Ever since the Patriots won in 2003, it has been tradition for the reigning Super Bowl champion to host the following season's kickoff game. The league always wants to start the season off on a good foot, so they try to schedule a quality match-up for the first game.
The game takes place on Thursday (apart from the 2012 Giants, who played on a Wednesday) prior to the other games and, apart from the 2013 Ravens opener due to scheduling issues, always takes place at the reigning champion's home field. Here's a list of the openers:
2004: Colts at Patriots; 2005: Raiders at Patriots; 2006: Dolphins at Steelers; 2007: Saints at Colts; 2008: Washington at Giants; 2009: Titans at Steelers; 2010: Vikings at Saints; 2011: Saints at Packers; 2012: Cowboys at Giants; 2013: Ravens at Broncos; 2014: Packers at Seahawks
The league has no problem pitting bad blood together on opening week. The Ravens broke the hearts of the Broncos in their 2012 playoff run, the Saints crushed the Vikings in 2009 during the BountyGate era, while the Giants seem to be the only teams to play divisional foes. Oh, and Patriots-Colts? Sure. Patriots-Raiders? Tuck Rule, please.
Unfortunately, a lot of the visiting teams aren't high quality for the Patriots. While the dates aren't set, New England plays host to the likes of the Titans, Jaguars, and Washington, all teams picking in the top five of the upcoming draft. Add in the Jets (picking sixth) and the options have been whittled down to four teams: the Dolphins, the Bills, the Steelers, and the Eagles.
Divisional games aren't preferable to kick off the season because the league wants widespread viewers invested in the game. The Dolphins aren't a very marketable game for the whole league, although they could sell a "Return of Rex" angle for the Bills. That said, only one of those opening kickoff weekends have come against a cross-conference foe (Colts-Saints in 2007).
If I were to rank these four games, it would go:
1) Steelers - There's bad blood, both teams are extremely marketable, should be a very physical game.
2) Eagles - Up-and-comers, head coach Chip Kelly is friends with Bill Belichick, so would be a cool angle to take.
3) Bills - This would be too much about Rex and not enough about the Patriots, which is what the opening kickoff weekend kind of is about.
4) Dolphins - No one outside of New England and a small part of Florida wants this game.
With this laid out, respected Jets writer Joe Caporoso had the following information to share:
Two #NFL scheduling nuggets I overheard this weekend...— Joe Caporoso (@TurnOnTheJets) March 1, 2015
1) To celebrate the 50th Super Bowl, league is going to have "Gold" weeks that feature multiple historic SB rematches grouped together— Joe Caporoso (@TurnOnTheJets) March 1, 2015
And it all makes sense. If the league wants to promote this year as a celebration of the 50th Super Bowl, then they would and should absolutely start the season with a rematch of the 2004 Super Bowl between the Patriots and Eagles.
Yes, only one other kickoff weekend has crossed conference, but this would be a worthy exception and would fit with the narrative the league wants to push this season.
Oh, and the home team has won every time, except for the single Wednesday game where the Cowboys beat the Giants in 2012.
Who would you want the Patriots to play opening week?