The next seven months will offer a cornucopia of football news.
The NFL Scouting Combine and free agency will fill your social media feeds. Prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft will be debated about, incessantly picked over with a three-pronged fork and ultimately selected. The NFL schedule will be announced. Players will work out, organized activities will stop, start and stop again. Training camp will open and preseason games will be conducted.
We will be subjected to months of trope stories about "Player X getting in the best shape of his life," "Quarterback Z seeing a throwing professor," "New Coach P implementing a better game plan than the man run out of town," etc. Players will return from offseason surgery. A few unfortunate teams will lose a star to a devastating injury.
We'll track it all over the next seven months. Yet, those are empty calories for the football appetite. We digest the offseason stories like a starving human devours whatever is set in front of her or him.
Over the coming months there will be no meat and potatoes for the football fan. No NFL games.
Like the rising summer humidity across America's heartland, the offseason offers a swelling of optimism for the NFL fan. Each franchise makes enough moves, enough improvements, enough news to convince their fan base that maybe this is the year. Will we finally topple the New England Patriots? Could we be the next Atlanta Falcons, rising from the depths of the standings to the Super Bowl?
That optimism doesn't get put to the test until September.
As we wait, devouring the fructose-filled summer storylines, let's open the offseason by considering which team might kick off the 2017 season.
The NFL rewards the Super Bowl champion with the home opener to christen the season in prime time.
After winning their fifth Super Bowl title, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick eradicated any questions about who the GOAT is at their respective jobs. The Pats have kicked off an NFL season before, and they've done it big. Expect more jubilation at Gillette Stadium after a ridiculous Super Bowl win came on the heels of the Deflategate scandal. (The prospect of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell returning to Foxborough will no doubt be a summer-long storyline.)
There aren't a ton of sexy matchups to choose from (sorry, Houston, you're out), so let's break out our top three choices:
1. Atlanta Falcons
After one of the most thrilling Super Bowl games in NFL history, we should get back-to-back NFL Kickoff rematch games. The Falcons boast reigning season MVP Matt Ryan, superstar receiver Julio Jones and a young, improving defense. The #Revenge factor for Atlanta will provide offseason narratives to fill the hours and hours of programming.
The Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit against the Falcons on Sunday. Opening the season with a rematch allows TV networks to put the Super Bowl LI highlights on loop all summer. The NFL loves marketing its biggest event during the down months.
This is the only realistic option for NFL Kickoff. Book your hotels now.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The drop-off is steep in terms of provocative matchups for the Patriots to open the year. Coach Andy Reid's squad doesn't boast offensive firepower (or a sexy quarterback to market alongside Brady), but the back-to-back playoff contenders make for a good story after winning the AFC West. Assuming Eric Berry returns on a long-term deal, a stout K.C. defense could give Brady fits to start the year. The Chiefs also found a more explosive offense down the stretch of 2016, with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill playing starring roles. A Patriots-Chiefs opener would kick off the season with a game that could have big implications for AFC playoff seeding.
3. Los Angeles Chargers
Since I've committed to providing a top three, the Chargers are the next best option among a pile of hollow sticks (really, I could have stopped after Atlanta). The NFL generally holds division matchups for the end of the season, so after wiping out the plebs of AFC East from consideration, Los Angeles sits as the best remaining option. The Chargers have star power with Joey Bosa and Philip Rivers. With new coach Anthony Lynn running the show, L.A. has the talent to contend for a playoff spot in 2017.
The NFL usually releases the full season schedule in mid-April.