2024 NFL schedule will open with Ravens at Chiefs, plus Sean Payton breaks down

Welcome to the Monday edition of the Pick Six newsletter!

After three months of waiting, my favorite week of the NFL offseason is finally here: The 2024 schedule is being released this week. Sure, some people like free agency, and yes, some people enjoy the draft, and I love both of those events, but not as much as the schedule release. I WANT TO KNOW WHEN THE GAMES ARE BEING PLAYED. 

The only offseason tent pole event I care about is the release of the schedule, and that will be coming on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, so be sure to clear your calendar. The NFL will be leaking out games all week, and that started today with the announcement of who will be playing in the 2024 opener. We’ll be covering that in today’s newsletter, plus we’ll be looking at some of the other top games that will be on the schedule this year. 

All right, let’s get to the rundown. 

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1. NFL opener is set: Chiefs will face Ravens to kick off 2024 season

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The defending Super Bowl champion annually gets to host the first game of the year, and the NFL revealed on Monday who the Chiefs will be facing to open the 2024 season.

Here are all the details you need to know: 

  • 2024 NFL season will start with Ravens at Chiefs. The AFC title game was a thriller last season, so the NFL decided to take the Chiefs and Ravens and put them in a rematch to start the 2024 season. Kansas City will host Baltimore on Thursday, Sept. 5 in a game that will kick off at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC. The Ravens will be hoping the game goes a lot better than the AFC Championship, which Baltimore lost 17-10 at home. The Chiefs have opened as an early 3-point favorite at BetMGM. 
  • NFL’s other options. The NFL had eight options for the Chiefs’ opener, and if you look at those options — Broncos, Chargers, Raiders, Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Saints and Buccaneers — I think they probably made the right pick here. It feels like the only two other viable options were the Bengals and Texans. With Cincinnati, Joe Burrow is dealing with a wrist injury and that unknown might have kept the league from considering the Bengals. As for the Texans, they literally just played the Chiefs in the kickoff game to start the 2020 season and the NFL probably felt like it was way too soon to put the same game in the opener (The Ravens haven’t played in the opener since 2013). 
  • First two games are now set. With Ravens-Chiefs set in stone, that means we now know the first two games of the season: Baltimore at Kansas City will go down on Sept. 5 and that will be followed by the Packers vs. Eagles in Brazil on Sept. 6. 

The NFL will be revealing some other games on the schedule before we get to Wednesday night, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for that over the next 48 hours. 

2. 2024 NFL schedule: Looking at some of the best games on the slate

Although the full schedule won’t be coming out until Wednesday, we can take an early look at what some of the biggest games will be this year, and that’s because we already know the home and away opponents for all 32 teams (The only thing we get on Wednesday is the time and date of each game). 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most fascinating games on the schedule for 2024: 

  • Chiefs at 49ers (Super Bowl LVIII rematch)
  • Lions at 49ers (NFC title game rematch) 
  • Bengals at Chiefs (Joe Burrow is 3-1 against Patrick Mahomes)
  • Ravens at Chargers (John Harbaugh vs. Jim Harbaugh)
  • Falcons at Vikings (Kirk Cousins revenge game)
  • Raiders at Saints (Derek Carr revenge game)
  • Steelers at Broncos (Russell Wilson revenge game)
  • Broncos at Saints (Sean Payton back in New Orleans)
  • Rams at Lions (Matthew Stafford returns to Detroit for the second time)
  • Eagles at Giants (Saquon Barkley returns to New York)
  • Bills at Texans (Stefon Diggs faces the Bills)
  • Cowboys at Browns (Dallas will be headed to Cleveland for the the third time over the past 32 years)
  • Bears at Commanders (Will possibly give us Caleb Williams vs. Jayden Daniels)

It won’t be surprising at all if any of the games listed above get a prime spot on the schedule. If you want to check out the home-and-away opponents for every team, you can do that here

3. New NFL kickoff rule: Sean Payton breaks down how things might look different

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You probably already know this, but just in case you don’t: The kickoff is going to have a wildly different look this year after NFL owners approved one of the most drastic rule changes in league history back in March. Right now, every NFL team is trying to figure out how to take advantage of the new rule. 

Broncos coach Sean Payton was asked about the rule over the weekend, and he had some interesting things to say

  • Teams might need a new breed of kickoff returner. Under the old rule, a returner almost always ended up fielding a kickoff on the fly, but with the new rule, that almost certainly won’t be the case. Kickers will likely try to get the football to hit the ground, which means you might need a returner who can field a grounder. “The two deep backs are going to have to have good ball skills, a little bit of a shortstop, third baseman, if you will, because we’re not just going to get these easy to catch high kicks anymore,” Payton said, via PFT. “We’re going to get these shots in the gaps, if you will. … So I think it creates a unique skill set for the returners.”
  • Payton says we’ll see bigger players on the field. The returners and the kicker won’t be big guys, but Payton believes that coaches will start putting bigger players at all other spots on the field for kickoffs. “I do think the coverage and blocking units will get a little bit bigger because we’re reducing the amount of space we’re running in,” Payton said.
  • New rule could create more touchdowns. If the NFL was hoping to add some spice to the kickoff return, Payton thinks their plan will succeed. The Broncos coach thinks there will be a lot of kick return touchdowns in 2024. “I don’t know what the average touchdown — it’s been a while — but you might get a couple a year [per team],” Payton said. “You’re going to get double-digit touchdown returns [throughout the league]. You’re going to see a lot more plays, and I think that was the intention of the rule.”

