2021 NFL season

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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
SiteSoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 6, 2022
SiteAllegiant 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 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.

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:

  • March 17: Detroit traded QB Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for QB Jared Goff, a 2021 third round selection (No. 101), a 2022 first round selection, and a 2023 first round selection.[2]
  • March 17: Philadelphia traded QB Carson Wentz to Indianapolis in exchange for a 2021 third round selection and a conditional 2022 second round selection.[3]
  • March 17: Las Vegas traded C Rodney Hudson and 2021 seventh round selection to Arizona in exchange for a 2021 third round selection.[4]
  • March 17: New England traded OT Marcus Cannon and 2021 fifth and sixth round selections to Houston in exchange for 2021 fourth and sixth round selections.[5]
  • March 17: Houston traded LB Benardrick McKinney and a 2021 seventh round selection to Miami in exchange for DE Shaq Lawson and a 2021 sixth round selection.[6]
  • March 17: Las Vegas traded OT Trent Brown and a 2021 fifth round selection to New England in exchange for a 2021 seventh round selection.[7]
  • April 5: The New York Jets traded QB Sam Darnold to Carolina in exchange for a 2021 sixth round selection and 2022 second and fourth round selections.[8]
  • April 23: Baltimore traded OT Orlando Brown Jr., a 2021 second round selection, and a 2022 sixth round selection to Kansas City for 2021 first, third, and fourth round selections and a 2022 fifth round selection.[9]
  • April 28: Carolina traded QB Teddy Bridgewater to Denver in exchange for a 2021 sixth round selection.[10]
  • May 18: Philadelphia traded CB Jameson Houston and a 2023 sixth round selection to Jacksonville in exchange for CB Josiah Scott.[11]
  • June 6: Atlanta traded WR Julio Jones and a 2023 sixth round selection to Tennessee in exchange for a 2022 second round selection and a 2023 fourth round selection.[12]
  • July 28: Houston traded WR Randall Cobb to Green Bay in exchange for a 2022 sixth round selection.[13]
  • August 12: Jacksonville traded LB Joe Schobert to Pittsburgh in exchange for a 2022 sixth round selection.[14]
  • August 17: Green Bay traded CB Josh Jackson to the New York Giants in exchange for CB Isaac Yiadom.[15]
  • August 30: Cincinnati traded C Billy Price to the New York Giants in exchange for DT B. J. Hill.[16]
  • August 31: Baltimore traded G Ben Bredeson and a 2022 fifth round selection to the New York Giants in exchange for a 2022 fourth round selection and a 2023 seventh round selection.[17]
  • August 31: The New York Jets traded TE Chris Herndon and a 2022 sixth round selection to Minnesota in exchange for a 2022 fourth round selection.[18]
  • September 8: Houston traded CB Bradley Roby to New Orleans in exchange for a 2022 third round selection and a conditional 2023 sixth round selection.[19]
  • September 27: Jacksonville traded CB C. J. Henderson and a 2022 fifth round selection to Carolina in exchange for TE Dan Arnold and a 2022 third selection.[20]
  • October 6: New England traded CB Stephon Gilmore to Carolina in exchange for a 2023 sixth round selection.[21]
  • October 15: Philadelphia traded TE Zach Ertz to Arizona in exchange for CB Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth round selection.[22]

Retirements

Notable retirements

Other retirements

Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft was held in Cleveland from April 29 to May 1.[93] Jacksonville, by virtue of having the worst record in 2020, held the first overall selection and selected QB Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson.[94]

Officiating changes

The NFL hired Maia Chaka as its second female official (joining Sarah Thomas) and first African-American female official.[95]

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.[96][97] Without Riveron, multiple people in the officiating department will be making the final decisions over replay reviews instead of a single person.[98]

Replay official Carl Madsen died on October 24 while returning home from his week 7 assignment in Tennessee. He was in his 12th season as a replay official, after an extended career as an on-field official.[99]

Rule changes

The following rule changes were approved at the NFL Owner's Meeting on April 21:[100]

