The season kicks off with a Thursday night special on NBC. Al and John in the booth doing their shtick. Andrea Kremer roaming the sidelines looking forlorn, which I think is because she has such sad eyes. Whatever - the game is what we are really interested in, and this one should be a great opener.
Saints at Colts - Best to go with Indy at home, but not by much. New Orleans has the talent, schedule and hunger to be the best team in the NFC this season. Although the Saints have won five of the last six between these two teams, that stat doesn't count for much as these two just don't play very often, no more than once every four years or so.
Both are dome teams, so no advantage there, except for Indy being at home and with their fans fresh to celebrate last year's championship the atmosphere is sure to be raucous. When New Orleans has the ball, the noise level will simulate the deck of an aircraft carrier.
The league has done us fans a favor by picking this game to start the real season. Let us rejoice and be glad for it. I plan to enjoy it so much, I won't even mind if the pick is wrong.
Broncos at Bills - Denver is an early favorite to make the postseason following a disappointing 2006 record of 9-7. Buffalo made some improvements last year to finish at 7-9, but Denver has more talent, particularly on offense. Buffalo should play as well as usual at home, but it should be over by the middle of the third quarter.
Steelers at Browns - These two usually play very tough against one another. Comes with the hatred, I guess, but the black helmets have had the better of this series for many years.
I hope Cleveland surprises me, I really do. Not counting on it, though.
Eagles at Packers - This one should be a no-doubter for Philadelphia, but this is just the sort of situation that Lambeau Field lives for. I'm taking my heart over my head and counting on Favre to outgun McNabb for the most improbable win of the weekend.
Chiefs at Texans - The expectation is that Kansas City will be hurting for offense this season. Nobody really knows what to make of Houston yet. This will be the invisible game of the weekend. If you don't own the satellite package, this one will be hard to find. Somehow, I don't think we'll miss much. I'm taking Houston just for the heck of it.
Titans at Jaguars - This will be a lot closer than expected. Jack del Rio has gone and upset the quarterback apple cart in Jacksonville. David Garrard is capable, but not flashy. When defenses concentrate on him, as opposed to just dealing with him because Leftwich went down again, he has not shown the talent to make the plays when needed.
Jags win if they run the ball well, but Fred Taylor is beginning to show a lot of tread wear on them tires. If Jacksonville can't move the ball, their defense will wear down and Vince Young will have a good second half. Win or lose, Jeff Fisher keeps his reputation intact.
Jacksonville is the pick, but only because it's at home.
Falcons at Vikings - Nothing like starting off the season by pairing two of the most recent extreme examples of off-the-field dysfunction in league history. It's the kind of game only the National Enquirer could love.
Atlanta has had the better of this series lately, but both teams have so many unanswered questions it makes a clear pick impossible. Normally, I would go for the home team, but I just can't. It's a thick limb I'm walking on that leads me to the conclusion the Falcons are better.
Patriots at Jets - Nothing is better than starting the season off with an intradivision matchup that will test both teams to the limit. Now we will see if the offseason New England talent hunt was fruitful. We will also see how much the term "Man-genius" actually applies to New York's coach. Until New England demonstrates weakness, I'm going to stick with the strength they show on paper.
Panthers at Rams - Both teams finished 8-8 last year and should be improved this year. Carolina has won the last three meetings to take a 10-7 lead in the series, including 1-0 in the playoffs. Personally, I'm a Rams fan, so I root for them no matter what, and they must win this game to have a decent shot at a break-even first half of the season. (You can see how bad I'm pulling for them!) A dome team with speed and power against a defense that is a bit weak in the middle. They'll score the points.
Delhomme and Steve Smith are just as dangerous, and St. Louis has far less talent on the defensive side. Professional discretion forces me to take Carolina. It's the head over the heart this time. (Boo! You stink!)
Dolphins at Redskins - As bad as Kansas City-Houston will be, this one may just top it - or rather bottom it, as the case may be. I'll take Joe Gibbs over Cam Cameron (my current definition of a no-brainer), but the only thing that will surprise me is if this game turns out to be well-played. Count how many guffaws emanate from Dan Dierdorf during this broadcast, if you dare! Turn it into a drinking game, and you may not live to regret it.
Lions at Raiders - I think Ralph Kramden said it best: Well har-har-har-dee-har-har! These two were a combined 5-27 last season, and we're supposed to watch this? Maybe not, given that Fox has got the game buried so deep in its schedule that it may not even show up on satellite until 2 a.m. If I'm still up at that hour, I plan to re-watch the Kentucky-Kent State game recorded the day before. As amazing as it sounds, that's bound to be better.
I wonder about the sanity of the 60,000-plus who will actually buy tickets to this. Look for these two in Super Bowl MMCCXIV (M-O-U-S-E!).
Bears at Chargers - Now, that's more like it! If not for a fumbled interception, this could have been last year's Super Bowl. San Diego has the talent. Now we will see if they've got the coaching. Not sure of that, but it's worth a pick to me.
This is another can't-miss game of the day, a perfect complement to the Pats/Jets tilt earlier. The prospect of this game has improved my mood so much that I am over my sarcastic spat enough to say, of the previous game, take Detroit versus Oakland.
Buccaneers at Seahawks - Seattle has the better talent, the better record the past three years, the winning edge in the series between these two teams, and the home field advantage for this game. That's good enough for me.
Tampa Bay has some things to prove before I will pick them on the road against anyone except Oakland or Cleveland. I'd like to see them do it, because I have no great love for Seattle and the first half of their schedule this season is pretty brutal for a team down on its luck - not that the league cares about that ... obviously.
Giants at Cowboys - The storyline of Bill Parcells is now a bit of a stretch, but what'cha bet Al, John and Andrea mention it at least half a dozen times over the course of this Sunday night funfest at Texas Stadium? Two of the most overhyped teams in history, so naturally, they get the first prime time Sunday slot of the season.
If Manning settles down and stops rushing everything that requires a little improvisation, he might just make a winning quarterback. I think that clock in his head has a busted spring or something.
A close game, but I take a desperate Tom Coughlin over a freshly repackaged Wade Phillips. As a result, Jerry Jones' facelift suffers a sag or two.
Ravens at Bengals - Again, ESPN gives us a Monday night doubleheader to start the season, and this is Game One. I don't know about you, but Tony Kornheiser has forced me to find the "mute" button on all my remotes. Somebody please put him back in his PTI shoutbox before he ruins another live broadcast (yes, that's actual begging).
Baltimore has the defense to keep Cincinnati from controlling the game and enough offense to score against one of the weaker secondaries in the conference.
If the NFL was an open market, I would recommend a merger and invest. Sadly, that's not how they make the money in this league. Somebody's gotta lose. That's you, Cincy!
Cardinals at 49ers - Seems as though San Francisco is a team on the rise. We'll see. Another of the intradivisional games to start the season. This late-night national broadcast on ESPN may be the only time you get to see Arizona this season. For those who must go to work Tuesday, this should be recorded for later viewing. It's not going to be worth losing sleep over.
Niners should win, but I'd like to see if Matt Leinart has learned anything.