The last professional football game that mattered was Super Bowl 50, when the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10. And when those same two teams take the field Thursday night in Denver, it will be the first Super Bowl rematch ever to occur on the opening night of an NFL season.
The NFL introduced the idea of a lone Thursday Night game to kick off the season in 2002, and two years later the league started making the game a home showcase for the defending Super Bowl champion. (It’s worked out in all but two years since. In 2013, a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles made the Ravens travel to Denver for the opening game, where they lost 49-27.1 And another conflict, this time with President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, caused the Giants to host the Cowboys on a Wednesday night — and lose, 24-17 — in 2012.) In those Thursday night home games, the defending Super Bowl champion boasts a perfect 10-0 record.
|YEAR||DEFENDING SB CHAMPION||OPPONENT||LOCATION||DAY||VEGAS LINE||WIN?|
|2011||Green Bay||New Orleans||Home||Thu||-5.0||✓|
But that doesn’t mean the Broncos are a lock to win Thursday night. All 10 of those teams were favored, which also means the favorites are 10-0 in these games (and an even better 13-0 in all Thursday Night kickoff games;2 the only favorites to lose the kickoff game being the 2012 Giants, at home on a Wednesday night.) And on Thursday, Carolina is favored by 3 points — only the third time since 19783 that a defending Super Bowl champ was at home but not favored4 in Week 1 of the following season.5 So it’s a split that gives both fan bases some history to point to for optimism in the opener.
As for Super Bowl rematches? The defending champion has gone 4-2 in those games, and has also been at home in four of six games. (That may be a good omen for the Broncos, who were on the other side of things just two years ago.) Here’s a rundown of those rematches:
- In February 2014, the Seahawks embarrassed the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. Seven months later, the rematch in Seattle turned out to be a much more exciting game. The Broncos had a mere 4 percent chance of winning the game when Denver gained possession, trailing 20-12, with 59 seconds remaining. But Peyton Manning completed three passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, then tacked on a two-point conversion to force overtime. He never saw the ball again, though: In overtime, the Seahawks won the coin toss and drove 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
- In Super Bowl XXXI, the Packers beat the Patriots, 35-21. The teams met again on a Monday night in New England during Week 9 of the 1997 season, although by then Pete Carroll had replaced Bill Parcells as New England’s head coach. Green Bay, behind great performances from Brett Favre and Dorsey Levens, easily beat the Patriots, 28-10.
- On Jan. 31, 1993, the Cowboys obliterated the Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII. And 364 days later, Dallas beat Buffalo in the Super Bowl again, 30-13, the only time the same teams have ever met in consecutive Super Bowls. But in between those historic games, the teams also met in Dallas during Week 2 of the 1993 regular season. The Cowboys, missing Emmitt Smith because of a contract dispute, lost 13-10 on a late field goal. It was a result symbolic of that entire Bills era: In games started by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly from 1990 to 1993, Buffalo went 14-0 in the regular season against the NFC, including a 4-0 mark against Dallas, New York and Washington. Against those same teams in the Super Bowl, of course, the Bills went 0-4.
- In January 1979, the Steelers beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII. The teams squared off in Pittsburgh the following October, and the Steelers again handled Dallas, winning 14-3 after knocking Roger Staubach out of the game early in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh had Dallas’ number in the late 1970s: The Steelers won all four times that Staubach and Terry Bradshaw faced off, including twice in the Super Bowl.
- In Super Bowl XI, Oakland dominated Minnesota on both sides of the ball en route to a 32-14 victory. The teams met in Oakland for a rematch in December of the 1977 season, and again the Raiders outclassed the Vikings in every fashion, winning 35-13.
- In January 1970, the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs upset the NFL’s Vikings in Super Bowl IV, 23-7. That was the last game played prior to the AFL-NFL merger, and the newly unified league had Kansas City travel to Minnesota for Week 1 of the 1970 NFL season. The Vikings, like this year’s Broncos, were playing with a new starting quarterback; Joe Kapp was in a contract dispute, leaving Gary Cuozzo as the team’s starter. It didn’t matter; the Vikings defense dominated en route to a 27-10 victory, giving the team a small measure of revenge for the ugly loss eight months earlier.
Broncos fans probably noticed that the defending champion won four of the last five Super Bowl rematches, and the lone outlier — the 1993 Cowboys — wound up winning the Super Bowl that year. If you’re a Panthers fan, you can point to that 13-0 Thursday night record among favorites.
And if you’re an NFL fan, you can just be happy that football is — finally — back.