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What are the biggest upsets in NFL Kickoff Game history?

In the 20th anniversary of the NFL Kickoff Game, we take a look at how we got to where we are and the biggest upsets in the fixture’s history

In the 20th anniversary of the NFL Kickoff Game, we take a look at how we got to where we are and the biggest upsets in the fixture’s history

With the NFL season getting underway in tonight’s 2022 Kickoff Game between the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and the highly touted Buffalo Bills, there is more than a whiff of conversation about a possible upset floating around on the breeze.

First conceived back in 2002 as a mid-week single event designed as an aperitif for the Week 1 Sunday action, it wasn’t until two seasons later when the fixture began to be seen as a vehicle to feature the reigning Super Bowl champions hosting the season’s opening salvo. In that time, there have been three upsets where the champs were unseated by rival teams.

The first two Kickoff Games involved strong teams, although not the previous year’s champions, and saw the top two NFC teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants face off in 2002, while the 2003 game pitted two mid-table teams in the Washington Redskins, as they were known at the time, against the New York Jets. From 2004 onward, the previous Super Bowl winner has hosted the game.

The defending champions are 13-3 in the fixture with the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, and New England Patriots being the only defending champs to have lost.


Dallas Cowboys 24-17 New York Giants

2012 was the only edition of the Kickoff Game to be played on a Wednesday night rather than Thursday, so that broadcasters could avoid competing with the Democratic National Convention. Having won Super Bowl XLVI, the heavily favored Giants were shocked at MetLife Stadium by the Cowboys.

With the previous year’s championship run anchored on Eli Manning’s fourth-quarter comebacks, the home crowd were stunned to see Dallas quarterback Tony Romo throw for 307 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 24-17 Cowboys upset.


Baltimore Ravens 27-49 Denver Broncos

The following year saw the upset repeated when the reigning Baltimore Ravens were upended by the Denver Broncos. With the Orioles playing a home game on the same date, the Ravens, although nominally the home team, had to travel to Mile High Stadium, where Joe Flacco was left wanting in front of a Peyton Manning quarterback masterclass, throwing for 7 touchdowns in a 27-49 stunner.


Kansas City Chiefs 42-27 New England Patriots

The most present in the minds of NFL fans will be this toppling of Tom Brady and the Patriots by the Kansas City Chiefs 42-27 at Gillette Stadium.

Having pulled off the Super Bowl miracle to come back from a 28-3 fourth quarter deficit, the end of the 2016 season was the beginning of the legend of Tom Brady. Already a five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, he began to be seen as not only the recipient of a great system, but as a true challenger for the GOAT title when he led the Patriots to 19 unanswered fourth-quarter points to send the game to overtime and take home a Lombardi Trophy that had been seen as out of reach only thirty minutes before.

Coming back to Foxborough triumphant as champions, just seven months later, the Patriots and their fans with commissioner Roger Goodell in attendance were handed a humiliating 42-27 loss to a Chiefs team that saw the handover of the quarterback role from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes during Week 17.