  • The jersey numbering system was modified as follows:[101]
    • Running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers can wear 1-49 and 80-89
    • Defensive backs can wear 1-49
    • Linebackers can wear 1-59 and 90-99
    • The following remain unchanged: offensive linemen (50-79); defensive linemen (50-79, 90–99); and quarterbacks, punters, and kickers (1–19).
    • Per the league's existing rules, any player who changes his number this season must buy out the inventory of his existing jersey before the change can be made. A player who intends to change his number for the 2022 season can do so without cost.
  • Overtime in preseason games has been eliminated. This is the first season since 1973 in which overtime is not used in the preseason.[102]
  • All accepted penalties by either team during consecutive extra point or two-point conversion attempts are to be enforced.[103]
  • The penalty for a second forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage and for a pass thrown after the ball returns behind the line will now include a loss of down.[104]
  • During kickoffs, the receiving team may have no more than nine players in the "set-up zone" (the area between 10 and 25 yards from the kickoff spot).[105]
  • An expansion of the booth-to-official communication on replays, allowing replay officials to advise on "specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present and/or to address game administration issues."[100]

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.[106] 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.[107]

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.

  • A player on injured reserve can return after missing three games, instead of the normal eight.
  • Teams can return an unlimited number of players from injured reserve throughout the year, instead of the normal limit of three.
  • Practice squads can include up to 16 players for each team, up from 12.
  • After 4:00 p.m. ET on the Tuesday of a game week, a team can designate up to four practice squad players as "protected," meaning they are not allowed to sign with another team until after their current team plays its next game.
  • Up to two practice squad players can be elevated to the active roster each game week without removing any current players, 4:00 p.m. ET the day before a game.[108]

On August 30, the league and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) agreed to COVID testing protocols for the season. Fully vaccinated players are tested at least once per week and can opt for additional testing. As was the case in 2020, unvaccinated players are tested every day during the regular season and postseason except game days.[109]

2021 deaths

Pro Football Hall of Fame members

Floyd Little
Little spent all nine seasons of his professional career as a running back with Denver and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. He died January 1, age 78.[110]
Mick Tingelhoff
Tingelhoff spent all 17 seasons of his professional career as a center with Minnesota and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015. He died September 11, age 81.[111]

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.[112]

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.[113] 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.[114] This was only the second time severe weather canceled a preseason game (a 2017 DallasHouston game was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey).[115]

Regular season

The NFL released its regular season schedule on May 12.[116] The season is being 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 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 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.[117][118]

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:[122]

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 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. 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.[123][124]

