Baltimore)
LT Trent Williams (San Francisco)
LG Joel Bitonio (Cleveland)
C Jason Kelce (Philadelphia)
RG Zack Martin (Dallas)
RT Tristan Wirfs (Tampa Bay)
Defense
DE T. J. Watt (Pittsburgh)
Myles Garrett (Cleveland)
DT Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams)
Cameron Heyward (Pittsburgh)
LB Micah Parsons (Dallas)
Shaquille Leonard (Indianapolis)
De'Vondre Campbell (Green Bay)
CB Trevon Diggs (Dallas)
Jalen Ramsey (Los Angeles Rams)
S Kevin Byard (Tennessee)
Jordan Poyer (Buffalo)
Special teams
K Justin Tucker (Baltimore)
P A. J. Cole (Las Vegas)
KR Braxton Berrios (New York Jets)
PR Devin Duvernay (Baltimore)
ST J. T. Gray (New Orleans)
LS Luke Rhodes (Indianapolis)

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 [214] 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 [215] Derrick Henry RB
(Tennessee)
Kyler Murray QB
(Arizona)
Odafe Oweh LB
(Baltimore)
Mike Edwards S
(Tampa Bay)
Daniel Carlson K
(Las Vegas)
Mitch Wishnowsky P
(San Francisco)
3 [216] Josh Allen QB
(Buffalo)
Matthew Stafford QB
(Los Angeles Rams)
Myles Garrett DE
(Cleveland)
Byron Murphy CB
(Arizona)
Justin Tucker K
(Baltimore)
Mason Crosby K
(Green Bay)
Sept. [217] Derek Carr QB
(Las Vegas)
Cooper Kupp WR
(Los Angeles Rams)
Von Miller LB
(Denver)
Trevon Diggs CB
(Dallas)
Jamal Agnew WR/KR
(Jacksonville)
Mitch Wishnowsky P
(San Francisco)
4 [218] Joe Burrow QB
(Cincinnati)
Daniel Jones QB
(New York Giants)
Tremaine Edmunds LB
(Buffalo)
Trevon Diggs CB
(Dallas)
Rigoberto Sanchez P
(Indianapolis)
DeAndre Carter WR/KR
(Washington)
5 [219] Lamar Jackson QB
(Baltimore)
Tom Brady QB
(Tampa Bay)
Gregory Rousseau DE
(Buffalo)
Marshon Lattimore CB
(New Orleans)
Nick Folk K
(New England)
T. J. Edwards LB
(Philadelphia)
6 [220] Derrick Henry RB
(Tennessee)
Dak Prescott QB
(Dallas)
T. J. Watt LB
(Pittsburgh)
Taylor Rapp S
(Los Angeles Rams)
Matthew Wright K
(Jacksonville)
Matt Prater K
(Arizona)
7 [221] Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
Alvin Kamara RB
(New Orleans)
Yannick Ngakoue DE
(Las Vegas)
Deion Jones LB
(Atlanta)
Rigoberto Sanchez P
(Indianapolis)
Graham Gano K
(New York Giants)
8 [222] Mike White QB
(New York Jets)
Deebo Samuel WR
(San Francisco)
Adrian Phillips S
(New England)
Micah Parsons LB
(Dallas)
Randy Bullock K
(Tennessee)
Zane Gonzalez K
(Carolina)
Oct. [223] Jonathan Taylor RB
(Indianapolis)
Cooper Kupp WR
(Los Angeles Rams)
Kevin Byard S
(Tennessee)
De'Vondre Campbell LB
(Green Bay)
Tyler Bass K
(Buffalo)
Blake Gillikin P
(New Orleans)
9 [224] Justin Herbert QB
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Matt Ryan QB
(Atlanta)
Josh Allen DE
(Jacksonville)
Xavier McKinney S
(New York Giants)
Tommy Townsend P
(Kansas City)
Kene Nwangwu RB/KR
(Minnesota)
10 [225] Patrick Mahomes QB
(Kansas City)
Deebo Samuel WR
(San Francisco)
Xavien Howard CB
(Miami)
Darius Slay CB
(Philadelphia)
E. J. Speed LB
(Indianapolis)
Zane Gonzalez K
(Carolina)
11 [226] Jonathan Taylor RB
(Indianapolis)
Justin Jefferson WR
(Minnesota)
Chris Jones DT
(Kansas City)
Chandler Jones LB
(Arizona)
Evan McPherson K
(Cincinnati)
Jake Elliott K
(Philadelphia)
12 [227] Joe Mixon RB
(Cincinnati)
Leonard Fournette RB
(Tampa Bay)
Patrick Surtain II CB
(Denver)
Rasul Douglas CB
(Green Bay)
Daniel Carlson K
(Las Vegas)
Thomas Morstead P
(Atlanta)
Nov. [228] Jonathan Taylor RB
(Indianapolis)
Justin Jefferson WR
(Minnesota)
J. C. Jackson CB
(New England)
Robert Quinn LB
(Chicago)
Tommy Townsend P
(Kansas City)
Jake Elliott K
(Philadelphia)
13 [229] Justin Herbert QB
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Jared Goff QB
(Detroit)
T. J. Watt LB
(Pittsburgh)