If you need a quick refresher on the new kickoff rule, you can check that out here.  

4. Ranking best second stints in NFL history

With Ezekiel Elliott returning to Dallas this year, that got us wondering about how often a player has returned to a team and actually been successful. Bryan DeArdo decided to do some research on this topic, and surprisingly, it turns out there have been quite a few successful second stints in NFL history, which could bode well for Elliott. 

Let’s check out DeArdo’s rankings:

1. John Riggins (Played for Washington from 1976-79, returned in 1981). “Riggins had consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons with Washington before retiring at the end of the 1979 season. He returned to the team in 1981, telling the media at the time: ‘I’m board, I’m broke, I’m back.’ Riggins wasn’t as good as he was prior to his brief retirement; he was better.”

2. Fran Tarkenton (Played for Minnesota from 1961-66, returned in 1972). “It would be hard to argue with you if you said that Tarkenton had the best second stint with a team in NFL history. After two Pro Bowl nods during his first six seasons in Minnesota (1961-66), Tarkenton led Minnesota to three Super Bowls over a four-year span from 1973-76. During that span, he earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods and was named the league’s MVP in 1975.”

3. Jeremiah Trotter (Played for Philadelphia from 1998-2001, returned from 2004-06, returned again in 2009). “Trotter had established himself as a Pro Bowl player when he went from Philadelphia to Washington in 2002. Trotter played well in Washington, but he was released just two years into his seven-year deal. Trotter was quickly scooped up in free agency by the Eagles, who were coming off a season where their run defense went from ninth in the league in 2002 to 22nd. With Trotter back in the fold, the Eagles boasted the NFL’s second-best scoring defense in 2004, which was also the year that the franchise snapped its 24-year Super Bowl drought.”

If you want to see DeArdo’s full list of best second stints, then be sure to click here

5. Winningest general manager in Chargers history passes away

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Former Chargers general manager A.J. Smith passed away at Sunday at age 75. Smith spent 35 of his 75 years working in the NFL, and his most successful stint came as the architect of a Chargers team that went to the playoffs five times during his 10 seasons as general manager. 

  • Smith had a lot of success with the Chargers. During his time in San Diego, the Chargers won 98 games, which makes him the winningest general manager in Chargers history. Smith joined the team in 2001 and then was promoted to general manager in 2003 and he remained in that position in 2012. 
  • Smith made headlines at the 2004 NFL Draft. Smith’s biggest move came during his second year on the job when he decided to take Eli Manning with the No. 1 overall pick even though Manning didn’t want to play for the Chargers (Details on that here). Smith ended up trading Manning to the Giants and he got a monster haul in return that included Philip Rivers. That trade helped set the foundation for a Chargers team that would make the playoffs in five of the following six seasons after the 2004 draft. 
  • Smith made a famous firing. One of the most surprising firings in NFL history came after the 2006 season when Smith decided to fire Marty Schottenheimer after the coach had led the Chargers to a 14-2 season. Smith ended up hiring Norv Turner, who led the Chargers to the AFC title game in his first year with the team in 2007.

Smith was the father of current Falcons assistant general manager Kyle Smith. The family announced that A.J. passed away after a seven-year battle with prostate cancer. 

6. Extra points: Belichick heading to the ManningCast

It’s been a busy weekend in the NFL, and since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you.

  • Bill Belichick will be joining the ManningCast. Over the past few weeks, there has been some speculation that Belichick would be joining the ManningCast, and now, that news is official. Peyton Manning announced that Belichick will be a “permanent guest” this year, and although I’m not sure what that means, it sounds like Belichick will be on whenever there’s a ManningCast during the 2024 season (The ManningCast is a simulcast of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” but it doesn’t air every Monday). 
  • Chargers sign Bud Dupree. The Chargers made a small splash in free agency over the weekend by signing Dupree to a two-year deal worth up to $10 million. Although Dupree is 31, he was still pretty productive during a 2023 season where he recorded 6.5 sacks for the Falcons. In L.A., he’ll be playing with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, and with opposing offenses focused on those two, Dupree might be able to top that sack number. 
  • Netflix might only get one Christmas game. Going into the weekend, it looked like Netflix might land both of the NFL’s Christmas games for 2024, but now, that might not be the case. According to Pro Football Talk, there’s a chance that Netflix might only end up with one of the Christmas games. 
  • Controversial NFL bet called off. The $10,000 bet between Malik Nabers and Jayden Daniels has officially been called off. The two former LSU teammates had made a bet about who would win Rookie of the Year, but after getting talked to about the NFL gambling policy, they decided to call the bet off. You can read more details about the story here.  
  • Patriots appear to have a new alternate logo. The Patriots have unveiled a new alternate logo and I have to say, after staring at it for 12 straight hours over the weekend, I still can’t decide if I like it or not. If you want to decide for yourself, you can check it out here.  

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