In many ways a first glance at the NFL schedule can be an optical illusion, in that it's May and we have a long way to go before we reach September and, you know, many things can happen between now and then to change the makeup of a football team. But boy, oh boy, is it fun to look ahead and think of the possibilities! So, with that in mind, let's delve into the Eagles' regular-season slate for 2021 and see what is ahead ...
Let's break this schedule up into quadrants, plus one, because we've got a 17-game regular season that starts for Philadelphia on Sunday, September 12 and rolls all the way through January 9, with a bye weekend in mid-December (a good time to finish the holiday shopping!).
THE FIRST QUARTER
It all begins for new Head Coach Nick Sirianni on the road, in Atlanta, against a Falcons team led by veteran quarterback Matt Ryan with an offense fortified by first-round draft pick (No. 4 overall) tight end Kyle Pitts. The Eagles will be tested in a big way in the secondary playing against a talented wide receiver group led by Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, so the key is going to be to get to the 36-year-old Ryan and knock him around. This will be Sirianni's first fly-away game, as the Eagles play only once on the road in the preseason, a bus trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to play the New York Jets.
The Eagles open the home schedule – in front of a packed house at Lincoln Financial Field, yay! – the following Sunday against San Francisco, another team with a top-5 draft pick (quarterback Trey Lance) and a lot of questions just two seasons after a Super Bowl appearance. Who plays quarterback for the 49ers here – Lance or veteran Jimmy Garoppolo? Regardless, the Eagles have another talented tight end to deal with in George Kittle and the offense will have its hands full against the 49ers' outstanding front seven. By this point very early in the season, we will have a good handle on where the Eagles are along the offensive line, one they expect to be among the league's best with right tackle Lane Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks returning after injury-plagued 2020 seasons.
Week 3 takes the Eagles to Dallas for a Monday Night Football game in Dallas, the first NFC East test. Eagles-Dallas, national television – this is a beautiful spot to get a first taste of the division. The following week, the Eagles return to Lincoln Financial Field for a game against the powerful Kansas City Chiefs – the return of former Head Coach Andy Reid and a Kansas City team that features quarterback Patrick Mahomes and perhaps the most complete offense in the NFL. Kansas City has been to back-to-back Super Bowls and, of course, is a contender in the AFC once again.
THE SECOND QUARTER
The second quarter starts with a jolt – a road game in Carolina on October 10 followed by a Thursday night game in South Philadelphia against quarterback Tom Brady and the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Carolina continues its rebuild under Head Coach Matt Rhule and it looks like Sam Darnold will man the quarterback position and the Bucs were able to retain most of their veterans to make another Super Bowl run this season. The game against Tampa Bay marks the Eagles' second prime-time game in the opening six weeks of the regular season.
This second quarter ends on the road – the Eagles can enjoy that mini-bye weekend following the Tampa Bay game to get ready for their inaugural trip to Las Vegas to play the Raiders and Head Coach Jon Gruden on October 24 and then the Eagles get right back out to play at Detroit on October 31. The Lions have a new Head Coach in Dan Campbell and a new quarterback in Jared Goff and they drafted left tackle Penei Sewell seventh overall as Campbell has made a commitment to his offensive line. The Eagles are deep and talented along the defensive front, so this should be a great matchup.
THE THIRD QUARTER
Just how good was rookie quarterback Justin Herbert last season? He set NFL rookie records with 31 touchdown passes, 396 completions, and he threw at least two touchdown passes in seven consecutive games. His offensive coordinator? Shane Steichen, now in the same role with the Eagles. The Eagles host the Chargers, with new Head Coach Brandon Staley, the first of two consecutive games against AFC West opponents, on November 7. One week later, the Eagles play in Denver against the Broncos. Philadelphia is 8-5 all time against Denver but has never beaten the Broncos in the Mile High City.
November ends with a home game against New Orleans, which will have a new look at quarterback with Drew Brees retired, on November 21 and a road game at NFC East rival New York on November 28. A full house at MetLife Stadium is going to be as raucous as ever.
THE FOURTH QUARTER
Don't expect Sirianni to keep the team in North Jersey for the week, but he has that option, as the Eagles play at the New York Jets the following week and, at least we think this is going to be the case, will have a chance to see No. 2 overall draft pick Zach Wilson at the quarterback position for a team that has loaded up on draft picks the last two springs. How good will the Jets be? It's a great question with New York under the guidance of new Head Coach Robert Saleh. The Jets are the "17th game" on the Eagles' schedule, on tap for a Week 13 battle on December 5.
Finally, ahhhhhh, the bye week comes, giving the Eagles a chance to gird up for the stretch run.
In Week 15, Philadelphia hosts Washington on either December 18 or 19 – to be determined based on how the teams are performing – the first of two games against Washington in a span of three weeks. In between, the Eagles host the Giants on December 26 before taking the train to Washington for a January 2 game at the Football Team.
The NFL's decision to backload the division games has been significant, at least for the Eagles, who swept the NFC East late in 2019 to capture the division and then last year when the NFC East was decided at Lincoln Financial Field. And that brings us to ...
THE REGULAR-SEASON FINALE
This could be so perfect, conjuring memories of 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field and 2013 in Arlington, Texas when the Eagles defeated Dallas in the regular-season finale to make the playoffs. On January 9, 2022, the Cowboys come to town and, hey, who knows what it's going to look like. Maybe the division title will be on the line. Maybe not. What's going to be really interesting is to see just how much the teams' seasons have compared and contrasted from the first meeting way back on September 27. If you want to measure the progress of the season, this is a good way to do it – where were the Eagles in Week 3 and where will they be on the final weekend of the regular season?
Things can look a lot different in that span of weeks, just as the regular season can look so much different in September than it does now. One thing that won't change is this: We can't wait for the regular season to begin. Now that the schedule is here, we're all counting down the days so we can get back to a normal, stadiums-filled NFL season.