One of the many proofs that I need to get a life is that I was speculating on who the New England Patriots would play in the NFL’s 2015 Thursday night opener, where the Super Bowl champion plays at home. Even worse, is that this is also now a tradition for me, guessing how the league will schedule this game.
So in honor of the fact that it’s a slow time in sports before March Madness, and I obviously have too much time on my hands, we’ll take a look at who the New England Patriots Thursday night opponent might be.
The opponents for each team are established by a pre-determined formula and known as soon as the previous regular season ends. Here’s who we know the Patriots will play in 2015, though the sequence is obviously not yet determined…
*Everyone in the AFC South (Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans)
*The two other AFC division winners from 2014 (Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers)
*Everyone in the NFC East (Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Washington Redskins)
Here’s how I would break down the likelihood of each team being chosen to be the Patriots’ foil for the season-opener in Foxboro…
THE MARQUEE FAVORITES
Denver Broncos: Any time you can get Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on the same field, it’s a leading candidate. The relative age of both quarterbacks could also work in favor of putting this game earlier in the schedule. Last year, Peyton had a bad quad that restricted him the last six weeks and in the playoffs. Who knows what could happen to him, Brady or any quarterback pushing 40 and playing a long season
Indianapolis Colts: This is the big X-factor game. It’s got a natural appeal, as a possible changing-of-the-guard game with Andrew Luck and Brady. And it’s a rematch of the AFC Championship Game. But on the flip side, I can’t imagine the NFL wanting to bring more publicity to Deflate-Gate. It’s going to happen anyway when these teams play, but if you make it the prime-time opener, you’re asking for months of hype on a topic the NFL wants to see disappear
VERY STRONG CANDIDATES
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are similar to the Packers of last year being chosen to go to Seattle. There’s no huge rivalry between the Patriots and Steelers (I know fans on both sides have some bad blood from their AFC Championship Games of 2001 and 2004, but that’s been a long time). But this is also the kind of game it would be easy to get fired up for, much like Packers-Seahawks.
Dallas Cowboys: Even when the Cowboys weren’t very good they got chosen for this spot, opening with the New York Giants in 2012. Now that they’re coming off a 12-win season, how much more attractive will Tony Romo, Demarco Murray & Co. will be.
New York Giants: The Super Bowl history of the Giants and Patriots would normally put this possibility on the front line of possibilities, especially with the Thursday night opener having a strong Super Bowl theme. But with New York looking in disarray the last couple years and the franchise’s ownership being powerful in the NFL, I can see them talking their way out of making Eli Manning put his struggling career on display so quickly in the season.
Buffalo Bills: Rex Ryan is in Buffalo now, putting this possibility in play. Also, recall that the Bills came to Foxboro in 2009 as part of the season-opening Monday Night doubleheader and played a thrilling game where Brady had to throw two late touchdown passes to avert an upset.
Houston Texans: The league could showcase J.J. Watt going against Tom Brady. You could do worse when it comes to TV appeal.
Philadelphia Eagles: Had the Eagles made the playoffs, they would be one line higher. But with Philly having faded in December and facing quarterback uncertainty, this possibility is now a stretch
POSSIBLE BUT NOT LIKELY
Miami Dolphins: The division rival who’s played New England the most competitively in recent years, but it’s not a matchup that really moves the needle nationally. There’s some precedent for this type of game—the Redskins were chosen to go play the New York Giants in 2008 and Pats-Dolphins would be a similar game. But I can’t see it
New York Jets: If Rex were still on the sideline and the Jets at least competitive, a New York-Boston battle could go all the way to the front line. Now it’s highly unlikely. The only possible reason would be the New York-Boston combination and the possibility the NFL would want to showcase a new African-American head coach in Todd Bowles.
Washington Redskins: I can’t see this happening. The only rationale would be if someone in the league office believes RG3 is going to comeback strong and wants to pit him against Brady. But Griffin could lose the job in training camp and in either case, that’s a lot that has to happen.
If the NFL really had guts, they would schedule this game for Thanksgiving Night. An old joke is that when the Pilgrims came to America, the first Thanksgiving football game was between Redskins and Patriots. But the politically correct crowd would go nuts and see it as an opportunity for more fundraising and publicity.
Jacksonville Jaguars & Tennessee Titans
The only way either of these happen is if whomever does the schedule is drinking heavily prior to making the decision.
So who’s it going to be? I’m going to follow the NFL’s model of last year where they eschewed the two obvious favorites to go to Seattle (Denver & San Francisco) and went for a team that still had plenty of marquee value. I’ll guess that we open the 2015 NFL season with the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.