NFL Kickoff Game

Opening game of the NFL regular season
NFL Kickoff logo.svg
NFL Kickoff Game logo used in 2016[a]
First played2002

Recent and upcoming games
2021 season
Raymond James Stadium
Tampa, Florida
September 9, 2021
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31
Dallas Cowboys 29
2022 season
SoFi Stadium
Inglewood, California
September 8, 2022
Buffalo Bills 31
Los Angeles Rams 10

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 has been 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.[b][3] Since the NFL began the Kickoff Game, the home team has won all but five matchups (2002, 2012, 2017, 2019, and 2022).


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 13–4 in the Kickoff Game. The New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, and Los Angeles Rams are the only four 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

ABC Monday Night Football

2003: The kickoff 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. That 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 the final week of the regular season 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 reigning 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

2006: With the change in television contracts, the Kickoff Game was moved to NBC, who held the rights to NBC 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 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]

The 2013 game in Denver

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.

2019: The Chicago Bears hosted the Green Bay Packers to begin the Bears' (and the league's) 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.

2021: The 2021 season kicked off in Tampa Bay between the defending Super Bowl LV champion Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys.[13] The game marked the return of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott after suffering a significant injury during Week 5 of the 2020 season; Prescott passed for 403 yards in a losing effort, as Tampa Bay secured a 31–29 victory with the winning points coming on a Ryan Succop field goal with two seconds left in the game.[14]

2022: The 2022 season kicked off in Los Angeles with the defending Super Bowl LVI champion Los Angeles Rams hosting the Buffalo Bills.[15][16] A moment of silence was held before the game for Queen Elizabeth II, who had died earlier that day.[17] The Bills defeated the Rams 31-10, led by Josh Allen passing for 297 yards and 7 sacks by the Bills defense.[18]

List of games

Season Date Away team Score Home team Location
2002* September 5 San Francisco 49ers
New York Giants Giants Stadium[19]
2003* September 4 New York Jets
Washington Redskins FedExField[20]
2004 September 9 Indianapolis Colts
New England Patriots Gillette Stadium[21]
2005 September 8 Oakland Raiders
New England Patriots Gillette Stadium[22]
2006 September 7 Miami Dolphins
Pittsburgh Steelers Heinz Field[23]
2007 September 6 New Orleans Saints
Indianapolis Colts RCA Dome[24]
2008 September 4 Washington Redskins
New York Giants Giants Stadium[25]
2009 September 10 Tennessee Titans
10–13 (OT)
Pittsburgh Steelers Heinz Field[26]
2010 September 9 Minnesota Vikings
New Orleans Saints Louisiana Superdome[27]
2011 September 8 New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field[28]
2012** September 5 Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants MetLife Stadium[29]
2013*** September 5 Baltimore Ravens
Denver Broncos Sports Authority Field at Mile High[30]
2014 September 4 Green Bay Packers
Seattle Seahawks CenturyLink Field[31]
2015 September 10 Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots Gillette Stadium[32]
2016**** September 8 Carolina Panthers
Denver Broncos Sports Authority Field at Mile High[33]
2017 September 7 Kansas City Chiefs
New England Patriots Gillette Stadium[34]
2018 September 6 Atlanta Falcons
Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field[35]
2019* September 5 Green Bay Packers
Chicago Bears Soldier Field[36]
2020 September 10 Houston Texans
Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium[37]
2021 September 9 Dallas Cowboys
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium[38]
2022 September 8 Buffalo Bills
Los Angeles Rams SoFi Stadium[39]

Winning team appears 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 away because of a scheduling conflict.
**** – Game was a rematch of the previous Super Bowl.