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

# Team Division W L T PCT DIV CONF SOS SOV STK
Division leaders
1[a][b] Cincinnati Bengals North 5 2 0 .714 2–0 3–0 .457 .375 W2
2[a][c] Las Vegas Raiders West 5 2 0 .714 1–1 4–1 .447 .412 W2
3[a][c] Tennessee Titans South 5 2 0 .714 2–0 4–1 .457 .394 W3
4 Buffalo Bills East 4 2 0 .667 1–0 3–2 .366 .250 L1
Wild cards
5[b] Baltimore Ravens North 5 2 0 .714 0–1 4–2 .479 .382 W5
6 Los Angeles Chargers West 4 2 0 .667 2–0 3–1 .585 .500 L1
7 Cleveland Browns North 4 3 0 .571 0–0 2–2 .511 .370 W1
In the hunt
8 Pittsburgh Steelers North 3 3 0 .500 0–1 2–2 .610 .450 W2
9[d] New England Patriots East 3 4 0 .429 2–1 3–1 .422 .158 W1
10[d] Indianapolis Colts South 3 4 0 .429 1–1 2–2 .458 .200 W2
11[d][e] Kansas City Chiefs West 3 4 0 .429 0–1 1–4 .553 .381 L1
12[e] Denver Broncos West 3 4 0 .429 0–1 2–4 .457 .211 L4
13[f] New York Jets East 1 5 0 .167 0–2 1–3 .488 .714 L2
14[f] Jacksonville Jaguars South 1 5 0 .167 0–2 1–4 .524 .143 W1
15[g] Miami Dolphins East 1 6 0 .143 1–1 1–4 .543 .429 L6
16[g] Houston Texans South 1 6 0 .143 1–1 1–4 .532 .167 L6
Tiebreakers[h]
  1. ^ a b c Cincinnati wins tiebreaker over Las Vegas and Tennessee based on conference record.
  2. ^ a b Cincinnati wins tiebreaker over Baltimore based on head to head victory.
  3. ^ a b Las Vegas wins tiebreaker over Tennessee based on strength of victory.
  4. ^ a b c New England, Indianapolis and Kansas City are rank based on conference games. Division tie break was initially used to eliminate Denver (see below).
  5. ^ a b Kansas City wins tiebreaker over Denver based on common games.
  6. ^ a b NY Jets wins tiebreaker over Jacksonville based on conference games.
  7. ^ a b Miami wins tiebreaker over Houston based on strength of victory.
  8. ^ 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.
# Team Division W L T PCT DIV CONF SOS SOV STK
Division leaders
1 Arizona Cardinals West 7 0 0 1.000 2–0 3–0 .478 .478 W7
2[a] Tampa Bay Buccaneers South 6 1 0 .857 1–0 4–1 .489 .425 W4
3[a] Green Bay Packers North 6 1 0 .857 2–0 4–1 .413 .375 W6
4 Dallas Cowboys East 5 1 0 .833 2–0 3–1 .488 .412 W5
Wild cards
5 Los Angeles Rams West 6 1 0 .857 1–1 5–1 .469 .381 W3
6 New Orleans Saints South 4 2 0 .667 0–1 3–2 .429 .464 W2
7[b] Minnesota Vikings North 3 3 0 .500 1–0 3–1 .500 .238 W2
In the hunt
8[b] Atlanta Falcons South 3 3 0 .500 0–1 1–3 .341 .200 W2
9[c] Chicago Bears North 3 4 0 .429 1–1 1–3 .653 .476 L2
10[c] Carolina Panthers South 3 4 0 .429 1–0 1–4 .400 .316 L4
11 San Francisco 49ers West 2 4 0 .333 0–2 2–3 .476 .143 L4
12[d][e] Washington Football Team East 2 5 0 .286 1–0 2–2 .578 .385 L3
13[d][f][e] Philadelphia Eagles East 2 5 0 .286 0–1 2–3 .587 .462 L2
14[d][f][e] New York Giants East 2 5 0 .286 0–2 2–4 .565 .538 W1
15[e] Seattle Seahawks West 2 5 0 .286 1–1 1–3 .578 .385 L3
16 Detroit Lions North 0 7 0 .000 0–3 0–5 .638 .000 L7
Tiebreakers[g]
  1. ^ a b Tampa Bay wins tiebreaker over Green Bay based on strength of victory.
  2. ^ a b Minnesota wins tiebreaker over Atlanta based on conference games.
  3. ^ a b Chicago wins tiebreaker over Carolina based on conference games.
  4. ^ a b c Washington wins tiebreaker over NY Giants and Philadelphia based on head-to-head victory.
  5. ^ a b c d Washington, Philadelphia and NY Giants win tiebreaker over Seattle based on conference games.
  6. ^ a b Philadelphia wins tiebreaker over NY Giants based on common games.
  7. ^ 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 with the Wild Card Round, with three Wild Card games played in each conference. Wild Card Weekend will be from January 15–17, 2022, marking the first time it spans three days. Two games will be played on Saturday, three on Sunday, and one on Monday night,[126] marking the first Monday playoff game since 1988.

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.[127] Super Bowl LVI is scheduled for February 13 at 6:30 p.m. EST on NBC at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.[127]

Records, milestones, and notable statistics

Week 1

  • Tom Brady became the first player to start 300 career games at any position.[128]
  • Jameis Winston passed for 145 yards and five touchdowns, setting the record for fewest passing yards in a game with at least five passing touchdowns. The previous record of 158 yards was held by Eddie LeBaron.[129]

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

  • Lamar Jackson set the record for most wins by a starting quarterback before his 25th birthday with his 35th win. The previous record of 34 wins was held by Dan Marino.[153]

Week 7

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
AFC NFC AFC NFC AFC NFC
1[156] 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[157] 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[158] 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.[159] 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[160] 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[161] 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[162] 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
Week FedEx Air
Player of the Week[163]
FedEx Ground
Player of the Week[163]
Pepsi Zero Sugar
Rookie of the Week[164]
1 Tom Brady
(Tampa Bay)
Joe Mixon
(Cincinnati)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
2 Tom 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)
5 Justin Herbert
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Derrick Henry
(Tennessee)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
6 Dak Prescott
(Dallas)
Jonathan Taylor
(Indianapolis)
Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
7
Month Rookie of the Month
Offensive Defensive
Sept.[159] Ja'Marr Chase WR
(Cincinnati)
Asante Samuel Jr. CB
(Los Angeles Chargers)
Oct.

Head coaching and front office changes

Head coaches

Off-season

Team Departing coach Interim coach Incoming coach Reason for leaving Notes
Atlanta Falcons Dan Quinn Raheem Morris Arthur Smith Fired After 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.[165]

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.[166]

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.[167]

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.[168]

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.[168]

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.[169]

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.[170]

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.[171]

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 is his first head coaching job. Culley became the oldest first-time head coach in NFL history at age 65.[172]

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.[173]

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.[174]

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.[175]

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.[176]

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.[177]

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.[178]

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.[179][180]

Former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was hired as Eagles' head coach on January 24. This marked Sirianni's first head coaching job.[181]

In-season

Team Departing coach Reason for leaving Interim replacement Notes
Las Vegas Raiders Jon Gruden Resigned Rich Bisaccia Gruden resigned due to the publication of controversial emails prior to becoming the Raiders head coach. In Gruden's 3+ seasons during his second stint with Oakland/Las Vegas, the Raiders were 22–31 (.415) with no playoff appearances.[182][183]

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.[184]

Front office personnel

Off-season

Team Position Departing office holder Interim replacement Incoming office holder Reason for leaving Notes
Atlanta Falcons General manager Thomas Dimitroff none Terry Fontenot Fired After an 0–5 start, Dimitroff was fired on October 11, 2020, after 12 seasons.[165]

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.[185]

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.[186]

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.[187]

Denver Broncos John Elway George Paton Resigned Elway 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.[188]

Paton was hired on January 13. He was previously a member of the Minnesota Vikings organization since 2007. This was his first GM position.[189][190]

Detroit Lions Bob Quinn by committee Brad Holmes Fired Quinn was fired on November 28, 2020, after five seasons.[168] 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.[191]

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.[170] Easterby took over GM duties for the rest of the season.[192]

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.[193]

Jacksonville Jaguars David Caldwell Trent Baalke Caldwell was fired on November 29, 2020, after eight seasons.[194]

Baalke, the team's director of player personnel, would serve as interim GM through the end of the season.[194] Previously, he was the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016. On January 21, 2021, Baalke was named permanent GM.[195]

Washington Football Team Ron Rivera (de facto) none Martin Mayhew N/A After 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.[196]

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.[201] 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 either masking, testing, vaccination or any combination thereof and not on attendance.

COVID-19 fan restrictions in place by team during season
Team Limitations Source
Buffalo September 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 12 and older must provide proof that they are fully vaccinated. [202]
Chicago August 19: Fans are required to wear masks in indoor areas. [203]
Las Vegas August 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. [204]
Los Angeles August 17: All fans required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, unless eating or drinking. [205]
New Orleans August 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. [206][207]
Philadelphia August 12: Fans and staff required to wear masks when visiting indoor spaces, but not when sitting or standing in outdoor spaces. [208]
Pittsburgh August 21: Fans required to wear masks for preseason game. No determination made for regular season. [207]
Seattle September 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. [209]

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.[210]

