For many of those who follow the NFL, the first week of the season represents the first opportunity to get back in the game in a serious manner since last March.
Most serious NFL players will dabble in college basketball, and the NCAA tournament is an exercise to keep handicapping skills fresh.
But it is little more than just that. The real game is played from September through early February, and it is called the NFL season. Handicapping games and selecting point-spread winners is a compulsive, testing and dangerous enterprise.
Those who are truly skilled may approach a 60 percent success rate over the course of a season. Those who are not can get hurt badly if they don't practice the strongest money management skills.
Handicapping games and picking winners is a challenge all year, but it is especially difficult at the start of the season. Teams have gone through free agency and the draft to improve their personnel. They have had offseason workouts, training camp and played preseason games.
Still, few coaches really know their teams at this point in the year. That's why gambling during the first two to three weeks of the season holds plenty of risk. There are too many unknowns.
With that preamble/warning, we are going to predict the outcome of every game in the first week of the NFL season, with all point spreads provided by Odds Shark. The battle begins with a rematch between the two combatants in Super Bowl 50. The Carolina Panthers head out to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Broncos Thursday night.
|Week 1 Predictions and Odds|
|Carolina at Denver||Car. (-3)||Carolina|
|Minnesota at Tennessee||Minn. (-2)||Minnesota|
|San Diego at Kansas City||KC (-7)||Kansas City|
|Chicago at Houston||Hou. (-6.5)||Chicago|
|Oakland at New Orleans||NO (-1)||Oakland|
|Green Bay at Jacksonville||GB (-4.5)||Green Bay|
|Cincinnati at New York Jets||Cin. (-2.5)||Cincinnati|
|Cleveland at Philadelphia||Phil (-4)||Cleveland|
|Buffalo at Baltimore||Balt. (-3)||Baltimore|
|Tampa Bay at Atlanta||Atl. (-3)||Atlanta|
|Miami at Seattle||Sea. (-10.5)||Seattle|
|New York Giants at Dallas||Even||New York Giants|
|Detroit at Indianapolis||Ind. (-3.5)||Indianapolis|
|New England at Arizona||Ariz. (-6)||New England|
|Pittsburgh at Washington||Pitt (-3)||Washington|
|Los Angeles at San Francisco||LA (-2.5)||San Francisco|
|All predictions are against the point spread.|
|Odds Shark; Silverman predictions|
Panthers to ruin Super Bowl celebration in Denver
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera will not have a difficult time getting his team emotionally ready to play the Broncos. Getting revenge on the team that defeated the Panthers in the Super Bowl should be the ideal way to start the season. It will allow Carolina to prove to itself that last year's NFC Championship was real and can be defended.
It will start with quarterback Cam Newton, who was given little time time to breathe in the Super Bowl because the Denver pass rush was relentless. That unit will remain strong, but it is not as good as it was last year.
Players such as defensive end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan are gone, and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller went through a protracted and nasty holdout before he signed a new contract with the Broncos.
It will take weeks before the Broncos have the right kind of defensive chemistry.
Then there's the Denver offense. Peyton Manning is off to retirement, and Brock Osweiler is trying to jump-start his career in Houston. A former Northwestern quarterback named Trevor Siemian is running the offense, and he is likely to make many mistakes in Week 1 as he looks across the line of scrimmage at Charles Johnson, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
The atmosphere in Denver will favor the defending champions all the way until kickoff. But once the ball is in the air, the seasoned and talented Panthers will make the most of their opportunity and take care of the Broncos and the three-point spread with ease.
Chargers in disarray as season kicks off
As the 2015 season came to an end, when the San Diego Chargers played the Miami Dolphins at home in Week 15, it appeared it would be the Chargers' last game in San Diego.
Unable to get a new stadium deal completed, the Chargers were likely moving up the coast to Los Angeles.
That may very well happen, but the city of San Diego got a one-year reprieve. In addition to possibly being on the move, the Chargers engaged in a needless game of hardball with their No. 1 draft pick, Joey Bosa. The stellar pass-rusher did not sign his contract until days before the final preseason game, and the Chargers are not saying when Bosa will be ready to compete, per Nate Davis of USA Today.
The Chargers have a fine quarterback in Philip Rivers, but he is not surrounded by the best talent. The Chargers struggled to execute when the game was on the line last year, and they finished 4-12.
That sounds about right for the upcoming season.
The Chargers go to Kansas City in Week 1, and the Chiefs are seven-point favorites. Kansas City was a playoff team last year after closing the regular season with a 10-game winning streak. They hammered the Houston Texans 30-0 in the Wild Card Round before losing 27-20 to the New England Patriots in the divisional round.
The Chiefs have an excellent chance to supplant the Broncos as AFC West champions, and they have the experience and coaching to go a long way. Alex Smith is an efficient quarterback who does not throw interceptions. He has thrown seven picks or fewer in each of the last five seasons.
The Chiefs have a deep and talented running attack, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is a solid big-play threat who will cause problems for the San Diego secondary.
Look for the Kansas City defense, led by middle linebacker Derrick Johnson and pass-rusher Tamba Hali, to shut down the Chargers offense.
Kansas City wins by at least two touchdowns.
Pats will keep it close in the desert
Depending on your perspective, Las Vegas is either giving an early-season gift or trying to get the suckers' money by making the New England Patriots a six-point underdog at Arizona in Week 1.
From this corner, it looks like Vegas is handing out one of its rare gifts. While Tom Brady will not be allowed to play or come anywhere near his team, giving a Bill Belichick-led team six points is a mistake by the oddsmakers.
The Arizona Cardinals played for the NFC Championship last year, and they have a fine quarterback in Carson Palmer and a playmaking defense.
However, the Patriots have the game's best tactician in Belichick, and he is also going to make sure his team has a chip on its collective shoulder as it takes the field at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Jimmy Garoppolo will face a severe test, and he may have a problem or two, but he also has Rob Gronkowski on his side and an opportunistic defense to get him the ball.
The Patriots may not win the game, but a last-second field goal will decide the outcome, and New England will cover the spread.