NFL Kickoff Game

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The NFL Kickoff game logo used for 2016; the year is updated annually, with the new NFL Shield logo being used for the first time in 2009. In 2015, an alternate black and gold version of the logo was used.

The National Football League Kickoff game, along with related festivities, marks the official start of the National Football League (NFL) regular season. A single game is held, preceded by a concert and other ceremonies. This first game of the season is usually scheduled for the Thursday following Labor Day and since 2004, it was hosted by the current Super Bowl champions. However, in 2012, the game was moved to Wednesday to prevent conflicts with the acceptance speech of the Democratic National Convention.[1] The remainder of the league plays their opening weekend games the following Sunday and Monday.

The Kickoff Game was introduced in the 2002 season. From 2004 onward, the defending Super Bowl champion has hosted the Kickoff Game with a couple of exceptions -- in 2013 the defending champion Baltimore Ravens opened on the road because of a conflict with a previously scheduled Orioles baseball game the same day,[2] and in 2019 the defending champion New England Patriots did not play at all in the Kickoff Game as the league instead scheduled the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears for that game to celebrate its 100th season of operation (the Patriots instead played on Sunday Night Football).[3]


The logo for the 2002 concert event before the Kickoff game.

The Kickoff Game was introduced in the 2002 season, under the leadership of then–NFL marketing executive John Collins and then–NFL Senior Vice President of Special Events Jim Steeg. It was conceived as an effort to boost economic recovery in the New York and Washington areas in the wake of 9/11. It was considered a success, increasing NFL sponsorships by $1.9 billion over the next 14 months.[4]

ESPN televised the first game. In order to do so, ESPN eliminated its traditional late-October Thursday night game (held the weekend of Games 1 and 2 of the World Series), and replaced it with the opening night kickoff game. Because of the success of the first game, the rights to televise both the Kickoff Game and the pregame concert were transferred immediately after the season to ABC as part of their Monday Night Football package. In 2006, NBC acquired the television rights to the Kickoff Game as part of their Sunday Night Football package.

The concept of the NFL champion playing in an opening game was not altogether new, however. From 1934 to 1976, the first game of the pre-season was the Chicago All-Star Game, an exhibition match featuring the previous season's NFL champions against an all-rookie team of college all-stars held annually in Soldier Field in Chicago.

After the merger of the NFL with the All-America Football Conference in 1949, the opening game of the 1950 NFL season was a Saturday night showcase game between the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles and the AAFC champion Cleveland Browns. Billed as the "World Series of Pro Football" the game matched the four-time champion Browns against the two-time champion Eagles and with an attendance of 71,000 was one of the largest pro football crowds to that date.[citation needed]

With the advent of Monday Night Football in 1970 it became common for the Super Bowl champion to appear in a "showcase" game the first weekend of the season. This was the case in 1978–1979, 1983, 1987–1988, 1990–1993, 1996–2000, and 2002–2003.[citation needed]

Defending Super Bowl champions are 13–3 in the Kickoff Game. The New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, and New England Patriots are the only three defending Super Bowl champions to have lost. The Giants are also the only home team to have lost in the Kickoff Game twice—once in the very first edition of the contest, when the defending Super Bowl winner was not yet a regular participant, and again in 2012.

Selected details[edit]

ABC Monday Night Football[edit]

2003: The game's popularity and success saw it move to ABC as part of the Monday Night Football package. In order for the kickoff game to fit into the schedule, ABC dropped the Monday Night Football game held in the last week of the NFL season. This game had become increasingly unpopular because it often lacked playoff significance, and because of the (undesirable) possibility that a team playing on Monday night in week 17 might have to play a playoff game the following Saturday. In return, ESPN (which, like ABC, is owned by Disney) received a week 17 Saturday night game. While defending Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay were not selected for the Thursday night game, they did play a nationally televised game at Philadelphia four nights later on MNF. Instead, the Washington Redskins defeated the New York Jets 16–13.

2004: The tradition began that the kickoff game would be hosted by the current Super Bowl champions. After the "wardrobe malfunction" incident at Super Bowl XXXVIII, the NFL initially canceled future plans for concerts in conjunction with the NFL Kickoff game.[5] Later in the year, however, the decision was reversed, and instead a 10-second broadcast delay was put in place.[6]

NBC Sunday Night Football[edit]

2006: With the change in television contracts, the Kickoff Game was moved to NBC, who held the rights to Sunday Night Football. The game opposite the first weekend of World Series games was once again removed to compensate.

