Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
GREEN BAY 31, New Orleans 24 (+4) — Ils sont partis! An entirely appropriate salutation as the Saints are playing in this one, and it's used in place of the more traditional "They're off!" by the race caller at Evangeline Downs racetrack in Louisiana.
But picking against the Saints here is entirely appropriate too, given their 2-8 record (both straight up and against the spread) when visiting the Packers in franchise history, and the 7-0 straight up and 5-1-1 spread records the defending Super Bowl champions have registered in these Thursday night season openers since they became de rigeur—am I rockin' my French here or what?—in 2004.
N.Y. Giants 17, WASHINGTON 10 (+3) — Yes, the Giants suffered some very significant injuries on defense in a preseason that desperately needs to be shortened, but this week, at least, that will hardly matter—and they've beaten the Skins six in a row (4-1-1 against the spread) and have also won five straight in D.C. (4-0-1 versus the points).
Detroit 21 (+1 1/2), TAMPA BAY 17 — No element of surprise for the Bucs this year—and the Lions have covered four straight in Tampa, and covered in all six of their outdoor games in 2010.
Tennessee 16 (+3), JACKSONVILLE 0 — I was going to advocate staying away from this game until the Jaguars dropped a bombshell on Tuesday by cutting David Garrard when rookie Blaine Gabbert wasn't even ready to take over. That means Luke McClown—oops, I mean McCown—will start at quarterback, making the Titans the best bet of the week.
Cincinnati 24 (+6 1/2), CLEVELAND 17 — Am I the only one out there who thinks that Andy Dalton is a more talented quarterback than Colt McCoy? And I know I'm not alone in thinking that the Bengals have more talented receivers than the Browns; then again, just about any NFL team since World War II can make that claim. Cleveland has lost six in a row on opening day—and a couple of months from now no one will regard this result as an upset.
BALTIMORE 23, Pittsburgh 13 (+2 1/2) — Pittsburgh has won a league-high eight straight opening-day games—but Super Bowl losers have non-covered in the following season's opener on a staggering eleven consecutive occasions. The Steelers may have won the off-season Twitter war, but the Ravens will win the war on the field—at least the first one anyway.
Philadelphia 31, ST. LOUIS 20 (+4 1/2) — One would think that a team built the way the Eagles are would excel on artificial turf — and one would be right: They're 16-5-2 against the spread in their last 23 outings on such fields, and have also covered in nine of their last ten vs. the Rams, the lone non-cover coming in a 2004 "Siesta Bowl" when Philadelphia had already wrapped up the top playoff seed in the conference.
CHICAGO 17 (+3), Atlanta 13 — Otherwise, home underdogs would take an 0-for-3 collar on Kickoff Sunday, and that just ain't done - and the last time the Falcons won in Chicago, Sly Stallone's younger brother was polluting the airwaves with Far From Over—in 1983! Upset special.
HOUSTON 20, Indianapolis 10 (+6) — The Colts may indeed hang by Peyton Manning's neck until they are dead—but the key here is Arian Foster's dinky hamstring; if Foster is at least reasonably healthy, the Texans should be able to run effectively enough at an Indianapolis defense that was 25th in the league against the run a year ago to enable Houston to cover.
KANSAS CITY 14, Buffalo 9 (+6 1/2) — Matt Cassel's rib injury will at least diminish his capacity, if it doesn't keep him out of the game altogether, in which case neither team will have a quarterback; and Buffalo has a current four-game covering streak against the Chiefs, with the last three all having come at Arrowhead. Take the points.
Carolina 27 (+7), ARIZONA 24 — Both of my surprise teams for 2011 get off to rousing starts. And the Panthers have yet to lose in the desert, where Carolina is 4-0 lifetime.
SAN DIEGO 34, Minnesota 17 (+9) — Don't let the opening week's largest number scare you off. Even last year the Chargers won their first two home games by a combined 79-23, and betting against the Vikings on grass and outdoors has been one of the most reliable investments in the NFL for the longest time: Dating all the way back to December of 2000, Minnesota's spread records in those respective settings have been 18-31-2 and 20-39-3. Plus with Kevin Williams suspended, I envy anyone who has Ryan Mathews on their fantasy team this week.
SAN FRANCISCO 23, Seattle 10 (+5 1/2) — Even Alex Smith outclasses Tarvaris Jackson—and the home team here recorded sweeps both ways the last two years, over which Seattle is also 2-9 against the line as a visitor on the grass.
Dallas 30 (+4 1/2), N.Y. JETS 27 — Welcome back, Tony Romo—and the Cowboys, who have beaten the Jets seven out of nine in the lifetime series including five of six on the road, have yet to lose by more than a field goal under Jason Garrett, making Dallas plus four and a half that much more of an attractive proposition.
New England 27, MIAMI 17 (+7) — Chad Henne must be pretty rotten, or pretty unpopular locally, or both, for the fans in Miami to be actually clamoring for the Dolphins to trade for Kyle Orton. Pats have won seven straight season openers but are just 3-3-1 point-wise therein, so be careful.
Oakland 35 (+3), DENVER 28 — The second Monday nighter presents an equally tough call, as the Raiders, who own the league's longest-active Week 1 losing streak at eight games, have also covered five in a row at Denver. But one gets the distinct idea that if Kyle Orton throws four touchdown passes, Jason Campbell will magically find a way to throw five.
BEST BETS: TENNESSEE, BALTIMORE, DALLAS