The 2023 NFL regular season is 197 days away… but it’s never too early to start speculating who will play on opening night.
Traditionally, the defending Super Bowl champion hosts the Thursday night game in Week 1. So while the Kansas City Chiefs are expected to take the field on Sept. 7, 2023, their opponent is still to be determined.
The full NFL schedule isn’t usually released until May, but the Chiefs’ nine home opponents are locked in based on their division, 2022 finishing position and the general rotation of matchups.
Who should Patrick Mahomes and Co. face after raising their second Super Bowl banner? Here’s a power ranking of the nine potential options:
9. Las Vegas Raiders
Chase Garbers is the only quarterback on the Raiders’ roster heading into free agency. That will obviously change, but I can’t put them anywhere higher than this until that gets sorted out. If Las Vegas trades for Aaron Rodgers, this matchup quickly jumps from snooze-fest to must-see TV.
8. Denver Broncos
The storyline is there with Denver – Sean Payton’s first game back in the NFL, a talented roster coming off a terribly disappointing season. But it’s tough to justify putting Russell Wilson in prime time to open the season after what we saw in 2022. Denver had five standalone games in the first eight weeks last year – let’s not make that mistake again, please.
7. Chicago Bears
I don’t hate this matchup and it’s still ranked seventh of nine opponents, which shows how tough the Chiefs’ home schedule is next season. The Bears probably won’t set the world on fire in 2023, but they should be improved. Justin Fields has the makings of a star, the No. 1 pick could be making his debut if the Bears don’t trade it and former Chicago coach Matt Nagy is now on Kansas City’s sideline. It’s not a bad option, but the NFL can do much better.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
On paper, Chargers-Chiefs has all the makings for opening night. Los Angeles is a massive market, Justin Herbert is a young star quarterback and the Chargers should be in the playoff mix yet again. There’s just something about the matchup that bores me, though. Maybe it’s because their last three games all played out the same way: Chargers lead at halftime, Chiefs win with a late comeback. Save these divisional battles for November and December.
5. Detroit Lions
The Lions finished the 2022 season with an electric win over the Packers on Sunday Night Football, clinching their first winning season since 2017. Outside of Thanksgiving, that was their only game that wasn’t played at 1 p.m. ET. Detroit might not have the star power of the Chargers, but Dan Campbell and Co. are ready for prime time. It probably won’t happen on the big stage in Week 1, but we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Lions nationally in 2023.
4. Miami Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa hasn’t been able to stay healthy in the early part of his career. To maximize the chance of him playing in this star-studded matchup, why not send Miami to Kansas City for Week 1? Tyreek Hill hasn’t faced the Chiefs since they traded him to the Dolphins last year. New Dolphins DC Vic Fangio actually had respectable fights against Mahomes when he was the Broncos’ coach (two or fewer TD passes in all six matchups, though Denver was 0-6). This is a solid option.
3. Buffalo Bills
OK, now we’re talking. Mahomes and Josh Allen have faced off five times in the last three seasons, with the Chiefs going 3-2 (2-0 in the postseason). Four of the first five matchups have been at Arrowhead Stadium, and they’ll play there again in 2023. It’s always fun to see two of the league’s best players and teams. The only reason the Bills aren’t higher is because they played the Rams on opening night last year and, after another underwhelming playoff run, there might be some Buffalo fatigue nationally.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Since the first Thursday kickoff game in 2002, there has only been one Super Bowl rematch: Broncos vs. Panthers in 2016. It could be argued that this matchup is better off being held in the middle of the season, rather than playing the same game twice in a row with just preseason in between. But no one would be upset if these two teams delivered another classic like they did in Super Bowl LVII. Jalen Hurts and the Eagles would be hungry to exact some revenge.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The AFC Championship Game made one thing abundantly clear: Chiefs vs. Bengals is the NFL’s best rivalry. It all started during the 2021 season when Cincinnati beat Kansas City in Week 17 and then again to punch its ticket to Super Bowl LVI. Joe Burrow and the Bengals topped the Chiefs for a third time in Week 13 last year, but Mahomes edged out Burrow in their fourth meeting while nursing a bum ankle. Another Mahomes vs. Burrow battle at “Burrowhead” would be an opening night dream.