Jordan Hicks LB
(Arizona)
Michael Palardy P
(Miami)
Travis Homer RB/KR
(Seattle)
14 [230] Justin Herbert QB
(Los Angeles Chargers)
George Kittle TE
(San Francisco)
Mike Hughes CB
(Kansas City)
Aaron Donald DT
(Los Angeles Rams)
Brandon McManus K
(Denver)
Jakeem Grant WR/KR
(Chicago)
15 [231] Travis Kelce TE
(Kansas City)
Aaron Rodgers QB
(Green Bay)
Shaquille Leonard LB
(Indianapolis)
Cameron Jordan DE
(New Orleans)
Tremon Smith CB/KR
(Houston)
Riley Patterson K
(Detroit)
16 [232] Joe Burrow QB
(Cincinnati)
Dak Prescott QB
(Dallas)
Tavierre Thomas CB
(Houston)
Foyesade Oluokun LB
(Atlanta)
Braxton Berrios WR/KR
(New York Jets)
Brandon Powell WR/KR
(Los Angeles Rams)
Dec. [233] Patrick Mahomes QB
(Kansas City)
Aaron Rodgers QB
(Green Bay)
Jerome Baker LB
(Miami)
Aaron Donald DT
(Los Angeles Rams)
Evan McPherson K
(Cincinnati)
Thomas Morstead P
(Atlanta)
17 [234] Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
Rashaad Penny RB
(Seattle)
T. J. Watt LB
(Pittsburgh)
Cameron Jordan DE
(New Orleans)
Daniel Carlson K
(Las Vegas)
Matt Prater K
(Arizona)
18 [235] Ryan Tannehill QB
(Tennessee)
Dak Prescott QB
(Dallas)
Maxx Crosby DE
(Las Vegas)
Tracy Walker S
(Detroit)
Daniel Carlson K
(Las Vegas)
Robbie Gould K
(San Francisco)
WeekFedEx Air
Player of the Week [236]
FedEx Ground
Player of the Week [236]
Pepsi Zero Sugar
Rookie of the Week [237]
1 Tom Brady
(Tampa Bay)
Joe Mixon
(Cincinnati)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
2Tom Brady
(Tampa Bay)
Derrick Henry
(Tennessee)
Asante Samuel Jr. CB
(Los Angeles Chargers)
3 Justin Herbert
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Derrick Henry
(Tennessee)
Asante Samuel Jr. CB
(Los Angeles Chargers)
4 Joe Burrow
(Cincinnati)
Ezekiel Elliott
(Dallas)
Zach Wilson QB
(New York Jets)
5Justin Herbert
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Derrick Henry
(Tennessee)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
6 Dak Prescott
(Dallas)
Jonathan Taylor
(Indianapolis)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
7Joe Burrow
(Cincinnati)
D'Ernest Johnson
(Cleveland)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
8 Mike White
(New York Jets)
Elijah Mitchell
(San Francisco)
Micah Parsons LB
(Dallas)
9Justin Herbert
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Nick Chubb
(Cleveland)
Javonte Williams RB
(Denver)
10Dak Prescott
(Dallas)
Jonathan Taylor
(Indianapolis)
Micah Parsons LB
(Dallas)
11Justin Herbert
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Joe Mixon
(Cincinnati)
Elijah Moore WR
(New York Jets)
12Dak Prescott
(Dallas)
Joe Mixon
(Cincinnati)
Patrick Surtain II CB
(Denver)
13Justin Herbert
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Jonathan Taylor
(Indianapolis)
Zach Wilson QB
(New York Jets)
14Justin Herbert
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Dalvin Cook
(Minnesota)
Micah Parsons LB
(Dallas)
15 Jared Goff
(Detroit)
Jonathan Taylor
(Indianapolis)
Brandin Echols CB
(New York Jets)
16Joe Burrow
(Cincinnati)
Rex Burkhead
(Houston)
Zach Wilson QB
(New York Jets)
17Joe Burrow
(Cincinnati)
Rashaad Penny
(Seattle)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
18Tom Brady
(Tampa Bay)
Rashaad Penny
(Seattle)
Amon-Ra St. Brown WR
(Detroit)
MonthRookie of the Month
OffensiveDefensive
Sept. [217] Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
Asante Samuel Jr. CB
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Oct. [223] Najee Harris RB
(Pittsburgh)
Nick Bolton LB
(Kansas City)
Nov. [228] Mac Jones QB
(New England)
Micah Parsons LB
(Dallas)
Dec. [233] Amon-Ra St. Brown WR
(Detroit)
Micah Parsons LB
(Dallas)

