As you probably know, the NFL schedule will be released tonight. One thing is for certain: the Patriots will open the season at home in Foxborough against one of eight teams. It’ll surely be a fantastic atmosphere at Gillette Stadium no matter who New England plays, but what potential matchup would be the best draw for opening night on Thursday, September 7th?
8. New York Jets
Todd Bowles should be able to get his defense improved from last season. But realistically, with the Patriots certain to be fired up and ready to kick off the new season, this game probably has the highest chance of being a blowout. It’d be a big surprise if Jets vs. Patriots opened the season.
7. Buffalo Bills
Perhaps Tyrod Taylor could run around and give the Patriots defense some trouble, but it’s very unlikely the NFL puts the Bills up against the Patriots on opening night, especially with a new head coach.
6. Houston Texans
Bill Belichick seems to have the Texans’ number, but Houston has a chance to step into the upper echelon of AFC teams this season. They get J.J. Watt back, and their quarterback should be better than it was last season, one way or another.
5. Miami Dolphins
Miami has been the team that has been most competitive with New England in the AFC East (which isn’t saying too much considering the Patriots’ success). The Patriots own the division, but Jarvis Landry said the Dolphins are going to sweep them this season and that “they’re not our big brother anymore.” New England won’t make a big deal about Landry’s comments, but they’ll probably keep it on the back of their minds.
4. Carolina Panthers
This would make two straight seasons with Carolina in the opening game (they lost last season to Denver). While the Panthers were not good last season, they might be able to bounce back in a big way. Everyone probably remembers the Monday night game in 2013 when Luke Kuechly might have gotten away with a penalty on Rob Gronkowski in the end zone, which sealed the victory for Carolina.
3. Los Angeles Chargers
It might be cruel to make the new team in L.A. (with a new head coach) travel across the country to Foxborough to face Tom Brady and the Pats, but it would be an interesting game. The Chargers have a lot of playmakers around Philip Rivers, including Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon. Joey Bosa will be entering his second season and would try to make the night tough for Brady.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The number two team in the AFC during the regular last season didn’t get a shot at New England in the playoffs, but they might have the best chance of any team in the conference to top the Patriots. The fact that they normally don’t beat themselves—along with a solid offense, defense, and special teams—Kansas City should be able to make it a close game to start the NFL season.
1. Atlanta Falcons
Why not open the 2017 season with a rematch from Super Bowl LI? The Falcons lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, as he took the 49ers head coaching job, but the Falcons still have a bunch of weapons with a very good offensive line. And they’re still led by last season’s league MVP, Matt Ryan. If this ends up being the opening game, it might be the best of the entire regular season.