The NFL is about to embark on its most unique Week 1 in the league’s 101-year existence. For the first time since the AFL-NFL 1970 merger, teams will face one another without the luxury of watching film of the preseason. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams did not even begin practicing with one another until late July, as virtual Zoom meetings became the new normal this offseason. Most teams will also not play in front of fans, with pumped-in crowd noise replacing the raucous crowds that usually fill stadiums on game day. 

Despite the changes, fans will still get the chance to watch their favorite teams compete for the opportunity to win the Lombardi Trophy. On Thursday night, Patrick Mahomes and the defending champion Chiefs will begin their title defense against a Houston team that took a 24-0 lead over Kansas City during the divisional round of the 2019 playoffs before the Chiefs rallied to win the game, 51-31. If January’s playoff classic is any indication of what will happen on Thursday night, NFL fans are certainly in for a treat. 

With Week 1 officially here, we decided to rank the best Week 1 games in the NFL since 2000, a list that may need to be updated following this weekend’s string of games. 

10. 2007: Spygate 

The Patriots’ dominating 38-14 victory over the New York Jets is remembered for two things. It was the start of New England’s 16-0 regular season, the only undefeated regular season since the NFL expanded the regular season to 16 games in 1978. While New England’s suffocating defense held the Jets to just 227 total yards, Randy Moss, acquired by the Patriots that offseason, caught nine passes or 183 yards and a score that day while offering a preview of the record-setting season that was ahead for him and his teammates. 

That was also the game that birthed the beginning of Spygate, when the Jets — who were then coached by former Patriots assistant coach Eric Mangini — caught members of New England’s staff videotaping their defensive signals during the game. The Patriots were later fined $250,000 and were docked their 2008 first-round pick. New England coach Bill Belichick was also fined $500,000 by the NFL. New England would get to 18-0 before being upset by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. 

9. 2018: Mahomes dazzles in second career start 

Not many people were too focused on Patrick Mahomes’ second career start, which was played in front of a crowd of just 25,351 fans. While the spotlight wasn’t on him yet after he made his debut in Week 17 of his rookie year, Mahomes quickly got everyone’s attention after throwing four touchdowns in the Chiefs’ 38-28 win over the Chargers. Mahomes was about to outduel Philip Rivers, who threw for 424 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort. 

8. 2019: Jackson kicks off MVP season with monster performance 

Despite his success late in the 2018 season, Lamar Jackson faced skepticism from critics who weren’t sure how effective he could be as a passer at the NFL level. Jackson emphatically answered those questions in Week 1 of the 2019 season. Facing an albeit depleted Dolphins team, Jackson took full advantage, going 17 of 20 for 324 yards and five touchdowns while posting a perfect passer rating. The 59-10 win was the start of an MVP season for Jackson, who led the league in touchdown passes while also breaking Michael Vick’s record for single season rushing yards by a quarterback. 

7. 2004: Jerome Bettis’ crazy stat line

That was the unbelievably odd stat line produced by Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis during Pittsburgh’s Week 1 victory over the Oakland Raiders to kick off the 2004 season. Bettis, used exclusively as a short-yardage specialist to start the ’04 season, had three one-yard touchdown runs as the Steelers held off the Raiders’ late rally to pull off the 24-21 victory. Bettis would get considerably more playing time during the second half of the season, earning the last of his six Pro Bowl selections while helping Pittsburgh become the first AFC team to win 15 regular-season games. 

6. 2006: Peyton beats Eli in the ‘Manning Bowl’ 

The Indianapolis Colts’ championship season began with their highly anticipated Week 1 matchup with the New York Giants. The game was dubbed the “Manning Bowl” as it was the first game that pitted brothers Peyton and Eli Manning against one another. Neither quarterback played great, however, combining to complete 60.8 percent of their passes for 523 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The game’s real star was kicker Adam Vinatieri, who booted four field goals in the Colts’ 26-21 victory. 

5. 2009: Broncos pull off an incredible last-minute TD pass 

There have been several memorable game-winning touchdown passes in Week 1, but Brandon Stokley’s incredible game-winning play in Week 1 of the 2009 season takes the cake. With Denver trailing by a point with 28 seconds left, the veteran wideout caught Kyle Orton’s deflected pass and turned it into an 87-yard touchdown. 

4. 2002: Thrown helmet ruins Browns’ season-opener 

The Cleveland Browns appeared to get a season-opening win over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs before the officials penalized Browns linebacker Dwayne Rudd for throwing off his helmet in celebration before the Chiefs’ last offensive play was over. Instead of a turnover on downs, Rudd’s penalty put Kansas City — trailing 39-37 — in field-goal range with no time left. Since NFL games cannot end in a penalty, Morten Andersen was given an opportunity to try a 40-yard kick while giving the Chiefs the improbable victory. Anderson, one of the most reliable kickers in league history, came through while sending the Chiefs home with a win while leaving Browns fans sick to their stomachs in the process. 

Cleveland would bounce back following its Week 1 fiasco, winning nine games that season while earning its first and only playoff appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999. 

3. 2013: Manning throws seven touchdowns against Ravens 

After a successful first season in Denver, Peyton Manning enjoyed an historic 2013 season that saw him throw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, both NFL records. Manning’s record-setting season started in Week 1, as he threw a career-high seven touchdowns in Denver’s 40-27 win over Baltimore. Manning had enormous success throwing to Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, who combined to catch 10 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns. 

2. 2009: Eli crashes the Cowboys’ party 

It’s official name may be AT&T Stadium, but the Cowboys’ home over the last 11 years is usually referred to as “Jerry’s World,, a tribute to team owner Jerry Jones. Jones, however, couldn’t have been happy with what he saw on Sept. 20, 2009, when Eli Manning led the Giants to a come-from-behind win over the Cowboys in their first game inside their new digs. 

Manning, adding insult to injury, signed his name on the visitor’s locker room wall after the game while including the score and the significance of the win. 

1. 2004: Brady edges Manning in classic duel 

While Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have had a slew of classic matchups over the years, there weren’t many better than their Week 1 matchup in the first game of the 2004 season. After Marvin Harrison’s touchdown catch from Manning gave the Colts a halftime lead, two Brady touchdowns and an Adam Vinatieri field goal gave New England a 27-17 lead entering the fourth quarter. 

Manning, who got the Colts to within three points on a touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with just over 11 minutes left, had Indianapolis threatening to tie the score on their final possession. But following Manning’s 45-yard pass to Stokley that got the ball to New England’s 19 with 1:13 left, a sack and two incomplete passes set the stage for Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who missed his 48-yard, game-tying attempt with 24 seconds remaining. 

While Manning would go on to have an MVP season that included breaking Dan Marino’s 20-year-old record for touchdown passes in a single season, Brady and the Patriots would beat the Colts for a second straight year in the postseason en route to their third Super Bowl win in a four-year span. 


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