Schedule-wise, the only thing we do know about the 2017 NFL regular season is that the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will host the prime-time opener on NBC on Thursday, Sept. 7. And we know that there are eight potential opponents for New England that night.
Here’s how we rank those opponents — and the resulting matchups — from most to least appealing:
1. Houston Texans: This becomes a lock if Houston acquires Tony Romo and a national appointment if it trades with New England for Jimmy Garoppolo. But even without that, you’ve got the return of J.J. Watt to that jacked defense. It’s a money matchup.
2. Atlanta Falcons: This makes so much sense on first blush, especially because last year’s opener between Carolina and Denver was also a Super Bowl rematch. But The MMQB’s Peter King wrote Monday that he “can’t see [the] NFL wasting [a] Super Bowl rematch” for a second consecutive year. And he has a point. The opener is going to pull killer ratings regardless, so the league might be better off saving Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan 2.0 for later in the year.
3. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton and the Panthers are more fun than every other team on this list save for Atlanta, which is why the matchup ranks third despite the fact it won’t happen. The league won’t force Carolina to play the defending champ in back-to-back prime-time openers.
4. Miami Dolphins: Miami usually plays New England tough, and let’s not forget that the Dolphins were a playoff team even without having Ryan Tannehill down the stretch in 2016. This one is underrated, especially because it won’t be wasted since they meet twice a year.
5. Kansas City Chiefs: They also usually play New England tough, but don’t really move the needle and this also might be better in November or December, with a lot more on the line.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: They’re better than the Bills or Jets, but the blowout potential is still too high here.
7. Buffalo Bills: This will only happen if Peyton Manning comes out of retirement and signs with the Bills.
8. New York Jets: This will only happen if Peyton Manning comes out of retirement and signs with the Jets.