Head coaching and front office changes

Head coaches

Offseason

TeamDeparting coachInterim coachIncoming coachReason for leavingNotes
Atlanta Falcons Dan Quinn Raheem Morris Arthur Smith FiredAfter a 0–5 start, Quinn was fired on October 11, 2020. He had a 43–42 (.506) record during his 5-plus-season tenure with the Falcons, with two playoff appearances including one Super Bowl appearance. [238]

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. [239]

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. [240]

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-plus-season tenure with the Lions, with no playoff appearances and finishing both complete seasons in last place in the NFC North. [241]

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. [241]

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. [242]

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-plus-season tenure with the Texans, with four AFC South titles. [243]

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. [244]

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 from 2019 to 2020. From 1999 to 2016, Culley served as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, both coached by Andy Reid. This is his first head coaching job. Culley became the oldest first-time head coach in NFL history at age 65. [245]

Jacksonville Jaguars Doug Marrone Urban Meyer After 4-plus 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. [246]

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. [247]

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. [248]

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. [249]

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. [250]

Saleh, who was a long-time 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. [251]

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. [252] [253]

Former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was hired as Eagles' head coach on January 24. This marked Sirianni's first head coaching job. [254]

In-season

TeamDeparting coachReason for leavingInterim replacementNotes
Jacksonville Jaguars Urban Meyer Fired Darrell Bevell Meyer was fired on December 15 due to a season full of on- and off-the-field issues. During Meyer's single partial season in Jacksonville, the Jaguars were 2–11 (.154). [255] [256] Meyer became the first coach to not finish their first season as head coach since Bobby Petrino resigned in 2007 with the Atlanta Falcons (the last coach to be fired before completing their first season was Pete McCulley in 1978 with the San Francisco 49ers). [257]

Bevell, the team's offensive coordinator since 2021, was promoted to interim head coach. This is his second head coaching position, after serving as interim head coach for the Detroit Lions in 2020, with a record of 1–4 (.200) and no playoff appearances. [255]

Las Vegas Raiders Jon Gruden Resigned Rich Bisaccia Gruden resigned due to the publication of controversial emails sent prior to becoming the Raiders head coach. In Gruden's 3-plus seasons during his second stint with Oakland/Las Vegas, the Raiders were 22–31 (.415) with no playoff appearances. [258] [259]

Bisaccia, the team's special teams coordinator and assistant head coach since 2018, was promoted to interim head coach. This is his first head coaching position after 20 years as an assistant coach in the NFL. [260]

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. [238]

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. [261]

Carolina Panthers Marty Hurney none Scott Fitterer Hurney was fired on December 21, 2020, after 14-plus 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. [262]

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. [263]

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. [264]

Paton was hired on January 13. He was previously a member of the Minnesota Vikings organization since 2007. This was his first GM position. [265] [266]

Detroit Lions Bob Quinn by committee Brad Holmes FiredQuinn was fired on November 28, 2020, after five seasons. [241] 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. [267]

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. [243] Easterby took over GM duties for the rest of the season. [268]

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. [269]

Jacksonville Jaguars David Caldwell Trent Baalke Caldwell was fired on November 29, 2020, after eight seasons. [270]

Baalke, the team's director of player personnel, would serve as interim GM through the end of the season. [270] Previously, he was the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016. On January 21, 2021, Baalke was named permanent GM. [271]

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. [272]

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 or by team's ownership discretion. [277] However, after a recent increase in cases due to the Delta variant, several teams implemented fan restrictions, mainly due to local or state-level public health restrictions for events being re-enacted in response to the increase. However, this purely involves requirements for masking, testing, vaccination or any combination thereof and not on attendance.

