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Ranking Chiefs’ possible season-opening matchups, worst to best

The NFL offseason marches on with yet another procedural matter that somehow became a hyped event: the regular-season schedule release.

All 32 teams’ home and away opponents have been locked in for some time, but the true shape of the season will be revealed by 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, when the league is set to announce its full 18-week, 272-game slate. And given that the NFL traditionally has allowed the defending champion to serve as host on Thursday night of Week 1, the Kansas City Chiefs look poised to once again command the spotlight at Arrowhead Stadium to launch a new campaign.

With nine home games for Patrick Mahomes and Co. this year, there are several intriguing options for the first meaningful action of the fall. While only a few of these showdowns seem like viable candidates for the opener, here are all of the possibilities ranked from worst to best as options to kick off the 2023 NFL season.

9. Chicago Bears

With all due respect to Bears general manager Ryan Poles and the improvements he has made to the roster in the last two months, there’s high blowout potential in having the team with the NFL’s worst record in 2022 open Week 1 at one of the league’s most daunting venues. Maybe this could be a more competitive matchup later on in the season, when the various free-agent additions have settled in and new No. 1 wide receiver DJ Moore has established a rapport with Justin Fields. For now, though, the Matt Nagy Revenge Bowl has the trappings of an early-window Sunday game.

8. Las Vegas Raiders

None of the three AFC West meetings seem like good bets to inaugurate the new season, as the only time the NFL has opened with a divisional matchup in the last 10 years was with the Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears tilt in 2019 – a special exception made to honor the NFL’s 100th season. Mahomes vs. Jimmy Garoppolo is likely the least interesting quarterback showdown in all of Kansas City’s home games. And there’s little chance that Las Vegas’ undermanned defense has an answer for Andy Reid and Co. after the Chiefs averaged 37.5 points per game in their last four contests against the Silver and Black. 

7. Denver Broncos

There undoubtedly will be plenty of early intrigue surrounding Sean Payton and his efforts to repair Russell Wilson. Still, that’s probably not enough to elevate the latest iteration of a lopsided rivalry – the Chiefs have a series-best 15-game winning streak – that otherwise looks more like a midseason ‘Thursday Night Football’ affair. 

6. Detroit Lions

With Detroit emerging as a favorite to claim its first division title in 30 years, the Chiefs will provide a useful litmus test for where the team stands relative to an established contender. But maybe this game makes sense for another slot, such as Kansas City’s already announced game in Germany.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

The only significant obstacle standing between the Chiefs and their eighth consecutive AFC West title is Justin Herbert. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s arrival could mean big things for the Chargers quarterback and the rest of the attack. Yet while the last four contests between the divisional foes have each been decided by no more than six points, there might not be enough new or unknown elements to really sell this to a national audience.

4. Cincinnati Bengals

You can’t go wrong kicking off the schedule with the league’s defining rivalry of the last two seasons. The animosity is organic, too, with the postseason’s ‘Burrowhead’ tiff serving as the latest point of contention. That bitterness hasn’t dissipated, as Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce described the defection of former teammate Orlando Brown Jr. to Cincinnati this offseason thusly on a March edition of his podcast: ‘It’s like watching your best friend just turn evil on you.’ But if this clash does get set for early September, it will mark the fifth showdown in 21 months between the two sides. Maybe a little spacing – and letting each team find its peak form – would do everyone some good.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

A Super Bowl 57 rematch would seem like an easy choice to open the season, especially with the Eagles looking like the overwhelming NFC front-runner after returning the bulk of their core contributors. Yet given the immense interest this game is sure to generate, the NFL might benefit from putting it into an early-to-midseason prime-time slot and looking elsewhere for the opener. This would also be perhaps the most difficult Week 1 draw for the Chiefs’ offense, which could have tenuous early pass protection behind new offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor while the unit also recalibrates its receiving corps. Still, no matter where this game lands on the schedule, it likely will be one of the most anticipated matchups of the entire regular season. 

2. Miami Dolphins

Tyreek Hill going full throttle against his former teammates for the first time since he forced his way out of Kansas City via a trade? Jalen Ramsey and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio scheming ways to slow down Mahomes? Tua Tagovailoa’s return to the field? There’s no shortage of fascinating subplots to be found in this showdown, and there are ample stars on each side. Maybe the other games featuring established powers end up with a closer final score. But with these teams not having met since Mike McDaniel took over and transformed the Dolphins’ attack into one of the league’s most explosive units, there’s a unique dynamic here that worth spotlighting in the opener. 

1. Buffalo Bills

Don’t overthink this. Pitting the NFL’s two best offenses and its most dynamic quarterbacks against one should always set up a successful showcase for the league. And that very equation gave us arguably one of the greatest playoff games of all time less than a year and a half ago. Buffalo, of course, already spoiled the opening to a Super Bowl title defense last year when it routed the Los Angeles Rams, so maybe the league looks in a different direction for this fall. But the entertainment value whenever these two teams meet is sure to be astronomical.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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