Packers avoid potential NFL opener

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GREEN BAY – The New England Patriots’ historic comeback in Super Bowl LI might have kept the Green Bay Packers out of a less-than-ideal opener.

The Packers will travel to the Atlanta Falcons at some point this fall. Although the 2017 schedule isn’t released until April, the Super Bowl champion annually hosts next season’s first game on a Thursday night.

A Packers trip to Atlanta to kick off the NFL season would have been a rematch of the NFC championship game, fitting for such a stage.

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Alas, the Patriots made their epic comeback from a 28-3 deficit to win in overtime, 34-28. The first overtime game in the Super Bowl’s 51-year history means the Packers likely will open their season somewhere other than in Atlanta. The Falcons have a trip to New England on their schedule in 2017, which could become the league’s opener.

Not only would an NFL opener in Atlanta have forced the Packers to watch the Falcons unveil their Super Bowl banner, but it would also christen Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Neither scenario has been kind to the Packers in recent years.

The Packers last opened the NFL season in 2014, losing 36-16 at the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks. They last christened an opponent’s stadium in Week 2 last season, losing 17-14 against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Another benefit is the Packers will have the standard 10 days between their final preseason exhibition and regular-season opener. A Thursday night opener would have given them only a week.

It’s still possible for the Packers to christen Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it won’t be to open the NFL season. The Patriots took care of that with their legendary comeback, ending when former Wisconsin running back James White plunged into the end zone in overtime.

Contact Ryan Wood at rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood