2021 NFL Preseason Schedule Released: Opponents, Dates, Times and More

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMay 13, 2021

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence passes against Ohio State during the first half of the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

After the preseason was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL is planning on bringing its exhibition season back in 2021.

The league announced the schedule for this year's slate of preseason games Wednesday. The Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers will kick things off Aug. 5 from Canton, Ohio.

Here's the full schedule of nationally televised preseason games, via NFL.com:

Aug. 5: Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (8 p.m. ET on Fox)

Aug. 20: Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Aug. 23: Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Aug. 29: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals, 4 p.m. ET (CBS)

Aug. 29: Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)

The Cowboys-Steelers matchup is one year in the making. They were supposed to play in the 2020 Hall of Fame Game before the preseason schedule was canceled.

In addition to the game, the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for the 2020 and 2021 classes will be held in Canton that weekend. The 2021 class includes Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson.

As part of the NFL's shift to a 17-game regular-season schedule, the preseason calendar has been reduced from four games to three games.

There is no shortage of storylines to keep an eye on during the preseason.

Quarterback movement was, by far, the defining story of the offseason.

One year after watching Tom Brady win a Super Bowl in a different uniform, the New England Patriots were surprisingly aggressive this offseason to upgrade their talent pool. They spent an NFL-record $159.6 million in guaranteed money on free agents, per ESPN Stats & Information.

New England's key signings include tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, linebacker Matthew Judon and cornerback Jalen Mills. The team also re-signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal, though it's unclear if he will start at quarterback.

The Patriots invested their first-round pick (No. 15 overall) on Alabama star Mac Jones.

PFF NE Patriots @PFF_Patriots

Mac Jones 2020 (Rank Among College QBs since 2014). 🥇 95.8 Overall Grade (1st) 🥈 94.8 Passing Grade (2nd) 🥇 84.2 Adjusted Completion % (1st) https://t.co/EZGaiJtvMl

Jones is one of five first-round quarterbacks who are going to command a lot of attention this preseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars will get their first look at what life with No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence looks like against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 of the exhibition season.

That game will also mark the NFL head coaching debut of Urban Meyer. The 56-year-old went 187-32 with three national titles in 17 seasons as a head coach in college football.

Speaking of new coach-quarterback combinations, the New York Jets will kick off a new era under Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson against the New York Giants when exhibition play opens up in August.

Saleh became one of the most visible assistants in the NFL for his animated reactions on the sideline as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Wilson was one of college football's breakout stars in 2020 after throwing for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns in 12 games for BYU.

One of the most intriguing quarterback competitions this preseason could involve No. 3 pick Trey Lance. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has said the plan is for Jimmy Garoppolo to start in 2021.

Rich Eisen Show @RichEisenShow

"Jimmy is definitely our starter right now." Kyle Shanahan says the veteran is QB1 on the #49ers depth chart following the #NFLDraft.

Lance's lack of college experience—he only started 17 games and threw 318 passes at North Dakota State—can be used to justify either sitting him behind an experienced starter or make sure he gets reps to avoid falling further behind the development curve.

As ESPN's Mina Kimes noted, Lance's particular set of skills also meshes nicely with Shanahan's offense:


"[Kyle Shanahan] just added a 6-foot-4 human snowplow into the mix. Trey Lance TRUCKS linebackers. Every option run known to mankind is now on the table! He can lean on his legs... and boy, they're going to be hard to stop!" —@minakimes on the 49ers selecting Trey Lance at No. 3 https://t.co/kXah2QRRDd

Chicago Bears fans will get their first look at what a potential franchise quarterback looks like when Justin Fields makes his professional debut against the Miami Dolphins on Aug. 14.

The Bears moved up nine spots in the draft to select Fields with the 11th overall pick. They had to send the New York Giants a 2022 first-round pick to make the deal happen, but no one will complain if Fields lives up to his potential.

Given that Andy Dalton and Nick Foles are the other quarterbacks on Chicago's roster, the sooner Fields can get into the lineup, the better it will be for the franchise's short- and long-term outlook.

The Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts made marquee trades for established quarterbacks. The Rams gave up first-round draft picks in 2022 and 2023, along with Jared Goff, to acquire Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions.

The Colts reunited head coach Frank Reich with Carson Wentz. The duo previously worked together for two seasons from 2016-17 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to look virtually identical to the group that left the Kansas City Chiefs in the dust when they make their preseason debut on Aug. 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @Buccaneers

First team to return all 22 Super Bowl starters since 1977... We BACK back. 😏 https://t.co/5HV9iWUXEz

As for the Chiefs, they spent the offseason rebuilding their offensive line after Patrick Mahomes was pressured more than any quarterback in Super Bowl history. They signed Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80 million contract in free agency and acquired Orlando Brown from the Baltimore Ravens.

The new-look Kansas City offensive line that will protect Mahomes will debut against the San Francisco 49ers at a date that has yet to be determined.

Given how much personnel turnover there was in free agency and all of the quarterback movement, there will be more intrigue around this preseason than there has been in a long time.