Those people are all wrong; the NFL's opening week is simply the best sporting weekend of the year.
It beings on Thursday with a marquee matchup. There's pomp, circumstance, pyrotechnics and football. There is then the brief intermission that follows in the next two days, but once you wake up Sunday morning, it's like you died and went to heaven.
Games at 1 p.m. Games at 4 p.m. A game at 8 p.m. Go to bed, wake up, go to work, get home and there are two more games waiting for you on Monday night.
This weekend is a time to soak in the glory of the NFL, a time to reacquaint your stomach with bacon-filled concoctions and try out those Miller Lite home draft things (just because), a time to remind your loved ones that yes, it is possible to sit in the same spot on the couch for 11 hours while wearing sweatpants and only moving for bathroom breaks.
Football is back. Thank goodness.
Now, onto this year's first installment of picks.
(Home team in caps.)
Minnesota (+5.5) over NEW ORLEANS
The New Orleans Saints are still a very good team. In fact, they may still be the best team in the NFL. Yet, the past seven months have been spent celebrating. On Thursday night, reality will come flying back — and quickly.
Of course, Brett Favre could come out a bit rusty (he threw for just 110 yards and a touchdown in his Vikings debut last year in a Vikings victory), but the Saints are coming off a charmed season. A Week 1 loss — or even a narrow victory — could be the wake-up call they need, and the Vikings are just the team to provide it.
Miami (-3) over BUFFALO
This Associated Press story said the Dolphins should finish with a .500 record, "buried in the AFC East standings."
Wait a second … what?
The Dolphins may not be the '75 Steelers, but writing them off before the season begins could be a huge mistake. They were 7-6 last year (just one season after, ahem, winning the division) before losing their final three games by an average of 5.3 points. They're a good team. Plus, they're lucking out big time by playing in Buffalo in September, rather than December. And they're lucking out even more by playing Buffalo, period.
TENNESSEE (-6.5) over Oakland
Perhaps the funniest sports story of my entire lifetime took place this week when, according to reports, the Redskins called up the Titans asking if they had any interest in Albert Haynesworth.
"Hey, Jeff, it's Mike up in D.C. … Good, good, yeah, everything's good. Hey listen — you remember that defensive tackle you guys had a few years back? Just a real beast of a player? Yeah and then we signed him for $3 billion. Well, let's be clear — I didn't sign him. But anyway, seeing as he was such a good player and all, how's about we send him back down there to you guys? Is that cool? Hello? Hello?"
Jeff Fisher must still be laughing.
Denver (+2.5) over JACKSONVILLE
The Jaguars only beat two teams with winning records last season. They needed overtime to beat the 1-15 Rams. They beat the 4-12 Chiefs and 6-10 Bills by a combined six points. Yet, they're a Week 1 favorite. I love the NFL.
Carolina (+6.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS
Count me out on the 2010 New York Giants. Count me in on the Matt Moore bandwagon.
(Note: I reserve the right to pretend that sentence was never written come Week 8.)
While you can't put too much stock in Carolina's 41-9 win over the Giants in Week 16 last year, you can't just outright ignore it. Hence, those 6.5 points look mighty fine.
Indianapolis (-2.5) over HOUSTON
If it seems like the Texans always play the Colts tough, it's because they do — the last five games between the two teams have been decided by eight points or fewer. Yet what all those games have in common is that the Colts won. Because that's what the Colts do. They win.
Especially in Week 1. Peyton Manning is at full strength, Bob Sanders hasn't had the chance to get injured yet and Jim Caldwell hasn't spoken a word yet (actually, that stays the same through Week 17). The Colts have lost just one of their last five season openers, winning those four games by an average margin of 13.75 points. Indy might be the safest bet of the day.
Atlanta (-2) over PITTSBURGH
Without Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's obviously a real wild card right now. Then again, it's Week 1 of the NFL season, so every team is a wild card. (Except for the Rams, Seahawks, Lions, Bills and Buccaneers. They're all going to be very, very bad at winning football games).
Cleveland (+2.5) over TAMPA BAY
Don't even think about this one. Just make a pick, move on and hope this game gets canceled.
