In 2002, the NFL introduced the concept of the Kickoff Game. Instead of multiple afternoon contests opening each new season simultaneously, the league would have one prime time game do the trick moving forward. It was the New York Giants hosting the San Francisco 49ers back then, but the league quickly moved to a more attractive idea — one still in place to this day: the Super Bowl winners would host the first game of the season.
Since 2004, when the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-24, the reigning champions have opened every single season — always on Thursday, almost always at home (the 2013 Baltimore Ravens had to travel to Denver due to a scheduling conflict with the MLB’S Orioles). This year, however, might be different if a recent article by Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand is to be believed.
Per Ourand’s report, the NFL is flirting with the idea of having the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears kick off the 2019 season to commemorate the league’s 100th anniversary. The two teams, of course, are founding members of the National Football League and have one of the most storied rivalries in all of American sports. Such a decision, while out of the ordinary, would make sense from the league’s perspective.
So what would this mean for the Patriots, winners of Super Bowl 53? According to Ourand, the team will host the season’s first Sunday Night Football game and welcome either the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants or Pittsburgh Steelers to Gillette Stadium that day. The Chiefs and Steelers were the two teams the Patriots hosted after winning the Super Bowls in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
From this point of view, an AFC title game rematch with the Chiefs appears to be the least likely to take place on opening weekend: the league will probably prefer scheduling the highly anticipated game in the middle of the season to maximize its ratings during the year. This would leave the Browns, Steelers or Giants as potential opening weekend opponents for New England — and all three have interesting storylines tied to them:
Browns: upstart team, formerly coached by Bill Belichick
Steelers: long-time rival for the AFC crown, tied for most Super Bowl titles with Patriots
Giants: won two Super Bowls against the Patriots, New York-Boston rivalry
Speaking of the Giants, one thing to keep in mind is the preseason: New England and New York have a long-standing history when it comes to meeting in the preseason finale so an opening day meeting seven months from now might have an impact on it.
Of course, the NFL might also pick one of the Patriots’ other four home opponents — the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, or New York Jets — to come to Foxboro on September 8. However, the three teams mentioned above appear to be the most likely to be New England’s foes in week one.