The NFL emerges from hibernation on Thursday night, beginning the highly anticipated 2014 season with a super slate of Week 1 matchups.
Those productive Sundays spent catching up on errands and enjoying quality family time are over. Well, not if your to-do list consists exclusively of watching football with your loved ones. In that case, your goal is as good as met starting this weekend.
Week 1 will jump seamlessly into the beloved chaos that is the NFL. Five contests pit division rivals against each other while both Super Bowl XLVIII representatives will clash with conference playoff foes.
Let's take a look at the opening week's complete schedule along with odds and picks to prepare for football's glorious return.
|NFL Week 1 Schedule, Spreads and Picks|
|Green Bay||Seattle (-5.5)||8:30 p.m. (Thur.)||23-17 SEA|
|New Orleans (-2.5)||Atlanta||1 p.m.||32-24 NO|
|Cincinnati||Baltimore (-1)||1 p.m.||20-17 CIN|
|Buffalo||Chicago (-7.5)||1 p.m.||34-20 CHI|
|Washington||Houston (-2.5)||1 p.m.||27-23 HOU|
|Tennessee||Kansas City (-3.5)||1 p.m||23-20 TEN|
|New England (-5)||Miami||1 p.m.||28-21 NE|
|Oakland||NY Jets (-5.5)||1 p.m.||13-10 OAK|
|Jacksonville||Philadelphia (-12)||1 p.m.||38-24 PHI|
|Cleveland||Pittsburgh (-7)||1 p.m.||19-13 PIT|
|Minnesota||St. Louis (-3)||1 p.m.||21-20 MIN|
|San Francisco (-4.5)||Dallas||4:25 p.m.||31-24 SF|
|Carolina||Tampa Bay (-1)||4:25 p.m.||16-13 TB|
|Indianapolis||Denver (-9)||8:30 p.m.||38-30 DEN|
|NY Giants||Detroit (-5.5)||7:10 p.m. (Mon.)||27-14 DET|
|San Diego||Arizona (-3)||10:20 p.m. (Mon.)||24-21 ARI|
|Odds courtesy of Odds Shark|
All odds, updated as of Thursday, Sept. 4 at 10 a.m., are courtesy of Odds Shark.
Spreads to Exploit
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-1)
The Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. During that stretch, they've annually improved their win total by one, starting at 9-7 in 2011 and rising to AFC North champions at 11-5 last season.
They're underdogs against an 8-8 squad with a minus-32 point differential last year. What's up with that?
The thing is, Cincinnati would have been more likely to enter this division showdown as the favorite if it hadn't made the playoffs last season. Rather than be celebrated as one of two AFC teams to make the last three postseasons, with the New England Patriots being the other, the Bengals are vilified for coming up empty every time.
Because of his postseason lapses, making fun of quarterback Andy Dalton has become the cool thing to do in between taking jabs at Tony Romo. Yet he outplayed Joe Flacco by a mile a year after the Baltimore quarterback's championship run.
|Andy Dalton vs. Joe Flacco: 2013 Stats|
|PLAYER||CMP %||PASS YDS||YDS/ATT||TDS||INTS|
Along with the Bengals' 0-3 playoff record since Dalton came to town, they're also winless in three tries at M&T Bank Stadium. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth addressed that drought as another hurdle they need to pass.
"It's a great opportunity for us to have another growing step," Whitworth told The Associated Press' Joe Kay. "We've talked about it over the years. We've had this little step here or that little step there where this team's continued to improve. But we haven't won in Baltimore."
That flashing zero provides a juicy nugget for bettors, but the Ravens were a 12-win squad in 2011 and a Super Bowl champion in 2012. Last year, a much more average club salvaged an overtime victory at home over their rivals but succumbed to a 17-point loss in Ohio.
Don't underestimate how horrible the Ravens offense performed last season. Football Outsiders ranked them No. 30 in offensive Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), and they'll start the year against the No. 5 defense. Even if the distance lessens between these two clubs in 2014, the Bengals still enter as the superior squad.
Prediction: Bengals 20, Ravens 17
Minnesota Vikings at St Louis Rams (-3)
With Matt Cassel under center, the Minnesota Vikings displayed a solid offense last season.
During the seven full games he played, Minnesota went 4-3, scoring 24.1 points per game with an average of 240.3 passing yards from the recently named starter. Then again, that's actually down from the 26.9 points per game amassed with Christian Ponder leading the way.
Either way, the Vikings quietly harness one of the league's most dangerous offenses.
They should only get better as wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson continues to blossom. He closed out last season with six touchdowns (three rushing, three receiving) during the final five games. With coordinator Norv Turner taking his offense to Minnesota, a big breakout is on the horizon.
Defense, of course, is the team's real concern. Its No. 21 DVOA isn't as bad as its No. 31 rank in terms of yards allowed, but the unit faces great uncertainty without pass-rushing mainstay Jared Allen.
Luckily, quarterback Shaun Hill and the St. Louis Rams don't present a stark challenge on that side of the equation. While Sam Bradford's replacement has played well in the past as an understudy, he's also out of practice. Over the past three seasons, he has thrown 16 combined passes. For what it's worth, though, he completed 12 of them.
The 34-year-old has never played 12 or more games in a season, and now he's tasked with reviving a passing offense that ranked No. 27 last season. Perhaps he finds a bit more success than Kellen Clemens did last season now that wide receiver Kenny Britt is around, but all the pressure remains on St. Louis' defensive line.
The defense racked up 53 sacks last season, but the pressure is on to repeat that performance. If the Rams don't successfully get to the quarterback, their secondary is exploitable. Opponents completed 68.1 percent of their passes and accumulated 242.1 passing yards per game against them last year. Defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long must have monster games to keep the score low enough to avoid a Week 1 upset.
Prediction: Vikings 21, Rams 20