The NFL recently announced the full schedule for its upcoming season, which will kick off on September 9 with defending Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
With the expansion to 17 games for each team, the regular NFL season will now include 272 games as opposed to 256. For most teams, all of these games will be played in America, though four franchises will take part in this year’s International Series and each play a game in London, England.
The London Games, as they’re now known, have been a part of the NFL schedule since 2007 when the Giants beat the Dolphins 13-10 at a rainy Wembley Stadium.
History of NFL international games
This was not the first time NFL games had been played outside of the US – that had happened regularly since the 80s – but these were the first regular-season games to occur on foreign soil as part of the International Series.
That series was established in 2007 and NFL games in London happened during every season since, up until 2019. The London Games were scrapped last year due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, making the return this year all the more exciting.
The International Series only featured one game each season in London up until 2013, when it was increased to two. Since then, the number of games have varied between two, three and four, which is how many there were in 2019 at the last London Games. In total, there have been 28 NFL games in London so far.
NFL London matches 2021
Traditionally, the games have been held at Wembley though some have taken place at Twickenham, which is best known as a rugby stadium. This year, both matches will be held at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, as they were in 2019, with a hope to have fans in attendance.
The first game will take place on October 10 and sees the Atlanta Falcons ‘host’ the New York Jets. The Jacksonville Jaguars will face the Miami Dolphins the following weekend. This will be the eighth time the Jags have played in London, the fifth time for the Dolphins and the second for the Falcons and Jets.
These matchups mean UK NFL fans will have the chance to see the first two picks of the 2021 Draft: Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson of the Jets. Other notable names include Matt Ryan of the Falcons and the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa.
Despite the time differences and the travel involved, NFL players are able to maintain their elite-level of quality and skill when playing in London, and the Patriots are a fine example of this. They were all business against the Buccaneers in 2009, trouncing them 35-7, before looking equally as imperious three years later when they thrashed the Rams 45-7.
Could we see fans return to the stadiums?
One of the most exciting aspects of this upcoming NFL season is the prospect of fans being able to return to stadiums to support their favourite teams. The 2020 season, due to Covid-19, saw most games being played in empty arenas and while it was encouraging to see the sport continue in such trying times, the atmosphere was undeniably dampened.
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Now, with vaccines being rolled out and further measures taking effect, it seems increasingly likely that, by the time the season rolls around in September, at least certain numbers of fans will be able to attend games in the US.
In the UK, the government has already trialled crowds of up to 10,000 home fans at Premier League games and has expressed its hope at allowing larger capacities into stadiums later in the year. This means the 2021 London Games could see full capacity crowds packing out the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Who could win the 2021 Superbowl?
Though the beginning of the season is still months away, sportsbooks have already prepared their NFL odds for those punters who like to place an early bet before the season begins. The current NFL odds offered by sportsbooks include who is likely to win the next Super Bowl and the Kansas City Chiefs are the current favourites to lift the Lombardi Trophy. At the time of writing, they are priced at roughly 5/1 with most bookies.
After losing out to the Bucs at the most recent Super Bowl, the Chiefs have picked up Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Orlando Brown to help reshape their offensive line, while also shoring up positions elsewhere on the field.
The Bucs themselves – who were a 12/1 outsider to win the Super Bowl prior to the beginning of last season – are not far behind in terms of their chances according to bookmakers, with a line of 13/2 at most firms.
The reigning champions chose not to scoop up many free agents and instead focused on resigning some of their key players like Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David.
Other potential contenders for the trophy, according to bookies, are the Green Bay Packers, the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, part of the thrill of watching the NFL is that things can change in an instant, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately predict which teams will do well.
For now, it is a positive sign for the sport that the NFL will be returning to London for the International Series in 2021. After a hiatus last year, the league can once again broaden its horizons and provide UK fans with a chance to see some of the most exciting players in the world.