Cincinnati (+4.5) over NEW ENGLAND
The sky is not falling in New England, but this will be a learning year for much of the Patriots' defense. Tom Brady's offense will always be a threat to score 30-plus points (which they did five times last season), but if the opposing team controls the ball, he won't get the chance (see: Baltimore Ravens, January 2010, Foxboro, Mass.).
With such a young, thin defense trying to stop a veteran offense with the likes of Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, this could be the first lesson for the Pats that those wins that used to seem automatic may not come so easily anymore.
That's not to say the Pats don't win this one, but 4.5 points is a big cover for a defense as thin and unproven as the Patriots'.
CHICAGO (-7) over Detroit
The Lions have to become a real NFL team again at some point, don't they? Consider that:
What does any of that have to do with this weekend's game against the Bears? Not much — not directly at least. But it's always a nice thing to look at if you're ever considering taking the Lions with a spread less than 14.
Green Bay (-3) over PHILADELPHIA
I'm not the standard "Kevin Kolb is going to be awful" kind of guy, but at the same time, let's just say I haven't ordered my No. 4 jersey from the Eagles' team store. Having him start against last year's second-best defense and likewise letting Aaron Rodgers start against last year's 30th-ranked passing defense is a pretty simple combination.
San Francisco (-3) over SEATTLE
There's a lot of pressure on San Francisco this year after winning eight games for the first time since 2002. I'm still not convinced they'll get very far with Alex Smith under center, but I'm very convinced they'll be just fine against the Seahawks.
(If there were prop bets for Week 1 on gushing comments on Pete Carroll and how super/amazing/awesome he is from Fox announcers Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan, the over/under would probably be hovering somewhere around infinity.)
Arizona (-3.5) over ST. LOUIS
The preseason doesn't really matter, but the Rams at least showed that they look a lot better than a 1-15 team this year. Yes, that is a compliment.
Still, they have a tough draw for Week 1 in facing the Cardinals. While they'll likely have some trouble this week, look for them to pick up some W's from Weeks 2-5, when they face the Raiders, Redskins, Seahawks and Lions.
WASHINGTON (+3.5) over Dallas
This may be the most illogical of the picks, but sometimes, that's what's necessary. As I just said, the preseason is not an end-all-be-all, but that Dallas offense looked so discombobulated that the Boys could be ripe for a tough one in Washington. I think. Maybe. Trying to predict NFC East games is like trying to guess Saturday night's Powerball numbers. You just have to make your pick and hope you're right but know on the inside that you just lost money.
Baltimore (+2.5) over NEW YORK JETS
After a season of Hard Knocks, trying to objectively look at Jets games for the first five or six weeks of the season is simply going to be impossible. We know too much. We know what Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan think of just about everyone on the roster. We know that Mark Sanchez doesn't have 59 cents to spare. We know that Antonio Cromartie doesn't know his kids' names off the top of his head. We know that Ryan is hopeful his team can get out to a hot start.
"We open the season with three of our toughest games right out of the gate," he said in one of his many one-way conversations on the show. "But the great thing is, if we end up kicking ass, you know, that's gonna send a frickin' message to the whole league. Like, 'Oh, [expletive]!'"
That type of message has pretty much been the bulk of what we've all seen of his coaching. What he may not have realized is that by saying as much, he opened up his team to having a target on it — one generally reserved for defending Super Bowl champions. The Jets, despite the hype, are not defending Super Bowl champions. They're not even defending AFC champions. Hell, they're not even defending AFC East champions.
That's not to say they won't be, but the image presented on Hard Knocks is one of a team that gets extraordinarily satisfied with itself for the simplest of accomplishments, even if it's playing somewhat well for one quarter against the Giants in the preseason opener.
You can bet that resident crazy man Ray Lewis will have the Ravens ready to some out with some fire against his former defensive coordinator.
San Diego (-5) over KANSAS CITY
I literally don't understand how a four-win team is only a four-point underdog against a 13-3 team in Week 1. Thomas Jones is good, but not that good.
After the Chargers win this game (they won last year's two meetings by a combined score of 80-21), Week 1 will officially be over. It will be past midnight on the East Coast, and we'll all have digested a full slate of 16 games. We can then sit back and wait for it to happen again the following week. And the next week. And the week after that. All the way until February.
The NFL season has begun. Finally. Now, let's go get a G.D. snack!
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