Playoff Rematch, NFC South Battle Highlight First Sunday of NFL Football

Drew BreesWhile the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos got the party started on Thursday night, that was just the appetizer. The full menu of NFL action will be served on Sunday with a total of 13 games on course. Then we’ll have another two more matchups for dessert on Monday night.

Here’s our rundown for Week 1 of the regular season:

Top Three Must-See Games of the Week:

1. Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

The Saints were the top dogs in the NFC South until Bountygate. One season later — now that they have head coach Sean Payton back after his year-long suspension — the Saints aim to establish that their drop in the standings was merely temporary.

The Falcons have since emerged as one of the elite teams in the NFC and after adding running back Steven Jackson, their goal is to prove that they are in fact Super Bowl contenders after falling short in last year’s playoffs. This should be a very even, high-scoring Week 1 affair.

2. Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

The Packers were twice thumped by the 49ers last season: once in Week 1 and once in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The general perception is that after that Week 1 meeting, the 49ers got stronger and the Packers grew weaker. That notion has carried over into the offseason, as many prognosticators have the 49ers pegged as one of the best teams in the NFL while Green Bay has fallen back to the pack. Yes, they’re still expected to be good. But do they have a running game to support quarterback Aaron Rodgers, is their offensive line reliable and is their defense any better?

We’ll get some of those answers in Week 1. The NFL odds list the 49ers as a 4.5-point home favorite in what will be the highlight game on Sunday afternoon.

3. Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

The Eagles-Redskins matchup has intrigue for plenty of reasons. For starters, quarterback Robert Griffin III has been medically cleared to start. After suffering a gruesome knee injury in January, enduring a long rehab and being held out of the preseason, we’ll finally see what RGIII looks like to start his sophomore season in the NFL.

On the other sideline, the Eagles will be unveiling a new head coach for the first time in 15 seasons. Chip Kelly brings his up-tempo attack to the NFL, and a lot of people are curious to see how — or if — it translates.

These two teams clash on the Monday Night Football opener, which is part of a doubleheader on ESPN. The Redskins are a 3.5-point favorite.

Biggest Underdog with a Reasonable Chance to Win? The Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are a 5.5-point underdog on the NFL lines at Bovada, but they are more than capable of going into Detroit and winning. After all, they did beat the Lions twice last season by an average of 8.5 points. Many experts expect the Lions to have a bounce-back season and the jury is still out on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, but as long as Adrian Peterson is healthy (273 rushing yards and one touchdown in the two 2012 meetings), the Vikings will have a very good shot to win.

Best Suicide Pool Pick? The Indianapolis Colts

There are a few good options this week, including the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Colts seem like the best of the bunch. We’ll stash the Pats and Steelers for later.

The Colts were a playoff team last season and will open at home against the Oakland Raiders, who are expected to be among the worst teams in the NFL in 2013. Terrelle Pryor versus Andrew Luck is a huge quarterbacking mismatch. That should make the Colts the safest suicide pool pick of the week.

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