2008: The league and NBC agreed to move up the opening kickoff of the kickoff game, to 7 p.m., in order for coverage of the Republican National Convention not to compete with the game. That game featured the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. The game was also be the first to be carried by Internet television in the United States, as were all Sunday Night Football games in the 2008 season.[7]

2010: The New Orleans Saints, winners of Super Bowl XLIV, hosted the kickoff game at the Louisiana Superdome against the Minnesota Vikings, a rematch of the previous season's NFC Championship Game. There was consideration of a match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers (to create a contest between the last two Super Bowl champions) but it did not come to fruition due to various logistical reasons.[8]

2011: The Green Bay Packers hosted the 2011 Kickoff Game after winning Super Bowl XLV. They defeated the New Orleans Saints, a match-up of the winners of the two previous Super Bowls, the first time this has occurred. The Saints are only the second team to have played in two consecutive kickoff games, and the first to do so not by winning two consecutive Super Bowls. In the third quarter, the Packers' Randall Cobb returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, tying the NFL record for the longest such return.

2012: Similar to the situation in 2008, the NFL was faced with the prospect of having to compete with a national political convention, this time the Democratic National Convention. Instead of moving the kickoff to 7 p.m. like in 2008, or even opening up the season on a Thursday like in past years, the league instead decided to move the 2012 Kickoff Game one day earlier to Wednesday, September 5. The New York Giants, winners of Super Bowl XLVI, hosted their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.[9]

2013: After winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens were to have hosted the 2013 Kickoff Game on September 5. However, this was on the same day as a home game for the Baltimore Orioles, whose stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, shares parking with the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium. (The Orioles did not move their game to the afternoon, because they and their opponent were playing night games in other cities the preceding day.) The Ravens instead played on the road against the Denver Broncos in a rematch of the previous season's AFC Divisional Playoff game.[10] During this game, Peyton Manning became one of only six players to have thrown seven touchdowns in a single game. He added to this feat by doing it without throwing an interception, something that has only been done once before by Y. A. Tittle during the 1962 NFL season. The Ravens also had the most points scored against them in franchise history. They also suffered the biggest margin of defeat by a defending Super Bowl champion on opening day in NFL history.

2015: The New England Patriots, after winning Super Bowl XLIX, hosted the 2015 Kickoff Game on September 10 at Gillette Stadium, with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their opponent. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was originally not going to play due to his four-game suspension as a result of his involvement in the Deflategate scandal, but a court threw out the suspension on September 3, 2015 and ordered the league to let him play.[11] It also marked the first time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not attend a Kickoff Game, stating that he did not want to be a distraction.

2016: The Denver Broncos hosted the 2016 Kickoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High against the Carolina Panthers on September 8, in a Super Bowl 50 rematch. (As the Republican and Democratic conventions were both scheduled for July 2016, there was no scheduling conflict with them as there was in 2008 and 2012, nor were there conflicts with any other sports team in Denver that night.) The Broncos debuted Trevor Siemian as their new starting quarterback after both quarterbacks who started games in 2015 left the team; Peyton Manning (who played the entirety of Super Bowl 50) retired and Brock Osweiler left as a free agent.

2017: The defending Super Bowl LI champions, the New England Patriots, hosted the Kansas City Chiefs for the 2017 Kickoff Game at Gillette Stadium. Goodell visited Gillette Stadium for the Kickoff Game, having been absent from the venue since the 2014 season.

2018: The defending Super Bowl LII champions, the Philadelphia Eagles hosted the Atlanta Falcons for the 2018 Kickoff Game at Lincoln Financial Field, in a rematch of their 2017 Divisional Playoff Game.

2019: The Chicago Bears hosted the Green Bay Packers to begin the Bears' 100th season, which would be a reverse of a Week 1 matchup in 2018 where the Packers were the host on Sunday night to begin their own 100th season.[12] This broke the tradition of having the Super Bowl champion host the game; the Super Bowl LIII champion New England Patriots instead hosted a Sunday Night Football game on opening weekend, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

2020: The Super Bowl LIV champion Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Houston Texans, in a rematch of a divisional playoff game from the 2019–20 NFL playoffs, a game the Chiefs won 51–31 after trailing 24–0 in the second quarter.[13]


