When the NFL announced its 2023 schedule on Thursday night, there were more than a handful of Kansas City Chiefs fans who were surprised by the league’s decision to have the team’s season begin with the Detroit Lions watching as a new championship banner is revealed above GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Many fans were apparently expecting the Philadelphia Eagles — the team the Chiefs defeated for the right to raise that new banner — to be the team’s first opponent in 2023.
According to Mike North — the league’s vice president for broadcast planning — that was an option the league did consider.
“Any of the Kansas City home games would have made for a really good kickoff game,” he told reporters during a Friday conference call. “We absolutely looked literally at every single option. Philadelphia would have been interesting — kind of, ‘Pick up the Super Bowl right where left off.’
“None of us would have been disappointed if there were another quarter or two in the Super Bowl. We absolutely looked at a continuation of the Super Bowl for kickoff.”
North said the league also seriously considered the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills for the season opener. Both teams contended for the 2022 AFC Championship — and a lot of Kansas City fans would have enjoyed having one of those teams watch the new banner be revealed.
“We looked at Cincinnati and Buffalo — obviously those are two of the biggest competitors for Kansas City in that conference — [but we] ended up saving those for a little bit later in the year,” he explained. “Both games are in December — Buffalo-Kansas City and Cincinnati-Kansas City — so hopefully, the conference title is coming down the stretch in December, [since we were] saving those games for there.”
While few Chiefs fans thought the league would even consider a divisional matchup to begin the season, North said that was also something that planners considered.
“We looked at all the division options,” he said. “There’s a fantastic quarterback in Los Angeles, there’s a new quarterback in Las Vegas [and] there’s a new coach in Denver. Any one of those would have made good options.”
In the end, however, the league picked an NFC North team that finished 9-8 (and missed the playoffs) in 2022. North pointed out that the decision was largely based on what the Lions were doing in the second half of the season.
“But we got really intrigued by the two NFC North opponents as possibilities. Chicago’s record — usually a three-win team — doesn’t warrant such a big platform. But Detroit’s record down the stretch? What was it? Eight of the last 10? The last time we all saw them, they were going into Lambeau [and] ruining the Packers’ season.
“We always talk about, ‘You play your way into primetime. You play your way into the bigger television windows’ — and the Lions have done that.”
But North said that some pre-season publicity — and third-year head coach Dan Campbell — also helped elevate the Lions’ case.
“Maybe it started a little bit in August with ‘Hard Knocks’ and everybody getting to know Coach Campbell,” observed North, “and learning what ‘kneecap biter’ might be someday — but they earned it with their play on the field.”
North was referring to something Campbell said when he was first hired in Detroit.
“This team is going to take on the identity of this city — and this city has been down and it found a way to get up,” Campbell told reporters in January of 2021, per ESPN. “It’s found a way to overcome adversity, right? So this team is going to be built on [this]: we’re going to kick you in the teeth, right?
“And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up — and on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. All right? And we’re going to stand up and it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap — and we’re going to get up and it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re going to take another hunk out of you.”
“We considered all the options for kickoff — all the Kansas City home opponents,” insisted North on Friday. “Any one of them would have worked. We were comfortable with every one of them — and that included Detroit on the final schedule.”