For the next two weeks, the eyes of the football world will be on the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams.
But while Super Bowl LIII will determine the outcome of the 2018 NFL season, the contest will also have implications for the start of the league's 2019 campaign. Dating back to 2004, the defending Super Bowl champions have gone on the host the NFL Kickoff Game the following season.
And if that team turns out to be New England this year, it could also mean a spot in prime time for the Cleveland Browns.
Although the NFL schedule won't be released until April, teams already know which opponents they'll be facing in 2019 and whether those games will occur at home or on the road. In the Patriots' case, the 3-time defending AFC champs will be hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and yes, the Cleveland Browns in the coming year.
While there's no scientific formula that goes into how these games are scheduled, it's worth noting that in the 15 years since the NFL has featured the defending Super Bowl champion in its season kickoff -- typically played on Thursday night in Week 1 -- 13 of the matchups have featured an opponent from the same conference. The lone exceptions came in 2007 and 2016, when the defending champs also happened to host their Super Bowl opponents the following season.
Since the Patriots don't host the Rams in 2019, such potential rematch wouldn't be possible. And assuming the league sticks its intra-conference preference, that would leave the Steelers, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Chiefs and Browns as possible opponents for Week 1 should New England win its sixth Super Bowl since 2001.
The obvious choice would be the Chiefs, who just lost to the Patriots in overtime of the AFC Championship Game and feature one football's brightest young stars in MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes. If oddsmakers were to handicap who New England would host in the kickoff game should it win next Sunday, Kansas City would be the favorite -- perhaps even a heavy one.
But if for whatever reason the league were to choose a team other than the Chiefs -- and for what it's worth, it bypassed a conference title rematch between the Eagles and Vikings in the kickoff game this past year -- the Browns could very well be the next best bet.
Like Kansas City, Cleveland possesses a popular young quarterback in Baker Mayfield, whose first career matchup against Tom Brady -- assuming he doesn't retire -- will undoubtedly receive plenty of attention. And although the Browns haven't made the playoffs in 17 years, they'll enter 2019 with no shortage of buzz following a 5-2 finish in the final seven games of the 2018 campaign.
With other emerging young players like Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward and David Njoku coupled with the team's highly publicized stint on HBO's Hard Knocks, it's not crazy to think the Browns could be a more appealing pick for a Patriots opener than the Steelers and they'd almost assuredly be selected ahead of the Jets, Bills and Dolphins.
At this point, we don't even know if New England will be the team hosting next season's kickoff game. But what we do know is that one way or another, the Browns will be featured plenty in prime time in 2019.
And depending on next Sunday's outcome, they may not have to wait long for their first appearance.