Does this mean we’re done talking about deflated footballs? Aw, man.
The 2015 NFL season (finally) kicks off Thursday night with a doozy between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. The rest of the league’s opening weekend looks enticing, too, especially since it signals the beginning of real football after being beaten over the head with Deflategate for months.
A new season means the slate is wiped clean, both for NFL teams and NESN.com’s pick “experts.” It won’t be long before the men are separated from the boys, but Week 1 is a perfect opportunity for everyone to puff out their chests and act like they’re better than everyone else, if only for a minute.
NESN.com’s Ricky Doyle, Ben Watanabe and Mike Cole are this year’s go-to pickers, which is a victory for the Internet, really. Let’s not waste any time in looking at this week’s picks, all against the spread.
All matchups and point spreads provided by OddsShark.
Thursday, Sept. 10
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-7), 8:30 p.m. ET
Ricky: Patriots. There’s no way the Patriots lose this game, right? Everyone knows Tom Brady will be out for blood after all of the crap he went through over the offseason. His assault on the league will begin right after New England’s Super Bowl banner is raised Thursday night.
Ben: Patriots. Has a matchup of preseason AFC championship favorites ever had this many unknowns? How will Tom Brady play? How will Pittsburgh weather a questionable defense and a spate of personnel losses? What’s New England’s defensive backfield going to look like?
Mike: Patriots. Hopefully, these two teams get together in the playoffs, because I think the matchup is fascinating — when everyone’s on the field. That won’t be the case Thursday, though, favoring the Patriots.
Sunday, Sept. 13
Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.
Ricky: Bills. The Rex Ryan-inspired bravado eventually will wear off. It just won’t happen Week 1. Andrew Luck has some nice new toys, but the Bills’ defense will punch him in the mouth early and often.
Ben: Bills. I like the Bills a lot more than most people and probably a lot more than I should. But Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes could make mincemeat out of Luck’s horrid offensive line.
Mike: Bills. Playing that defense, in that stadium, with Ryan on the other sideline and having to (potentially) stop LeSean McCoy? Seems like a stacked deck for the Colts.
Green Bay Packers (-7) at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m.
Ricky: Packers. Aaron Rodgers will pick apart Chicago’s defense and Jay Cutler will do Jay Cutler things. The Packers should roll, even in the Bears’ barn.
Ben: Packers. This is one of those lines where it seems like such a lock, I’m scared Las Vegas knows something the rest of us don’t. Injuries aside, the Packers should be able to field Rodgers and the cast of “That ’70s Show” and still win by three touches, right?
Mike: Packers. Cutler has a career 1-10 record versus the Packers, and this is arguably the worst Bears team he’s played on.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans (EV), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Texans. I’m not totally sold on quarterback Brian Hoyer, but the Texans’ defense — led by J.J. Watt — should be good enough to pin down the Chiefs at home to kick off the season. It won’t get any easier for Kansas City, either, as the Chiefs play the Packers, Broncos and Bengals in Weeks 2 through 4.
Ben: Chiefs. Am I the only person who sort of likes the Chiefs this season? I am? OK. Listen, K.C.’s defense was good enough with Mike DeVito and Derrick Johnson missing significant time last season. A fully healthy unit will handle the Texans.
Mike: Chiefs. Really looking forward to this 10-6 barn-burner.
Carolina Panthers (-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Ricky: Panthers. I just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to pick the Jags. And that’s saying something here because the Panthers probably are going to stink, too.
Ben: Panthers. The Jags should be greatly improved this season — as in, they could double their win total of a whole three victories in 2014 — but Cam Newton alone is worth at least three points, even with Kelvin Benjamin out.
Mike: Panthers. This feels like a “What am I missing here?” line that Ben kind of alluded to earlier. This feels like a Panthers lock to me — congrats, Jaguars fans.
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets (-3), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Jets. Not to be a jerk, but Geno Smith’s injury probably was a blessing in disguise. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t a world-beater, by any means, but I trust him to screw up less than Smith. And not screwing up will be the name of the game against the Browns, because it’s hard to imagine a Josh McCown-led offense doing much damage against Darrelle Revis and the Jets’ defense.
Ben: Jets. Revis and a tricky Jets secondary should give fits to McCown, a veteran who’s athletic but hardly cerebral when it comes to breaking down defenses.
Mike: Jets. The Jets aren’t going to make the playoffs or anything crazy like that, but they should chew up and spit out bad offenses, which Cleveland certainly looks like. Fitzpatrick does just enough to get the job done.
Seattle Seahawks (-4.5) at St. Louis Rams, 1 p.m.
Ricky: Seahawks. Trading Sam Bradford for Nick Foles is the epitome of a lateral move. The Rams’ defense might be solid, but the Seahawks will shut down St. Louis’ offense with ease.
Ben: Seahawks. We kept hearing all summer how the Rams are supposed to have a pretty cool defense in 2015. It didn’t really look that way in four ugly preseason showings, and Week 1 should be essentially another exhibition for Russell Wilson and the Hawks.
Mike: Seahawks. Never mind the Rams’ aforementioned defensive issues. How in the world do they figure to score points against the Seattle defense?
Miami Dolphins (-4) at Washington Redskins, 1 p.m.
Ricky: Dolphins. Talk about two wildly different offseasons from a quarterback standpoint: RG3 gets benched in the nation’s capital while Ryan Tannehill lands a monster contract in South Beach. The Dolphins have become a sexy sleeper pick in an improved AFC East. Week 1 should be a walk in the park.
Ben: Dolphins. If Ryan Tannehill can’t beat the directionless Redskins by at least a touchdown, he’s not what everyone keeps telling me he is.
Mike: Dolphins. Again, I’m with Ben here. If the Dolphins are about to take the jump everyone expects them to take, this is the sort of game you need to win by two, three touchdowns.
New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals (-1), 4:05 p.m.
Ricky: Cardinals. Drew Brees has a much different set of weapons this season and it might take some time for everyone to get on the same page.
Ben: Cardinals. People forget these guys started last season 9-1, and the early-season slate is far from stout again. After this opener, the Cards face the Bears, Niners, Rams and Lions in succession. Woof.
Mike: Cardinals. Picking games in Week 1 is so hard, you guys.
Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers (-2.5), 4:05 p.m.
Ricky: Chargers. Remember when Matthew Stafford was borderline elite? Neither do I. I’m all set picking the Lions away from Ford Field if I don’t have to. And I really don’t have to here.
Ben: Chargers. Haloti Ngata is a nice player, but he hardly rises to the level of a replacement for Ndamukong Suh. Philip Rivers could have a ball carving theses guys up.
Mike: Chargers. The next time I pick Stafford and the Lions on the road against a team that’s halfway decent will be the first.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-4.5), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Broncos. If I’m picking this game in January, it’s probably a different story. But Peyton Manning should have enough left in the tank to thrive early in the season before again fading late. Joe Flacco also needs to prove he can thrive alongside new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.
Ben: Ravens. Denver’s offensive line ranges from completely unproven to potentially over the hill. Peyton Manning had better watch out for Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who’s poised to become a star.
Mike: Broncos. C.J. Anderson is the most important player in the AFC that no one’s talking about. Gary Kubiak will probably give him the rock early and often to help take the pressure off of (and preserve) Manning.
Cincinnati Bengals (-3) at Oakland Raiders, 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Bengals. Did anyone ever figure out whether Derek Carr is wearing eyeliner? Anyway, the Raiders seem to be trending in the right direction, but the Bengals won 10 games last season and have remained mostly intact. Andy Dalton probably will puke on his shoes come playoff time, but he’s good enough to win this game in the middle of September.
Ben: Bengals. Ah, the beloved weekly game everyone will forget happened when they gather around the water cooler Monday morning. “Hey Jim, how about that Ravens-Broncos game, eh? And, uh, the Raiders … they played, right?”
Mike: Bengals. There’s virtually nothing on the line and the Raiders aren’t that good, which gives me the confidence to take the Bengals, even if it’s on the road.
Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Buccaneers. Two rebuilding teams with little to offer. The Bucs have more playmakers, though. Plus, they’re playing at home. Works for me.
Ben: Titans. The Bucs begin the season as favorites! This will be the most entertaining game of the week, in that it’ll be like those early scenes from “Little Giants” when the kids are just a hapless band of misfits who don’t know how to play football yet.
Mike: Buccaneers. Jameis Winston will flash his supposed brilliance by making a jaw-dropping play or two, which is really all it takes to beat the Titans.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-7), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Cowboys. The loss of DeMarco Murray hurts less when you have the best offensive line in the NFL. Tony Romo and the Cowboys will move the ball with ease. They’ll also score more points, which is kind of important when it comes to winning football games.
Ben: Giants. I’m not sure the Orlando Scandrick injury is all that damaging to a defense that wasn’t that great in the first place. Eli Manning and Big Blue might even be able to steal one in Big D.
Mike: Cowboys. (Insert joke about this being an old-fashioned Texas shootout.)
Monday, Sept. 14
Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Atlanta Falcons, 7:10 p.m.
Ricky: Eagles. Will Bradford take the next step with his new team? Sure, I’ll go out on that limb — for a week, at least.
Ben: Eagles. Nobody’s fully sure what to expect from the remade Eagles, but the Falcons by contrast are fairly predictable — something Chip Kelly might have a lot of fun with.
Mike: Eagles. This would be a fascinating matchup pitting the offensive-minded Kelly versus the defensive-minded Dan Quinn, if, you know, the Falcons could match up with the Eagles’ talent.
Minnesota Vikings (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers, 10:20 p.m.
Ricky: Vikings. This is 2015 and the 49ers’ window has closed, folks. Chris Borland had the right idea.
Ben: Vikings. I will not be watching this game, because I enjoy sleeping and also because neither team excites me that much, despite Minny’s status as a trendy preseason media darling.
Mike: Vikings. Even the Titanic was impressed by how fast the 49ers’ ship sunk.
Thumbnail photo via Danny Wild/USA TODAY Sports Images