Five worst games on 2021 NFL schedule: Avert your eyes from these duds

The mirror image, the opposite side of the coin, the zero-sum game, the equal and opposite reaction.

As exciting as the NFL's annual schedule release is for the league and its legion of fans, it goes without saying that not every matchup entails Tom Brady's return to New England or Dak Prescott rejoining the Cowboys huddle less than a year after breaking his ankle to face Brady's Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the season's kickoff showcase.

Every Dawg Pound has its day, but every NFL schedule has its dogs, too, and 2021 is no exception. Here are five games you might want to purge from your calendar:

Broncos at Giants, Sept. 12

This isn't a dig at the quality of the teams or the matchup, which will occur in Week 1. But it will take place 20 years and two days after Denver defeated New York 31-20 on "Monday Night Football" … which just happened to be the final NFL game played before Sept. 11, 2001. Two decades later, the anniversary atmosphere promises to be heavy at MetLife Stadium, which is roughly 10 miles from Ground Zero, prior to kickoff and likely well afterward – maybe more so considering the teams involved, a pairing so many hardcore Giants fans associate with a starkly different time in their lives.

Bears at Lions, Nov. 25

Watching a football game played in Detroit is a Thanksgiving tradition – one many NFL fans would suggest is less appetizing than candied yams. The Lions have lost four in a row on Turkey Day, victimized by Chicago three times in that stretch. So we ask, what do you remember about any of those contests? If you answered Detroit QB David Blough's NFL debut in 2019, join the club … while conceding that's the kind of "theater" this matchup has come to symbolize. With the 2021 Lions focused on kneecaps (if not wishbones), no reason to be more hopeful for this installment.

Colts at Cardinals, Dec. 25

More Holiday overreach. Watching the Cleveland Browns face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Christmas afternoon seems like something that would be atop any football fan's wish list – assuming it's Baker Mayfield vs. Aaron Rodgers and not Myles Garrett terrifying Jordan Love. But the Indianapolis-Arizona nightcap … just seems like the obligatory present your sibling might pawn off when you know there wasn't sufficient effort in the planning phase. Now Texans-Cardinals? That's a stocking stuffer, per DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt.

TBD, Jan. 8

It was Jan. 3, 2021, when the NFL served up Washington-Philadelphia as the climactic contest of the 2020 regular season – and that pretty much blew up in the league's face as the Eagles effectively tanked the NFC East crown to the WFT. Yet this year, the NFL is tripling down, opting to slot two Week 18 games onto the regular season's final Saturday while also hoping for a worthy Sunday night finale. If you're not guaranteed one decent game on the season's final weekend, why hope for three … especially when running the risk that Saturday outcomes could confer unfair game-planning advantages for teams slotted on Sunday?

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Joey Slye of the Carolina Panthers reacts after missing a field goal during a NFL game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on November 24, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Sean Gardner, Getty Images)

Panthers at Texans, Sept. 23

Avert your eyes, as this is the schedule makers' version of a punt on fourth-and-32. You see, the NFL wants to feature all of its clubs in at least one nationally televised game per season … even if most of us would just prefer Houston remains locked in the basement until 2023 or so. But the Texans and Carolina will take center stage as Week 3's Thursday night offering. On the plus side, only NFL Network subscribers and fans in the local markets will be witness to this probable debacle – which will count as the only scheduled prime-time appearance for either club. But really? We couldn't have let Sam Darnold face the Jets on a Thursday night? (And let's be clear – don't be surprised if the Panthers contend for a wild-card berth.) Maybe let the Texans face the big brother Patriots or at least pit them against an AFC South foe? But Houston vs. Carolina gives you just about nothing to look forward to, especially when it's the only game in town.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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