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TWENTYMAN: Breaking down the Lions' 2021 schedule

The NFL has released the 2021 regular season schedule, and the Detroit Lions will begin the year at home Sept. 12 hosting San Francisco. They'll also end the year at Ford Field Week 17, hosting division rival Green Bay.

Detroit's schedule initially includes two nationally televised regular-season games – Week 2 in Green Bay on Monday Night Football and the annual Thanksgiving Day Game Nov. 25 against Chicago.

The Lions enter the 2021 season tied for the sixth hardest schedule in the league based on last year's winning percentage of opponents (.529).

This marks the first time the NFL has expanded the regular season since the 1978 season, when it went from 14 games in 1977 to 16 games in 1978. The league will play 17 games in 2021.

This year's schedule formula breaks down like this:

  • 6 home & away division games (Chicago, Minnesota & Green Bay for Lions)
  • 4 games vs. opponents outside division, same conference (NFC West)
  • 4 games vs. opponents outside division, opposite conference (AFC North)
  • 2 games vs. opponents in same conference based on prior year standings (Arizona & Philadelphia)
  • 1 game vs. opponent outside conference based on prior year standings (Denver)

Here's a breakdown of the entire regular-season schedule:

Week 1, Sept. 12, vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

The Lions begin their season in the friendly confines of Ford Field, hopefully in front of a Detroit crowd excited to be back in the building. Since 2000, west coast teams have a combined record of 72-86 (.456) when playing at 1 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone, according to NFL Media Research. The 49ers are 16-31 (.340) over that span.

San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start the season after missing 10 games due to an ankle injury last year.

This is also an early matchup between close friends and two of the most talented tight ends in the NFL in 49ers TE George Kittle and Lions TE T.J. Hockenson, who could battle all year for Pro Bowl votes. Kittle missed half the season last year due to a foot injury.

Week 2, Sept. 20, at Green Bay, 8:15 p.m. (Monday Night Football)

The Lions will travel to Green Bay Week 2 for a second consecutive season, but this one is an early nationally televised game for Detroit as they play the Packers on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field.

The Lions have lost four straight contests to the Packers, including a 42-21 defeat at Lambeau Field last season.

Week 3, Sept. 26, vs. Baltimore, 1 p.m.

In this matchup, the Lions will face another league MVP in Lamar Jackson (2019 MVP) after taking on Aaron Rodgers (2020) the week before. What will Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and his new scheme have dialed up for one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league in Jackson?

Week 4, Oct. 3, at Chicago, 1 p.m.

It's back on the road to the windy city Week 4 in what will be the first of two straight division road games for the Lions. It will be interesting to see if the Lions will be squaring off against veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, or if it will be the rookie Justin Fields, who the Bears moved up in the first round to select in this year's NFL Draft.

The Lions snapped a seven-game skid to the Bears with a Week 13 victory in Chicago last season. Can Detroit make it two straight against their NFC North rivals?

Week 5, Oct. 10, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.

It's an early season test for the Lions having back-to-back road games against division opponents. The Lions haven't won in Minnesota since a 14-7 victory in 2017. Detroit will be looking to snap a seven-game skid to the Vikings dating back to that last win in 2017.

Week 6, Oct. 17, vs. Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

We have two former No. 1 overall picks squaring off in this one in Detroit's Jared Goff and Cincinnati's Joe Burrow. There will also be intrigue surrounding first-round draft picks this year with wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (Bengals) and offensive lineman Penei Sewell (Detroit). Many reports out of Cincinnati had the Bengals deciding between Chase and Sewell with the No. 5 overall pick. When the Bengals went with Chase, Sewell fell to the Lions at No. 7.

Week 7, Oct. 24, at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.

This one will be circled on most Lions fans calendars because it's the first matchup between Goff and former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who were traded (along with two first-round picks and a third-round pick going to Detroit) early this offseason. It will be Goff's first trip back to SoFi Stadium since the trade and Stafford's first contest against the team he spent the last 11 seasons playing for. Goff won his only career meeting against Stafford (Week 13, 2018 in Detroit).

The Goff-Stafford matchup will get most of the press, but this is a big test for Detroit's offense as a whole. The Rams were the No. 1 defense against the pass last year, allowing on average just 190.7 passing yards per contest. Los Angeles' defense was also third against the run (91.3).

