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NFL schedule 2017: Chiefs at Patriots to open season? Falcons on Sunday Night Football?

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The NFL schedule for 2017 is expected to be released on Thursday, according to the Detroit Lions’ owner. The league will likely hold a television special on NFL Network as a part of the schedule release, but the first highlights of the year may already be known.

Several years ago, the league started a tradition of having the reigning Super Bowl champions host the Thursday Night Football kickoff game. The 2017 schedule is expected to include that same tradition, with the New England Patriots hosting the first game on the slate. According to the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, that game “will almost certainly be against the Chiefs.”

Volin also goes on to mention that the Atlanta Falcons could be the Sunday Night Football option for Week 1, allowing them to open their new stadium on a prime time game. That would prevent the league from making it two straight years of Super Bowl rematches, as the Falcons lost to the Patriots in February; the Falcons are slated to visit the Patriots in 2017. The NFL opened the 2016 season with the Carolina Panthers visiting the Denver Broncos, a rematch of Super Bowl 50 in which the Broncos won.

The Miami Dolphins are scheduled to visit the Falcons in 2017, which could mean they are in line for that Sunday Night Football opener, assuming Volin’s report is accurate (or that the league does not change things between now and Thursday’s schedule release). Atlanta will also host the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys next season. The league could look to open Atlanta’s new stadium while also adding a 2016 playoff team, which would include the Dolphins, Packers, or Cowboys.

Just a guess, but I personally think the Cowboys at Falcons would be the most likely candidate for the opening Sunday Night Football game. It puts the top two teams in the NFC last year in a marque matchup to start the season, allows the Falcons to show off their stadium, and it gives the league the chance to market Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott for the contest. Miami and Green Bay both give the league playoff caliber matchups for the game, but the Cowboys provides a few more story lines to use.

Miami should see an increase in prime time games this year after having just a Thursday night game and a Saturday night game last year, but it may not be the Sunday Night Football game in Week 1.

(Then again, I have had a bad streak of predicting schedules, so saying it won’t happen may make it the perfect option for the league...)