Who will Patriots open Super Bowl defense against?

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The end of the Super Bowl brings with it a seven-month NFL football famine, during which time men running around in shorts in the summer sun is the closest we will sniff to this gridiron game.

In the meantime, we can wistfully long for the return of pigskin glory.

After triumphing in a third Super Bowl in five seasons, the New England Patriots will throw another party at Foxboro to celebrate their latest Lombardi conquest.

Generally, the Super Bowl winner hosts the Thursday night season opener to revel in their victory with the hometown fans. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero previously noted that the league could slightly change up the plans for its 100th-year celebration.

Regardless, there will be a party at Gillette in September to commemorate the Super Bowl LIII champs.

Who will the Pats face off against in that game?

New England's home slate offers intriguing possibilities: Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs.

With the league generally holding division games until later in the season, let's assume the Pats won't open with a division rival -- although a Brian Flores return on opening night or Adam Gase's move to New York to work with Sam Darnold both would offer plentiful storylines.

The non-division games are all spicy. The Cowboys offer a big name that always draws eyeballs. The Giants could be riding one more season with Eli Manning, the Patriots' Super Bowl nemesis. The Browns have a young, growing core. The Steelers are perennial AFC powers. And the Chiefs were the No. 1 seed in 2018.

Let's quickly break down our top three choices for the Patriots' first game of the 2019 season:

1. Kansas City Chiefs


The NFL loves playoff rematches in the opener, and this one would bring everything to the table. The last two Chiefs-Pats games were marvelous showcases, each coming down to the wire. K.C. boasts regular season MVP Patrick Mahomes to pit against Tom Brady. Bill Belichick versus Andy Reid. The Pats' Super Bowl-winning D against Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Dee Ford staying onside. The stories go on and on. Perhaps the NFL would rather save this tilt for later in the season, but if the league wants to kick off the 2019 campaign with a bang, it cannot go wrong with this matchup.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers


The Steelers' offseason will undoubtedly continue to build drama. Will Antonio Brown eventually be traded? Is this Mike Tomlin's last stand? The drama isn't new for Pittsburgh but feels magnified this go-around. As for the matchup, Pittsburgh will still boast Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. With Big Ben dueling Tom Brady, maybe for the final time, we'd get two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history on opening night. Pitting two perennial AFC powers would kick off the season with a game of potentially huge importance.

3. Cleveland Browns


You could choose the Cowboys for the goosed ratings, or Giants for the Eli factor, but gave me Baker Mayfield in prime time against the Super Bowl champs any day of the week. The Browns are almost certain to be the offseason darlings of 2019, with their brash quarterback, homespun new head coach, and young, rising stars all over the roster. Putting the formerly laughingstock Browns on opening night would announce to the world the NFL believes they're truly ready for the spotlight. Baker battling Brady under the Foxboro lights would make for a great game, and enough lead-up "torch-passing" stories to nauseate almost any football fan.

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