A year after pausing from recent tradition to let a classic rivalry open its 100th season, the NFL will return to custom by having the reigning Super Bowl champion hosts the league's annual kickoff game.
The Kansas City Chiefs are set to welcome the Houston Texans in the Thursday night matchup on Sept. 10 — pending developments in the coronavirus pandemic, of course — to start the 2020 season. Last year's kickoff game had the Green Bay Packers visiting the Chicago Bears, a series with a history dating to the dawn of the league.
The Chiefs capped the NFL's centennial season by winning the championship in their first trip to the big game in 50 years, rallying to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 at Super Bowl LIV. That followed back-to-back playoff wins at Arrowhead Stadium, 35-24 against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC title game and 51-31 against the Texans in the divisional round.
Houston, which won 31-24 at Kansas City last October, led that January matchup 24-0 early in the second quarter before getting outscored 28-0 the rest of the half and watching the Chiefs run away. September's kickoff game will be the 13th all-time meeting between these franchises — the Houston Texans debuted in 2002 — and the Chiefs hold a 7-5 edge.
A highlight of the opening weekend will be Tom Brady's regular-season debut with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will visit Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 13 — an NFC South test that will be the first matchup of 40-plus-year-old quarterbacks in NFL history.
SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, the new venue that will be home to both NFL franchises with Los Angeles in their names, will open that night when the Rams host the Dallas Cowboys. The Chargers get their time in the new digs the following Sunday as the Chiefs visit for an AFC West matchup.
Also in the season's second week, a former California team — twice and most recently of Oakland but for a time in L.A. — is set to open Allegiant Stadium as the Las Vegas Raiders welcome the Saints on Monday, Sept. 21.
All 32 NFL teams released their schedules early Thursday evening, but the league's 2020 slate — not to mention offseason activities (some of them already wiped out) and the preseason — has to be considered tentative given the current prohibition on large gatherings.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is planning for a normal season, though, albeit while making contingency plans.
"The league and the clubs have been in contact with the relevant local, state and federal government authorities and will continue to do so," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
The traditional doubleheader that opens another year of Monday Night Football, which turned 50 last year, will have the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the New York Giants, who have a rookie head coach in Joe Judge, and the Denver Broncos hosting the Titans.
"The number one positive is we're getting ready to play football, so that's the biggest thing," Judge said. "Once you get the schedule, it starts moving a little bit faster in your mind in terms of preparing for what's in front of you."
The Cincinnati Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1 pick in last month's draft, start off with a visit from the Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert, the sixth overall selection. The Bengals also will face another highly rated rookie quarterback when they take on Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in Week 13.
The New England Patriots, the six-time Super Bowl champions who will be without Brady behind center for an opener for only the second time since 2001 — he was suspended the first four games of 2016 — host the Dolphins on the opening Sunday in AFC East action.
The Thanksgiving tripleheader has the Detroit Lions hosting the Texans at midday, the Cowboys welcoming the Washington Redskins for an NFC East contest that afternoon and one of the league's fiercest rivalries with the Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh in a night game between AFC North teams.
The Atlanta Falcons have played rarely on Turkey Day but faced the Saints in the night matchup the past two years, with New Orleans getting the upper hand both times. In fact, Atlanta has just two night games this year — a Monday matchup at Green Bay on Oct. 5 and a Thursday game at Carolina on Oct. 29.
Tennessee, which made a surprising run as the AFC's lowest playoff seed last season, is scheduled for three prime-time appearances. In addition to the opener at Denver — which will kick off at 10:10 Eastern — the Titans host AFC South rival Indianapolis on Thursday, Nov. 12, and visit the Packers two days after Christmas for the Sunday night game in the penultimate week of the regular season.
Saturday games will be scheduled late in the season but with undetermined matchups for flexibility, something the NFL has done previously. The Titans might have one of those, with their Week 15 visit from the Lions on either Saturday, Dec. 19, or the next day.
Certain to draw heavy interest early in the schedule will be the past two NFL season MVPs, quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens, facing off in a Monday night matchup at Kansas City in the season's third week. Each of those teams has five prime-time games, as do the 49ers, Bucs, Cowboys, Packers, Patriots and Rams.
Neither the Lions nor the Redskins have any prime-time outings.
There's one Friday night contest: Minnesota visits New Orleans on Christmas.
Every team has two home and two away games in the first month of the schedule. Whether that's a quirk or by design is unknown.
The season ends Jan. 3 with all divisional matchups, as in recent years. Then follow the playoffs, with the Super Bowl slated for Feb. 7 in Tampa, Florida.
Pending developments with the coronavirus, of course.
2020 NFL SCHEDULES
All times Eastern and p.m.
Sept. 13 — vs. Seattle, 1
Sept. 20 — at Dallas, 1
Sept. 27 — vs. Chicago, 1
Oct. 5 — at Green Bay, 8:15
Oct. 11 — vs. Carolina, 1
Oct. 18 — at Minnesota, 1
Oct. 25 — vs. Detroit, 1
Oct. 29 — at Carolina, 8:20
Nov. 8 — vs. Denver, 1
Nov. 22 — at New Orleans, 1
Nov. 29 — vs. Las Vegas, 1
Dec. 6 — vs. New Orleans, 1
Dec. 13 — at L.A. Chargers, 4:25
Dec. 20 — vs. Tampa Bay, 1
Dec. 27— at Kansas City, 1
Jan. 3 — at Tampa Bay, 1
Sept. 14 — at Denver, 10:10
Sept. 20 — vs. Jacksonville, 1
Sept. 27 — at Minnesota, 1
Oct. 4 — vs. Pittsburgh, 1
Oct. 11 — vs. Buffalo, 1
Oct. 18 — vs. Houston 1
Nov. 1 — at Cincinnati, 1
Nov. 8 — vs. Chicago, 1
Nov. 12 — vs. Indianapolis, 8:20
Nov. 22 — at Baltimore, 1
Nov. 29 — at Indianapolis, 1
Dec. 6 — vs. Cleveland, 1
Dec. 13 — at Jacksonville, 1
Dec. 19 or 20 — vs. Detroit, TBD
Dec. 27 — at Green Bay, 8:20
Jan. 3 — at Houston, 1