Week 8, Oct. 31, vs. Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

This midseason matchup at Ford Field pits first-year head coaches Dan Campbell (Detroit) and Nick Sirianni (Philadelphia) against one another. By this point, both coaches should have a pretty good feel for their teams.

The Lions have won their last three matchups against Philadelphia and hold the series lead at 16-15-2.

Week 9, BYE

After multiple years of having their bye week fall early in the season, the Lions get a midseason bye, which most coaches around the league prefer.

Week 10, Nov. 14, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

A good test for Campbell and the Lions coming out of the bye week with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers and a terrific defense that ranked third in the NFL against the pass last year. The Lions haven't won in Pittsburgh since a 31-28 victory in 1955. The two teams tied (10-10) in Pittsburgh in 1959, and Detroit has lost their last nine regular-season contests against the Steelers on the road since.

Week 11, Nov. 21, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Back-to-back road games against the AFC North for the Lions in Weeks 10 & 11. Former No. 1 overall picks Goff and Baker Mayfield square off. In fact, Goff and the Lions play against four former No. 1 overall picks at quarterback this season (Mayfield, Stafford, Burrow, and Kyler Murray) and six No. 1 picks overall, including defensive ends Myles Garrett (Cleveland) and Jadeveon Clowney (Cleveland).

Week 12, Nov. 25, vs. Chicago (Thanksgiving)

The annual tradition in Detroit will feature the second and final matchup between the Lions and Bears in 2021. The Thanksgiving Day tradition began for the Lions in 1934 hosting the Bears, who the Lions will be playing on the holiday for the 19th time, second most only behind Green Bay (21). Detroit holds a 34-42-2 record on Thanksgiving and will be looking to snap a four-year Thanksgiving Day losing streak.

Week 13, Dec. 5, vs. Minnesota, 1 p.m.

The Lions get a mini bye week following their Thursday game the week prior as they get ready to host back-to-back division home games Week 12 & 13 with Kirk Cousins and the Vikings coming to town this week. We're getting into the stretch run of the season with the calendar flipped to December. If the Lions are going to make noise in the NFC North in 2021, beating division opponents, especially at home, is a must.

Week 14, Dec. 12, at Denver, 4:05 p.m.

There's maybe a slight chance for snow in mid and late-November games in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but the likelihood of seeing snow ramps up in mid-December in Denver. The Broncos won the last matchup between these two teams in Denver, 27-17, in 2019. The Broncos hold a 8-5 overall series lead over Detroit. The Lions' last win in Denver came in 2011 with a 45-10 victory.

Week 15, Dec. 19, vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

It's starting to seem like Arizona and Detroit are in the same division with how frequently the two have faced one another in recent years. In fact, this year will be the fifth straight meeting between the two clubs and their ninth meeting in the last 10 seasons.

The Cardinals are the last of five teams the Lions will face this season whose defense ranked in the Top 10 against the pass last year.

Week 16, Dec. 26, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.

Another matchup of first-year head coaches between Campbell and Atlanta's Arthur Smith. The Falcons won the last matchup in Detroit, 30-26, in 2017, but the Lions beat the Falcons in Atlanta Week 7 last season. Detroit holds a 24-13 all-time series edge over the Falcons.

This will be Detroit's first look at tight end Kyle Pitts, who was drafted No. 4 overall by the Falcons this offseason. Hockenson, Detroit's Pro Bowl tight end, caught the game-winning touchdown in the final moments for Detroit in last year's Lions victory.

Week 17, Jan 2, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

It's a late season, west-coast road trip for the Lions to one of the more difficult places to play in the league. The Seahawks' defense was top five against the run last year, and Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense are usually one of the better units in the league.

Detroit last played in Seattle in 2016 in the Wildcard Playoffs and lost, 26-6. The Lions have lost six of their last seven games against the Seahawks. Detroit last won in Seattle in 1999.

Week 18, Jan 9, vs. Green Bay 1 p.m.

For the first time in NFL history the league is playing a 17th game. For the Lions, it will be a very familiar opponent as they welcome Green Bay for the regular-season finale at Ford Field. Will the Lions be alive in the NFC playoff race? Or will they be playing the role of spoilers? In the 19 seasons since realignment in 2002, 30 of the 32 NFL teams have won a division title at least once. The Browns (1989) and Lions (1993) are the two teams without division titles since 2002.

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