COVID-19 fan restrictions in place by team during season
TeamLimitationsSource
BuffaloSeptember 14: Beginning September 26, fans ages 12 and older must provide proof of receiving at least one COVID vaccination shot. Beginning October 31, all fans ages 12 and older must provide proof that they are fully vaccinated. Beginning December 22, all fans ages 5 and older must provide proof of receiving at least one COVID vaccination shot. [278]
ChicagoAugust 19: Fans are required to wear masks in indoor areas. [279]
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. [280]
Los AngelesAugust 17: All fans required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, unless eating or drinking. [281]
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. [282] [283]
PhiladelphiaAugust 12: Fans and staff required to wear masks when visiting indoor spaces, but not when sitting or standing in outdoor spaces. [284]
PittsburghAugust 21: Fans required to wear masks for preseason game. No determination made for regular season. [283]
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. [285]

In addition, mascots, cheerleaders, and sideline reporters that were not allowed to be on the field in 2020 were allowed to return to the field for 2021. [286]

Uniforms

Uniform changes

Patches

20th anniversary of September 11th attacks

Media

Broadcast rights

Television

This was 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/ABC. This included "cross-flexing" (switching) Sunday afternoon games between CBS and Fox before or during the season, regardless of the conference of the visiting team. NBC aired Sunday Night Football , the Kickoff Game, and one Thanksgiving game. ESPN's rights to Monday Night Football were modified this season, allowing ABC to simulcast select games (Weeks 1, 14, and 15), as well as a new Saturday doubleheader in Week 18. [301] [302] Thursday Night Football aired on NFL Network, with Fox and Amazon Prime Video simulcasting 11 games. [303]

This was the second year that CBS and NBC aired two Wild Card games.

NBC televised Super Bowl LVI along with Telemundo Deportes which aired its first super bowl in Spanish on Broadcast Television. 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 to avoid counterprogramming (as per an untold gentlemen's agreement between the networks) [304] by the 2022 Winter Olympics, as this was the first Super Bowl to be scheduled during an ongoing Olympic Games. NBC also holds the U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics. [305] Due to NBC's coverage of the 2020 Summer Olympics (held 2021), the network sold its broadcast rights to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game to Fox. [306]

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). Thursday Night Football will move exclusively to Amazon. ESPN also entered into a new agreement for Monday Night Football for 2022, adding the aforementioned Week 18 Saturday doubleheader beginning this season. [301] [302]

It was later announced in May that Fox and NFL Network had opted out of its final season of Thursday Night Football, so Amazon will take over TNF starting 2022. [307] NBC maintained Spanish-language rights to Sunday Night Football for Universo, while its Spanish broadcast network Telemundo would air selected games, including NBC's Wild Card games and Super Bowl LVI. [308]

On July 19, ESPN announced an agreement with Omaha Productions, the production company of Peyton Manning, to produce Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli , a supplemental telecast of Monday Night Football on ESPN2 and ESPN+ with Manning, his brother Eli, and guest celebrities for ten games each season from 2021 to 2023. [309]

For the second consecutive season, Nickelodeon simulcast a wild-card playoff game with CBS using the same youth-friendly broadcast modifications that were in place the previous season. [310] The CBS feed of the game was also streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

On October 13, the league announced that ESPN and ABC signed a five-year deal to simulcast the Monday Night wild-card playoff game, with ESPN2 and ESPN+ providing the "Peyton and Eli" broadcast. [311]

Most watched regular season games

RankDateMatchupNetworkViewers (millions) [312] TV ratingWindowSignificance
1November 25, 4:30 ET Las Vegas Raiders 36–33 Dallas Cowboys CBS 37.8 [313] 13.1 Thanksgiving
2December 25, 4:30 ET Cleveland Browns 22–24 Green Bay Packers Fox/NFLN/Amazon 28.610.8 Christmas
3November 21, 4:25 ET Dallas Cowboys 9–19 Kansas City Chiefs Fox 28.114.4Late DH [a]
4January 2, 4:25 ET Arizona Cardinals 25–22 Dallas Cowboys Fox 26.813.8Late DH [b]
5October 3, 8:20 ET Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19–17 New England Patriots NBC 26.814.6 SNF Tom Brady's return to New England
6November 25, 12:30 ET Chicago Bears 16–14 Detroit Lions Fox 26.810.6 Thanksgiving Bears–Lions rivalry
7September 9, 8:20 ET Dallas Cowboys 29–31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers NBC 24.8 [314] 13.4 Kickoff NFL Kickoff Game
8November 28, 4:25 ET Los Angeles Rams 28–36 Green Bay Packers Fox 24.713.0Late DH [c] 2020 NFC Divisional Round rematch
9November 7, 4:25 ET Green Bay Packers 7–13 Kansas City Chiefs Fox 24.412.6Late DH [d] Jordan Love's first start
10September 19, 4:25 ET Dallas Cowboys 20–17 Los Angeles Chargers CBS 24.312.6Late DH [e]

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

  1. ^ DAL/KC was shown in 93% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of Fox coverage.
  2. ^ ARZ/DAL was shown in 85% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of Fox coverage.
  3. ^ LAR/GB was shown in 91% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of Fox coverage.
  4. ^ GB/KC was shown in 93% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of Fox coverage.
  5. ^ DAL/LAC was shown in 91% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of CBS coverage.

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