Real football is finally here with the sleep-inducing preseason finally over, which means it is time to examine the point spreads for Week 1 of the NFL season.
Spreads tell the story of perception between two teams and take into account the past, location, injuries and projected success for each team before creating an official line.
Week 1 features some matchups that have a closer line than some may expect. It is one of the toughest weeks to predict in the NFL realm, but here are some teams favored in the spread that will win in a much bigger fashion than the lines predict.
Note: All odds are courtesy of Vegas Insider
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) Will Trounce New York Jets on the Road
It is never easy to start an NFL season on the road, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lucked out and were given the New York Jets and rookie quarterback Geno Smith to start the season.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter points out, the Jets are ready to start Smith rather than a more veteran option:
Jets name Geno Smith their QB for Sunday's opener, meaning Patriots likely to face rookie QBs in their first two games.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 4, 2013
That's a questionable move for the Jets after a preseason from Smith highlighted by his complete and utter lack of awareness that resulted in him running out of the back of his own end zone unscathed for a safety.
Whether fans agree with the decision or not, it is a win for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have a sound safety duo with Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson. Corner Darrelle Revis will also make his debut with the Buccaneers against his former team:
Barring no setbacks, the plan is for CB Darrelle Revis to play in the season opener against the Jets.— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@TBBuccaneers) August 30, 2013
Which team wins?
Smith won't have much help as the running back position features a back in Chris Ivory who has missed 20 games in the past two seasons.
Tampa Bay has the offensive firepower to win in a big way. Running back Doug Martin will do the majority of the scoring after a 1,454-yard performance a season ago. Star receiver Vincent Jackson will be bottled up by Antonio Cromartie, but Martin will do enough for the Buccaneers to control the pace of the game with ease.
Three points simply is not enough. Buccaneers win big.
Prediction: Buccaneers 35, Jets 14
New Orleans Saints (-3) Will Win Big at Home Over Atlanta Falcons
The New Orleans Saints enter a matchup with heated NFC South rival Atlanta at home as slight favorites.
That aligns well with how things played out last year at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 10 when the Saints notched a victory over the Falcons, 31-27.
The problem with the line here is it does not take into account several factors about the 2013 edition of the Saints.
For one, New Orleans fielded the worst statistical defense in league history last season. This offseason has seen coordinator Rob Ryan come to town and implement his 3-4 scheme. It's a work in progress, but Matt Ryan and Co. won't be seeing the same old Saints defense again.
Which team wins?
Secondly, head coach Sean Payton is back. Last year the Falcons were able to win by 10 in Week 13 courtesy of Drew Brees' five interceptions. With Payton back at the helm, Brees will not be forced to do it all alone, as the play-calling will be more diverse, so Atlanta cannot expect to have a game gift-wrapped like that again.
Finally, Atlanta is asking rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to play a significant role on defense right away. They're sound players, but a trial by fire in their first NFL game against Brees is a recipe for disaster.
New Orleans wins big at home.
Prediction: Saints 42, Falcons 30
Houston Texans (-4) Set to Dominate Inferior Chargers in San Diego
Arian Foster or not, the Houston Texans have enough offensive firepower on the road to overcome a San Diego Chargers squad stuck in rebuild mode.
As John McClain of the Houston Chronicle points out, Foster—owner of 1,200 yards or more the past three seasons—will not carry the full load in San Diego:
Kubiak said Arian Foster won't be a "30-carry guy" against San Diego cause he didn't play in preseason.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 30, 2013
Foster's reduced role may sound like great news for San Diego, but in reality it doesn't matter with backup Ben Tate running behind the same line in an effective zone-blocking scheme.
Tate rushed for almost 1,000 yards in 2011 with Foster missing time. This preseason Tate averaged 5.7 yards per carry before coach Gary Kubiak said he expects Tate to have a major year, per the team's official website.
To make matters worse, the Chargers defense will be without a few stars such as Melvin Ingram (who was lost for the year in the offseason) and rookie linebacker Manti Te'o, who is dealing with a foot injury per Schefter:
LB Manti Te'o did not practice Wednesday due to foot injury. Chargers preparing Bront Bird to start Monday vs. Texans.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 5, 2013
Which team wins?
The Chargers ranked sixth against the run last year, but the duo of Foster and Tate are set to run wild in San Diego. As that happens, quarterback Matt Schaub, who has completed 61 or more percent of his passes the last seven seasons, will be able to pick apart the Chargers through the air.
Add in a sound defensive pass rush from J.J. Watt and a host of others and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is going to have a rough day.
Texans win in convincing fashion.
Prediction: Texans 28, Chargers 14
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling