The 2016 NFL season ended Sunday with the New England Patriots staging a comeback for the ages in Super Bowl LI to stun the Atlanta Falcons. Are you ready to look toward 2017 already? You can bet on which team the Pats will open against.
For years, the NFL has rewarded the defending Super Bowl champion with its home opener on a Thursday night on NBC to begin the new season. It's called the Kickoff Game, and this year will be held on Sept. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The official NFL schedule won't be released until April, but we know the home opponents for each team. Here are the teams New England will host: Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The Pats host the Bills, Fins and Jets every year as AFC East foes.
On BookMaker NFL odds, there's a prop on which team will get the honors of facing the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 7, and the Falcons are -220 with the other seven clubs at +175. Here is a comment on each team in descending order of likelihood it is the Patriots' opponent. Defending Super Bowl champions are 11–2 in the Kickoff Game. New England is 3-0, hosting all three.
Falcons: This makes all the sense in the world after arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever. New England is currently the +600 favorite on NFL picks to repeat next season with Atlanta at +1200 to win its first title. Should the NFL go this route, it would be the second straight season the Kickoff Game featured a Super Bowl rematch. The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 and then upset the visiting Panthers 21-20 to open the 2016 season.
Chiefs: Kansas City is a perennial playoff team and should be a contender in the AFC again in 2017. They don't bring a lot of national cache, however. New England and KC last met in the divisional round following the 2015 season, a 27-20 Pats win.
Chargers: This would be a likely shootout between Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, but the Chargers haven't been good for a few years and would be sizable NFL betting underdogs. The league wants a close game. Also, would the NFL want the Chargers' first game of 2017 to be outside of their new home in Los Angeles?
Panthers: Carolina should have a bounce-back 2017 season and has one of the NFL's biggest stars in 2015 league MVP Cam Newton, but the league isn't going to put the Panthers in the Kickoff Game two years in a row.
Texans: Move this game up the list if Houston acquires Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo this offseason. Otherwise, no one wants to see Brock Osweiler in a national TV game lose to the Patriots again. The Pats routed the Texans twice in 2016, including in the divisional round.
Dolphins: Miami was a playoff team in 2016 but was no match for New England in two losses.
Jets: The NFL would love to put the New York market in the prime-time game, but the Jets are one of the least interesting teams in the NFL and this is all about ratings. Perhaps if New York acquires a big-time quarterback in the offseason.
Bills: No chance as Buffalo has zero national appeal.