Chiefs vs. Lions 2023: Why Detroit was chosen to oppose Kansas City in NFL kickoff game Week 1
Chiefs vs. Lions 2023: Why Detroit was chosen to oppose Kansas City in NFL kickoff game Week 1
Why Lions were chosen to face Chiefs in NFL kickoff game Week 1

The NFL season opener for 2023 is officially set, and it's not a matchup that many would have predicted to kickstart the NFL campaign.

Naturally, the league's reigning Super Bowl champions, the Chiefs, are participating in the contest. The Super Bowl winner has hosted the NFL's Thursday night opener in nine of the last 10 seasons.

But what is the NFL's opponent of choice for Kansas City? That would be Dan Campbell's Detroit Lions, as NBC announced on Thursday ahead of the NFL's full schedule release.

#NFLKickoff is SET! 🗓

It's the Detroit Lions vs. the Kansas City Chiefs to open the season. 🏈

— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) May 11, 2023

That choice of matchup may raise some eyebrows. After all, the Chiefs had the Bengals, Bills and Eagles also available on the schedule, so those matchups would seemingly be a safer bet to open the 2023 campaign with a bang.

So, why did the NFL choose the Lions to play the Chiefs in the season opener? And how does this matchup compare to the last 10 NFL season openers? Here's what to know about the first game of the 2023 NFL season.

MORE: Tracking the NFL's schedule leaks ahead of 2023 schedule release

Why are the Lions playing the Chiefs in NFL's 2023 kickoff game?

While the decision to put the Lions in the NFL's kickoff game may seem strange on paper, it actually makes some sense for a few reasons.

For starters, Detroit projects to be a good team in 2023 after its strong close to the 2022 season. The Lions didn't quite make the playoffs last season, but they closed the year on an 8-2 run to finish with a 9-8 record overall. They capped the season with an exciting, "Sunday Night Football" win over the Packers to keep Aaron Rodgers out of the playoffs when Detroit was, effectively, playing for nothing.

That game against the Packers may actually be playing a role in this selection as well. NBC was the broadcaster of that game, and the Lions put on a charismatic performance in that upset victory. The network may be hoping that Detroit can repeat that magic in another prime-time opportunity.

But at the very least, NBC might believe that the Lions' high-powered offense — which averaged the fifth-most points per game in the NFL with 26.6 — can keep the game closer than most teams can with the Chiefs. Given the two strong offenses, the matchup could turn into a shootout, which would likely be good for ratings.

Beyond that, the Lions have made upgrades to their roster and will debut potential workhorse running back Jahmyr Gibbs, a first-round rookie, in this contest. That will help attract viewers from the fantasy football community.

Meanwhile, other casual fans might be familiar with the Lions from HBO's "Hard Knocks." Dan Campbell and the Lions endeared themselves to the viewing public as a part of that documentary, so the league may be happy to have the team's personality on display as part of its season opener.

NFL vice president of broadcast Onnie Bose cited that "energy" as a reason for the matchup. Speaking on the "Dan Patrick Show" Thursday, Bose broke down the league's reasoning: 

There are years where we say, ‘This is the one game we’re going to play on kickoff. This year, we kind of said, ‘There are a lot of games that we’ve got to consider.’ And as we went through the process, the Lions were one of those teams that we left in there. And we really like the narrative around that time, the culture that they’re building there. The way they finished their season, eight wins out of their last nine or 10 games. The last time we saw them on national television was the last game, Game 272 of the regular season, and they were beating the Packers in Lambeau to keep Aaron Rodgers out of the playoffs. We really like that. There is a lot of energy there and we feel really good about starting the season with that energy against the Super Bowl champs.

#NFL VP of Broadcast Onnie Bose discusses why the league decided to have the #Chiefs open the season against the #Lions.

For Onnie's full appearance:

— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) May 11, 2023

Yes, as strange as it sounds, the Lions were a good pick to face the Chiefs in the NFL kickoff game, as both teams are favored to win their divisions and be contenders in each of their conferences.

But just how does the selection of the Lions and Chiefs compare to recent kickoff game teams? It seems to be about par for the course.

MORE: Best games on the 2023 NFL schedule for all 32 teams

How Chiefs vs. Lions compares to other recent NFL kickoff games

The NFL has been hosting a season kickoff game on Thursday since 2002. It started as a way to showcase two of the best projected teams, but over the last decade, it has almost always involved the team that won the previous year's Super Bowl.

In fact, over the last 10 years, there has been just one instance of the NFL not choosing a Super Bowl winner to play in the season opener. That came when the Bears hosted the Packers in 2019 to celebrate the NFL's oldest rivalry and kick off the league's 100th season.

With no such notable anniversary coming in 2023, the involvement of the Chiefs in the season-opening contest was a foregone conclusion. And with no extenuating circumstances rendering Kansas City unable to host the game — as Baltimore was unable to do in 2013 — the Chiefs are set to play the game at home.

But how do the Lions compare to the non-Super Bowl-winning opponents featured in the NFL kickoff game? As it turns out, they are about middle of the pack when considering their record from the previous season as well as their projected win total and Super Bowl odds for the upcoming campaign.

All odds via Pro Football Reference.

Year Team Prev. year's record SB odds Win total
2013 Broncos 13-3 +600 11.5
2014 Packers 8-7-1 +1000 10.5
2015 Steelers 11-5 +2000 8.5
2016 Panthers 15-1 +1200 10.5
2017 Chiefs 12-4 +2500 9
2018 Falcons 10-6 +1400 9.5
2019 Packers 6-9-1 +2000 9
2019 Bears 12-4 +1200 9
2020 Texans 10-6 +6000 7.5
2021 Cowboys 6-10 +3000 9.5
2022 Bills 11-6 +600 11.5
2023 Lions 9-8 +1900 9.5

So, again, going with the Lions over the other high-end opponents on the Chiefs' schedule may seem weird, but Detroit's credentials are good enough to warrant placement in the season opener. The Lions should be a playoff team and could win the NFC North, so this holds up to the standard of the NFL's recent opponent choices for the kickoff game.

And considering that this matchup figures to be a good one with plenty of offensive fireworks, it was probably easy to sell NBC on the idea of the two facing off.

Plus, the Lions haven't played the Chiefs since 2019. With the Chiefs having recently played the Bengals, Bills and Eagles and the Lions projecting to be a playoff contender in the NFC, this is a good way to change things up and give NFL fans something new to kickstart the 2023 NFL season.

MORE: Chiefs schedule, record prediction | Lions schedule, record prediction

And, hey, given the state of the NFC, this contest at least has a chance to be a Super Bowl preview.

But bare minimum, this battle of playoff contenders should hold its own when looking back at other recent season openers.

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