When the NFL schedule was announced back in May, many were interested in what would be the first game of the 2023 season.
It was widely assumed that the reigning Super Bowl champion, the Chiefs, would host the Thursday night kickoff game. But who would they face? The NFL had a lot of options.
The league could have had the Chiefs face the Eagles in a rematch of Super Bowl 57; it also could have reignited the Chiefs vs. Bengals rivalry, which heated up after Cincinnati players called Arrowhead Stadium “Burrowhead” before the two squads met last postseason; and, as always, the league could have considered a divisional opponent like the Chargers or Raiders to ring in the new season with a classic rivalry.
The NFL made the decision to substitute the Lions in the kickoff contest. Many were surprised by this since the Lions weren’t a playoff club in 2022 due to their 9-8 record and inability to qualify for the postseason following a tiebreaker loss to the Seahawks.
However, a closer examination at the Lions and the excitement around them in 2023 reveals that the NFL’s selection might prove to be an interesting one.
What you need to know about the NFL’s selection for the first game of the season and whether the Lions can surprsied everyone by challenging for the Super Bowl.
Why are The Chiefs playing NFL opener vs Lions
The Lions are playing in the NFL opener against the Chiefs for a simple reason. They earned the opportunity to do so after their season-closing win over the Packers to close the 2022 NFL season.
“The last time we saw the Lions they were winning eight of 10 and going into Lambeau and ruining the Packers season,” Mike North, the NFL’s Vice President of Broadcast Planning, explained, per Fox 4 Kansas City. “They’ve earned this. They have earned this spotlight, they have earned this platform.”
Indeed, the Lions’ prime-time win over the Packers was an impressive one. Detroit had already been eliminated from postseason contention by a Seahawks win earlier in the day. Even so, Dan Campbell and Co. fought hard to spoil a win-and-in opportunity for the Packers and put an end to the Aaron Rodgers era at Lambeau Field.
That victory not only served as a strong climax to the year but also served as a sign of the significant progress the Lions made under Campbell. After a 1-6 start, they recovered to become one of the NFL’s most potent attacks. Even though the defense had gaps, it began to show indications of development toward the end of the season as rookies Aidan Hutchinson and Kirby Joseph emerged as the team’s top playmakers.
As North detailed, the Lions were just one of many quality options that the NFL considered for the season opener.
“The truth is any one of the Kansas City home opponents would’ve been great,” North said. “We looked at Philly, would’ve been fun for a Super Bowl rematch, just kind of pick up where we left off in February.”
“Any of the division games would’ve worked, Cincy and Buffalo would’ve been great. Any of the Kansas City games would’ve been great.”
Even so, Detroit has only improved markedly during the offseason. So, on paper, the Lions provide an intriguing — and potentially explosive — opponent for the Chiefs to face. They also add something different to the fold, as the Chiefs and Lions haven’t played since 2019, when Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay were the leaders of Detroit’s offense.
Add in that Campbell and the Lions became fan favorites for their performance on “Hard Knocks” in 2022 and it only seemed logical for Detroit to be the selection.