Season Date Visitors Score Home Location Network
2002* September 5 San Francisco 49ers 16–13 New York Giants Giants Stadium ESPN
2003* September 4 New York Jets 13–16 Washington Redskins FedExField ABC
2004 September 9 Indianapolis Colts 24–27 New England Patriots Gillette Stadium ABC
2005 September 8 Oakland Raiders 20–30 New England Patriots Gillette Stadium ABC
2006 September 7 Miami Dolphins 17–28 Pittsburgh Steelers Heinz Field NBC
2007 September 6 New Orleans Saints 10–41 Indianapolis Colts RCA Dome NBC
2008 September 4 Washington Redskins 7–16 New York Giants Giants Stadium NBC
2009 September 10 Tennessee Titans 10–13 (OT) Pittsburgh Steelers Heinz Field NBC
2010 September 9 Minnesota Vikings 9–14 New Orleans Saints Louisiana Superdome NBC
2011 September 8 New Orleans Saints 34–42 Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field NBC
2012** September 5 Dallas Cowboys 24–17 New York Giants MetLife Stadium NBC
2013*** September 5 Baltimore Ravens 27–49 Denver Broncos Sports Authority Field at Mile High NBC
2014 September 4 Green Bay Packers 16–36 Seattle Seahawks CenturyLink Field NBC
2015 September 10 Pittsburgh Steelers 21–28 New England Patriots Gillette Stadium NBC
2016 September 8 Carolina Panthers 20–21 Denver Broncos Sports Authority Field at Mile High NBC
2017 September 7 Kansas City Chiefs 42–27 New England Patriots Gillette Stadium NBC
2018 September 6 Atlanta Falcons 12–18 Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field NBC
2019* September 5 Green Bay Packers 10–3 Chicago Bears Soldier Field NBC
2020 September 10 Houston Texans 20–34 Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium NBC

Winning team labeled in bold.

* – Game did not feature the defending Super Bowl champions.
** – Game played on a Wednesday instead of the usual Thursday.
*** – Defending Super Bowl champions played on the road because of parking conflicts with Major League Baseball.


Team GP W L Pct. PF PA
Denver Broncos 2 2 0 1.000 70 47
Kansas City Chiefs 2 2 0 1.000 76 47
Dallas Cowboys 1 1 0 1.000 24 17
Seattle Seahawks 1 1 0 1.000 36 16
San Francisco 49ers 1 1 0 1.000 16 13
Philadelphia Eagles 1 1 0 1.000 18 12
New England Patriots 4 3 1 .750 112 107
Pittsburgh Steelers 3 2 1 .667 62 55
Indianapolis Colts 2 1 1 .500 65 37
Green Bay Packers 3 2 1 .667 68 73
Washington Redskins 2 1 1 .500 23 29
New Orleans Saints 3 1 2 .333 58 92
New York Giants 3 1 2 .333 46 47
Baltimore Ravens 1 0 1 .000 17 24
Carolina Panthers 1 0 1 .000 20 21
Miami Dolphins 1 0 1 .000 17 28
Minnesota Vikings 1 0 1 .000 9 14
New York Jets 1 0 1 .000 13 16
Las Vegas Raiders 1 0 1 .000 20 30
Tennessee Titans 1 0 1 .000 10 13
Atlanta Falcons 1 0 1 .000 12 18
Chicago Bears 1 0 1 .000 3 10
Houston Texans 1 0 1 .000 20 34

Pre-game concerts[edit]

Britney Spears performs on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., September 4, 2003

Television ratings[edit]

Year Network Household rating/share Viewers (live plus same day) Ref.
2002 ESPN 7.6 10.8 million [32]
2003 ABC 12.9/22 19.2 million [32]
2004 ABC 11.4/20 16.9 million [32]
2005 ABC 11.7/21 18.0 million [32]
2006 NBC 12.6/21 19.2 million [32]
2007 NBC 11.5/20 17.8 million [32]
2008 NBC 8.6/15 13.5 million [32]
2009 NBC 12.8/22 20.9 million [32]
2010 NBC 16.5/28 27.5 million [32]
2011 NBC 16.0 27.2 million [32]
2012 NBC 14.7 23.9 million [32]
2013 NBC 14.9 25.1 million [32]
2014 NBC 15.5 26.9 million [32]
2015 NBC 16.2 27.4 million [32]
2016 NBC 14.6/27 25.2 million [33]
2017 NBC 12.6/23 22.2 million [34]
2018 NBC 12.30 19.3 million [35]
2019 NBC 15.30 22.0 million [36]
2020 NBC 11.2/23 20.3 million [37]


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