Who will face Chiefs in NFL season opener? Ranking eight candidates from worst to best

Who will face Chiefs in NFL season opener? Ranking eight candidates from worst to best


With the 2024 NFL draft complete, one of the few remaining points of speculation before the summer break is the schedule release.

No date has been set for the full slate of regular-season games to be rolled out, though the second week in May has been the league’s landing spot for at least the last few years. But fans shouldn’t even have to wait that long until learning the matchup for the opener.

The Kansas City Chiefs are set to kick off their quest for an unprecedented third consecutive Super Bowl as the expected host of the opener. But which of the eight opponents set to travel to Arrowhead Stadium next season are best suited for the spotlight of taking on Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce in Week 1?

Here are the eight possible matchups for the Chiefs in the opener, ranked from least appealing to most appealing:

8. Denver Broncos

Kansas City’s 16-game win streak over its AFC West rival is over, but the gulf between the two franchises might be greater than ever. Outside of Patrick Surtain II, Denver is hurting for top-tier talent, and rolling rookie quarterback Bo Nix out for his first NFL start at Arrowhead against Steve Spagnuolo’s relentless blitzes could prove disastrous. Even with the familiarity factor, this is the matchup with the greatest potential to get out of hand early, as the Broncos can’t count on the five-turnover Chiefs performance that helped key last season’s upset.

7. Las Vegas Raiders

Last season’s stunning loss to Las Vegas on Christmas served as the nadir of the Chiefs’ season – and perhaps the turning point in the Super Bowl trajectory. Still, for as healthy as the revenge element is, a quarterback matchup of Mahomes vs. Gardner Minshew or Aidan O’Connell is a non-starter for this stage.

6. New Orleans Saints

No need to spend much time contemplating this possibility, as there’s little chance this perpetually middle-of-the-pack team gets the nod. The opener is a chance to highlight an exciting rematch or shifting dynamics. Neither factor is at play here, with the two franchises only having met three times since 2012 and New Orleans resisting any significant changes to a roster that hasn’t cracked the postseason in the last three years.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With Tom Brady long gone, this Super Bowl 55 rematch carries little intrigue. Not a bad pure football matchup, especially with the three-time defending NFC South champions bringing back their core after re-signing Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans this offseason. But there’s not much of a selling point from a national perspective.

4. Los Angeles Chargers

Jim Harbaugh wrapped up last season in college football by sealing Michigan’s national title and perfect season. Could he kick off a new campaign in the NFL with his long-awaited return? Surely, many will want to tune in early to see how the former San Francisco 49ers coach fares in his first professional action in almost 10 years. What better litmus test than the two-time defending champions? Therein lies the problem, however. While Justin Herbert gives this matchup at least a little sizzle, it’s hard to envision how a run-focused roster that’s taken numerous hits throughout the offseason could actually hold up, especially if the Bolts fall in a hole early. Maybe this is better suited for a true “Thursday Night Football” clash a few weeks later.

3. Houston Texans

Now we’ve entered the territory of the legitimate contenders. The Texans would somewhat mirror last year’s selection of the Detroit Lions, as a franchise that hadn’t been a staple of marquee matchups – Houston was one of four franchises without a prime-time game last season – becomes captivating amid its rapid rise. C.J. Stroud stands out as one of the league’s few massive hits at quarterback in recent years, and he’s perhaps the lone under-25 passer who could be ready to go toe-to-toe with Mahomes. Stefon Diggs’ debut with Houston, wherever it takes place, also likely will be one of the more compelling Week 1 story lines. But would the NFL open with these two teams after it did so four years ago? Houston’s roster is completely different from the one Kansas City overwhelmed in Andy Reid’s inaugural title defense, but maybe the league looks elsewhere while still finding a promising slot for this tilt later on.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow’s season-ending wrist injury drained all the entertainment value out of last year’s edition of what has become the league’s best rivalry. Pushing this matchup to the front of the line would be a natural response, as a game that could rank as one of the biggest of the season would spark even greater widespread interest regarding how the Bengals’ star quarterback fares immediately upon his return. Burrow, who is 3-1 against Kansas City, said on the Kelce brothers’ “New Heights” podcast last month that the Bengals “were built to beat” the Chiefs. This upcoming season will help determine not only the veracity of that claim, but also if Cincinnati can resume its place as Kansas City’s primary competition in the AFC. But while it might be nice to see these two groups at full strength, there’s also something to be said for pairing these teams up after they’ve had time to find their footing.

1. Baltimore Ravens

In so many ways, a rematch of last season’s AFC title game feels like the right call to kick off the 2024 season. Baltimore is no doubt itching for its shot to make up for its many missteps in the contest that brought its previous campaign to a close. With the league’s reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson trying to keep pace with Mahomes and Kelce, the star power would be significant. There’s even a novelty element as two-time rushing champion Derrick Henry joins the league’s top-ranked ground game from 2023. And would Justin Tucker dare attempt more shenanigans after Kelce accused him of “poking the bear” in January with his pregame routine? The only difficult part about placing this game at the front of the schedule would be reminding fans they still have another four months to wait for it.

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