Uniforms

Uniform changes

  • Cincinnati unveiled new uniforms on April 19. The uniforms are similar to their previous set, but have removed some features such as colored shoulder pads, TV numbers, side panels and outlined nameplates for a toned-down appearance. The team's trademark stripes were left as the most prominent feature.[211]
  • Cleveland will feature a new white uniform reminiscent of their uniform's 1946 design, commemorating the team's 75th anniversary. Helmet sides are divided with a thin white stripe and have corresponding numbering on either side. Jersey numbers are brown with an orange drop shadow.[212]
  • Detroit unveiled new white pants on September 20.[213]
  • Green Bay revealed a new throwback on August 19.[214] This throwback design is based on their 1950s all-green look, featuring green jerseys and pants, golden stripes, numbers and nameplates, and blank golden helmets with gray facemasks. Prior to the 2020 season, which featured no alternate uniforms for the team, the team used blue jersey based throwbacks as their third uniform from 2010 to 2019.[215]
  • Indianapolis will wear a new throwback uniform on November 28. The design pays homage to the 1956 team, featuring a three-stripe shoulder pattern and helmets with rear logo placement. This design is similar to the one found on the helmet worn with their 2010 alternate uniforms.[216]
  • Jacksonville made its alternate teal jerseys its primary uniform. The team had previously used teal jerseys as the primary uniform from 1995 to 2011.[217]
  • The Los Angeles Rams revealed a modern throwback variation of their away uniforms on July 13. This design incorporates blue and yellow sleeves, similar to the ones worn on team uniforms from 1978 to 1999.[218]
  • The New York Giants will wear new white pants, featuring a stripe pattern resembling their sleeve stripe pattern, with their road uniforms replacing the grey pants. However, the gray pants will be retained for their Week 6 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their Super Bowl XLVI win.[219]
  • San Francisco unveiled new red throwback uniforms based on the 1994 Super Bowl team on June 30 in celebration of the franchise's 75th anniversary. The uniforms, which feature white numbers with black drop shadows, are counterpart to the all-white 1994 throwback uniforms used by the team since 2018.[220]

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 were modified this season, allowing ABC to simulcast select games (Weeks 1, 14, and 15), as well as a new Saturday doubleheader on the final weekend of the season.[223][224] Thursday Night Football airs on NFL Network, with Fox, Twitch and Prime Video simulcasting 11 games (weeks 5-15, excluding Thanksgiving, plus a Week 16 Saturday 4:30 pm Christmas game).[225] This is the final season of the Thursday Night Football contract with Fox and NFL Network.[226]

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.[227] 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.[228]

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 this season.[223][224] 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 next season.[226] 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.[229]

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 2021–2023.[230]

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.[231] Nickelodeon will also air a weekly NFL magazine program, NFL Slimetime, throughout the season.[232]

On October 13, the league announced that the Monday Night Wild Card playoff game would be aired on ESPN and ABC, with ESPN2 and ESPN+ providing the “Peyton and Eli” broadcast.[233]

Most watched regular season games

Rank Date Matchup Network Viewers (millions)[234] TV rating Window Significance
1 October 3, 8:20 ET Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19–17 New England Patriots NBC 26.8 14.6 SNF Tom Brady's Return to New England
2 September 9, 8:20 ET Dallas Cowboys 29–31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers NBC 24.8[235] 13.4 Kickoff NFL Kickoff Game
3 September 19, 4:25 ET Dallas Cowboys 20–17 Los Angeles Chargers CBS 24.3 12.6 Late DH[a]
4 October 17, 4:25 ET Dallas Cowboys 35–29 New England Patriots CBS 23.2 12.1 Late DH[b]
5 September 26, 4:25 ET Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24–34 Los Angeles Rams Fox 22.6 11.7 Late DH[c]
6 October 3, 4:25 ET Pittsburgh Steelers 17–27 Green Bay Packers CBS 22.3 11.6 Late DH[d] Super Bowl XLV rematch
7 October 10, 4:25 ET New York Giants 20–44 Dallas Cowboys Fox 22.1 11.3 Late DH[e] Cowboys–Giants rivalry
8 September 19, 8:20 ET Kansas City Chiefs 35–36 Baltimore Ravens NBC 19.8 10.8 SNF
9 September 26, 8:20 ET Green Bay Packers 30–28 San Francisco 49ers NBC 19.7 10.8 SNF
10 September 12, 4:25 ET Cleveland Browns 29–33 Kansas City Chiefs CBS 19.5 10.0 Late DH[f]

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

  1. ^ DAL/LAC was shown in 91% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of CBS coverage.
  2. ^ DAL/NE was shown in 80% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of CBS coverage.
  3. ^ TB/LAR was shown in 97% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of Fox coverage.
  4. ^ PIT/GB was shown in 90% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of CBS coverage.
  5. ^ NYG/DAL was shown in 88% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of Fox coverage.
  6. ^ CLE/KC was shown in 85% of the markets during the late doubleheader time slot of CBS coverage.

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