GAMETIME: 7:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, September 7
LOCATION: Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
HOW TO WATCH: NBC (KSHB local)
HOW TO LISTEN: 101.1 The Fox
After months of patient anticipation and waiting, the Kansas City Chiefs will finally take the field on Thursday night as they kickoff the 2017 NFL season against the New England Patriots.
The Patriots are once again the defending Super Bowl Champions, framing a fitting beginning to the 2017 campaign for Kansas City. The Chiefs have lofty goals this season, coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, and will tackle those right out of the gate against the defending champions in prime time.
The numbers back up the prestige of the game, as Thursday's bout pits the two winningest teams in the NFL over the past two seasons against one another. Since the beginning of 2015, Kansas City's 23 regular season victories are second only to New England's 26.
The two teams have faced off twice since Head Coach Andy Reid took the reins in 2013, with each team winning once. The Chiefs won the first matchup in 2014, 41-14, on Monday Night Football at Arrowhead Stadium. Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions, including a pick-six to safety Husain Abdullah, as New England suffered its worst loss since 2003. Chiefs' quarterback Alex Smith posted a 144.4 passer rating in that game, the highest mark New England has allowed since 2010.
The Patriots came out on top in the second meeting, 27-20, in the Divisional round of the 2015 playoffs.
Time has passed since both meetings, though some constants remain the same.
Reid and Patriots' Head Coach Bill Belichick still man their posts on the sidelines, and at a historically good rate. Belichick currently ranks fourth in NFL history with 225 career wins (including the postseason), while Reid ranks 10th with 184 victories. They're the only two active coaches in the Top 25.
The signal callers also remain the same, as Smith and Brady are still under center at quarterback for their respective teams, and few passers have led their teams to victory as much as these two. Since 2011, Brady's 72 wins lead the NFL while Smith's 60 wins rank third.
Beyond the coaches and quarterbacks, though, quite a bit has changed since these teams last met, and it all starts with the playmakers.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill took the league by storm last season as a rookie, and he'll look to build on that success as he becomes an even bigger part of Kansas City's offense this season.
Hill was especially adept at playing under the lights last year, scoring seven of his 12 touchdowns in prime time games.
Tight end Travis Kelce was also at his best on the big stage, hauling in 29 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns in four prime time games last season. Though Kelce was around for the first two meetings with New England, he's taken his game to a new level since.
The fifth-year tight end put together his best season as a professional last year, amassing 1,120 yards through the air on 85 catches. Since Week 11 of last season, Kelce leads the NFL in receiving with 659 yards.
Kelce was particularly skilled in the open field, logging the third-most yards after the catch in the NFL with 653. That creates an interesting matchup on Thursday night, as the Patriots allowed the fewest yards after the catch in the league last season.
While Hill, Kelce and third-year receiver Chris Conley will account for the majority of Kansas City's passing game, rookie running back Kareem Hunt will line up in the backfield.
Hunt, the Chiefs' third-round pick in the 2016 Draft, will look to establish Kansas City's running game along with Charcandrick West. In both of New England's losses last season, they allowed at least 95 yards on the ground.
The Chiefs have their work cut out for them, as the Patriots posted the best scoring defense in the NFL last season, but Kansas City's variety of playmakers on offense could create problems for New England's defenders.
Defensively, the Chiefs will look to contain a high-powered New England offense.
Though Brady is one of the best at his craft, the Chiefs had a knack for slowing down opposing quarterbacks last season. Kansas City held opposing signal callers to a 79.8 passer rating in 2016, the third-best mark in the NFL, and didn't allow an opposing quarterback to post a rating over 75.0 through the Chiefs' final five games (including the postseason).
That translated into results, as Kansas City trotted out the seventh-best scoring defense in the NFL last season.
The Chiefs will need to maintain that form on Thursday night against a Patriots offense that has its fair share of playmakers. New England lost its leading receiver from last season, Julian Edelman, to a torn ACL this preseason, but the Patriots still feature a variety of weapons offensively, notably tight end Rob Gronkowksi.
One way to prevent those playmakers from getting the ball in their hands is to make Brady uncomfortable. Linebacker Justin Houston, who played just eight snaps in Kansas City's loss to New England two years ago, is healthy and capable of creating havoc in the backfield. Messing with Brady's timing could be the difference between a completion and a turnover.
The key to slowing down New England's attack could very well come down to turnovers, which introduces another interesting comparison between the two teams. The Chiefs forced the most turnovers in the NFL last season with 33, while the Patriots committed just 11, tied for the fewest in the league.
When a pair of teams are as evenly matched as these two appear to be, just one turnover could prove critical.
Luckily for the Chiefs, they have one of the best in the business when it comes to taking the ball away from the offense, as cornerback Marcus Peters leads the NFL in interceptions over the last two seasons with 14.
The Patriots are the defending champions for a reason, but if Kansas City can play its game – an efficient, mistake-free offense combined with a sound, tenacious defense – there's no reason the Chiefs can't spoil the party in Foxborough on Thursday night.