It's finally here! Come Thursday night, the NFL season will kick off as the New Orleans Saints travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers.
Here I'll take a look at what I see as the five best bets — either picks against the spread or over/unders — for the first week of NFL action.
Lets get started with Thursday's big game.
As I detailed in an earlier column, I love the Packers this year. There's just so much upside there.
They played all of last season without their top running back, Ryan Grant, and one of their top pass-catchers, Jermichael Finley. Both of those guys are back and healthy now, and I foresee their offense being almost unstoppable.
This isn't to slight the Saints, who I think will be good this year. I just don't think they'll be able to keep up with the Pack.
I think Green Bay is better than New Orleans both offensively and defensively, and typically you give a team three points for home field advantage. That makes this a relatively easy call for me.
The pick: Green Bay -3.5
The over on 47.5 points also seems like a pretty good bet here.
Detroit is the darling of many preseason prognosticators, and while I'm hesitant to completely buy in to the hype, I do see them taking a step up this year.
One of my concerns with the Lions is that if Matthew Stafford isn't healthy they don't have much in terms of backup quarterbacks. However, Stafford is healthy right now, so for this game, those concerns are irrelevant. Stafford performed very well in the three games he played last year, with a passer rating of 91.3. He was 1-2 in those games, but the losses were against the Bears in Chicago and to the Jets in overtime, neither of which are anything to be ashamed of.
On to Tampa Bay. What worries me about the Bucs is that they only defeated one winning team last year, and that was the Saints in week 17, who were already locked into the 5-seed and had nothing to play for.
Detroit is a good team, and I don't think Tampa Bay will be able to stick with them.
The pick: Detroit +2
Everyone seems to be hating on the Giants right now.
I'm not crazy about them, but I think their offense has some serious potential. Nicks and Manningham form quite an impressive duo of receivers, and the backfield team of Bradshaw and Jacobs isn't too shabby either.
When I look at Washington, I just don't see anything good. They're starting Rex Grossman at QB. Let that sink in for a minute. Rex Grossman.
Their backfield is made up of Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain, neither of whom is anything more than an average running back. If you look past Santana Moss on the WR depth chart, you'll see Jabar Gaffney starting opposite him.
This one shouldn't be close.
The pick: Giants -3
Last year, the Chargers went 6-2 at home. One of those losses was a close game against the Pats (23-20), and the other was a mystifying thrashing at the hands of the Raiders. We'll chalk that one up as an outlier.
Let's focus on the victories. In those six wins, San Diego beat their opponents by an average of 24 points. 24! The only somewhat-close game was a 33-25 win over Tennessee. To me, this game against the Vikings looks like it has a very good chance of being a blowout.
San Diego's offense has all of their major players healthy, something that didn't happen at all last year. Mathews and Tolbert are both ready to go in the backfield, and Rivers will finally get the chance to throw to both Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson in the same game. They're going to put up some serious points.
Minnesota isn't a bad team. In fact, they should improve over last year once Donovan gets acclimated to the offense. But for now, I think they're going to struggle a little bit trying to move the ball down the field, and their defense is just average.
The pick: San Diego -8.5
And now we move to Monday night, where the Pats face off against the Dolphins. Neither of last year's games between these teams was close, as New England won 38-7 in Foxboro and 41-14 in Miami.
The Dolphins didn't make too many big changes in the offseason.
They got rid of former second-overall draft pick Ronnie Brown and replaced him with former second-overall draft pick Reggie Bush. Chad Henne is still their quarterback, and he's probably still mediocre. Their defense is pretty good, but as evidenced by last year's scores, they haven't figured out how to stop the Pats.
The Patriots had an outstanding regular season last year before falling to the Jets in the playoffs, and seem poised to be great once again.
Nothing has been lost on offense, but they've added Chad Ochocinco to their receiving corps and a gaggle of rookie running backs to their already-crowded backfield. We'll see how good their defense is after cutting Pro Bowl safety Brandon Merriweather, but as long as it is an average squad they should be able to win a lot of games with their offense, including this one.
The pick: New England -7