The New England Patriots, fresh off a dramatic Super Bowl 51 win over the Atlanta Falcons, will officially return to the gridiron Thursday, September 7, when they host the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL's regular-season opener at Gillette Stadium.
However, that game is just one of 256 that will shake out between September and the end of December—all of which were unveiled Thursday when the NFL officially released its 2017 schedule.
|2017 NFL Key Dates to Know|
|Thursday, September 7||Regular-Season Opener|
|Sunday, September 10||Regular-Season Kickoff Weekend|
|Sunday, December 31||Final Day of Regular Season|
|Saturday, January 6||NFL Playoffs Begin|
|Sunday, February 4||Super Bowl 52 (U.S. Bank Stadium)|
Now that the complete 2017 slate has been released at NFL.com, here's a rundown of each team's matchups and some storylines to track as the season approaches.
Division to Watch: NFC East
All eyes in the NFC East figure to be trained on the Dallas Cowboys, who stunned observers by going 13-3 in 2016 on the backs of breakout rookie campaigns by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
However, the Cowboys crashed out of the playoffs in a heartbreaking loss to the Green Bay Packers that deprived them of a spot in the NFC Championship Game.
Now looking ahead to the 2017 season, the Cowboys will be viewed as favorites in a conference jam-packed with title hopefuls.
The question is: Will they be able to live up to last season's lofty standards and stave off the New York Giants for another division crown?
While the Giants' 2016 season came to a disappointing end with a loss to the Packers in the Wild Card Round, they attacked the offseason wisely and bolstered their receiving corps with Brandon Marshall—who will now flank Odell Beckham Jr. and the fast-rising Sterling Shepard.
Combine that aerial weaponry with a defense that was one of the league's stingiest last season thanks to the performances of Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, and there's reason to believe Big Blue will give the Cowboys a run for their money a year after they swept the regular-season series.
As the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard wrote: "The Giants (11-5) beat Dallas in both of their head-to-head meetings and will be bringing back at least a large percentage of the defense that contained and/or smothered Dak Prescott and Co. in both victories. In short, the Giants really were the only team that seemed to have a blueprint for beating Dallas."
NFC East intrigue, though, is not limited to the Giants and Cowboys.
The Philadelphia Eagles will also be under the microscope as Carson Wentz slides under center with a bevy of new weapons like Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith at his disposal.
Wentz and the Eagles were plagued by inconsistencies in the receiving department throughout his rookie season, and the team's lack of legitimate vertical threats limited the offense to more vanilla passing concepts.
This year, they won't be able to make similar excuses.
"The addition of Torrey Smith gives the Eagles an ideal trio of receivers with Jeffery as the prototype No. 1, Smith as the field-stretcher and Jordan Matthews as the slot," Pro Football Focus' Jeff Ratcliffe wrote. "In other words, Carson Wentz's arrow is pointing up."
Pro Football Focus @PFF
First look at the Philadelphia Eagles offense with free-agent WR acquisitions Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith (2016 season grades shown). https://t.co/CZQVUpUaJ13/10/2017, 6:37:15 PM
Because of those upgrades, Wentz is primed to improve on last season's uninspiring mark of 6.2 yards per pass attempt. If he does just that, the Eagles could find themselves contending for a wild-card spot come December.
The story differs for the Washington Redskins, who will enter the 2017 season with uncertainty at quarterback.
Although Kirk Cousins signed his franchise tag to stay with the team for one more season, rumors have swirled regarding his desire to remain in the nation's capital long term, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
With that narrative certain to follow Cousins all year, the Redskins could be in for a season full of distractions.
Combine those question marks with an offense slated to undergo renovations following the departures of coordinator Sean McVay and receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, and the Redskins appear primed for a trying 2017.
Most Anticipated Matchup: New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders
The NFL's international series has underwhelmed at times over the past few years, but that's destined to change in 2017 when the Oakland—and soon-to-be Las Vegas—Raiders host the Patriots in a clash of AFC titans at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
New England Patriots @Patriots
Sunday, November 19: #Patriots-@Raiders at @EstadioAzteca. https://t.co/vZb8InMF1p4/20/2017, 9:08:14 PM
"We have a tremendous fanbase in Mexico," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, according to the Raiders' official website. "Their passion for football is inspiring, and we look forward to another memorable game in Mexico City between two great teams next season."
Beyond the sensational atmosphere that's bound to envelop the proceedings, a Raiders-Patriots matchup will also give fans a glimpse of the AFC title game they seemed destined for last season before Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16.
But with Carr on the mend and the Patriots on a mission to reaffirm their place as the conference's best, the Raiders and Patriots could be on a collision course for a high-scoring affair that features fireworks galore.
For the Patriots, those fireworks figure to be the product of a revamped offense.
As if the defending Super Bowl champions' passing game wasn't frightening enough, they added Brandin Cooks in a March trade that sent the football world into a frenzy and opponents into the fetal position.
If those two aerial attacks live up to their top billing, the Mexico City showcase could evolve into the regular season's most dynamic tilt.