Win/loss records

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
Buffalo Bills 1 1 0 1.000 31 10
Philadelphia Eagles 1 1 0 1.000 18 12
San Francisco 49ers 1 1 0 1.000 16 13
Seattle Seahawks 1 1 0 1.000 36 16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 1 0 1.000 31 29
New England Patriots 4 3 1 .750 112 107
Green Bay Packers 3 2 1 .667 68 73
Pittsburgh Steelers 3 2 1 .667 62 55
Dallas Cowboys 2 1 1 .500 53 48
Indianapolis Colts 2 1 1 .500 65 37
Washington Commanders 2 1 1 .500 23 29
New Orleans Saints 3 1 2 .333 58 92
New York Giants 3 1 2 .333 46 47
Atlanta Falcons 1 0 1 .000 12 18
Baltimore Ravens 1 0 1 .000 27 49
Carolina Panthers 1 0 1 .000 20 21
Chicago Bears 1 0 1 .000 3 10
Houston Texans 1 0 1 .000 20 34
Las Vegas Raiders 1 0 1 .000 20 30
Los Angeles Rams 1 0 1 .000 10 31
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
Tennessee Titans 1 0 1 .000 10 13

Teams in the table are initially ordered based on winning percentage.

GP Games played
W Wins
L Losses
Pct. Winning percentage
PF Points for
PA Points against

Pre-game concerts

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

Television ratings

Year Network Household rating/share Viewers (live plus same day) Ref.
2002 ESPN 7.6 10.8 million [61]
2003 ABC 12.9/22 19.2 million [61]
2004 ABC 11.4/20 16.9 million [61]
2005 ABC 11.7/21 18.0 million [61]
2006 NBC 12.6/21 19.2 million [61]
2007 NBC 11.5/20 17.8 million [61]
2008 NBC 8.6/15 13.5 million [61]
2009 NBC 12.8/22 20.9 million [61]
2010 NBC 16.5/28 27.5 million [61]
2011 NBC 16.0 27.2 million [61]
2012 NBC 14.7 23.9 million [61]
2013 NBC 14.9 25.1 million [61]
2014 NBC 15.5 26.9 million [61]
2015 NBC 16.2 27.4 million [61]
2016 NBC 14.6/27 25.2 million [62]
2017 NBC 12.6/23 22.2 million [63]
2018 NBC 12.30 19.3 million [64]
2019 NBC 15.30 22.0 million [65]
2020 NBC 11.2/23 20.3 million [66]
2021 NBC TBA 26 milliondagger [67]

dagger Preliminary figure


  1. ^ The logo year is updated annually. The then-new NFL "shield" logo was used for the first time in 2008. In 2015, an alternate black and gold version of the logo was used.
  2. ^ The Bears–Packers rivalry, featuring two of the league's oldest franchises, is the most-played of all NFL rivalries; the Patriots instead played on NBC Sunday Night Football.


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  3. ^ Capaccio, Sal (March 25, 2019). "Packers and Bears kick off NFL season on Thursday Night". WGR. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  4. ^ Bloomberg: "NHL Borrows From NFL as It Pursues Bigger TV Contract"
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  6. ^ " The Daily Quickie". September 8, 2004. 10-second delay on the TNF NFL season opening kickoff concert tomorrow: Because you never know what that crazy Toby Keith might do?...
  7. ^ Sunday Night Football to be streamed LIVE Archived 2008-07-31 at the Wayback Machine. 28 July 2008.
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  41. ^ "Thousands pack Downtown to start NFL in style". 2007-09-07. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-09-07.
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  44. ^ "Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift to Play at NFL Kickoff Concert". 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
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  57. ^ "Meek Mill, Meghan Trainor, Rapsody to perform at Kickoff". Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  58. ^ Alexander, Brenda (September 8, 2021). "NFL cancels Victory Boyd's opening day performance due to vaccine refusal". TheGrio. Retrieved September 10, 2021.
  59. ^ NFL staff (August 6, 2021). "Ed Sheeran to perform at 2021 Kickoff Experience". Retrieved September 9, 2021.
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  63. ^ "NBC'S "NFL Kickoff" Game is Most-Watched Show in Three Months With More Than 22 Million Viewers". NBC Sports Pressbox. 8 September 2017.
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