After months of free-agent speculation, free-agent signings, coaching changes, GM changes, uniform changes, draft combine coverage, draft preparation, mock draft mania, Michael Oher interviews, Michael Oher books, Michael Oher movies, fantasy football draft preparation, purchasing grey-hooded Patriots (or Broncos) sweatshirts, ripping off the sleeves of said grey-hooded Patriots (or Broncos) sweatshirts, Favre retiring, Favre coming back, then Favre saying, “No, no … I’m retired, for real this time,” then Favre coming back, getting excited about training camp, getting depressed when your team’s offensive coordinator is fired a week before the season, a worthless four weeks of August exhibition football and a whole lot of Michael Vick talk … it’s time for FOOTBALL.
Yes, actual, real, tangible football.
And with that, let’s move right into the Week 1 NFL Cheat Sheet:
Thursday night game
Tennessee at Pittsburgh: The last time Tennessee played Pittsburgh, the Titans whooped on the eventual Super Bowl champions, 31-14, in Week 16 last season. You remember that one, right? LenDale White took a Terrible Towel, stomped all over it and preened for the cameras. The Steelers then went on to march right through the AFC and win their sixth Super Bowl in franchise history. Six more than the Titans. Pittsburgh takes care of business and wins its seventh straight opening-day affair.
The pick: Steelers 26, Titans 17.
Sunday 1 p.m. ET games
Miami at Atlanta: Two years ago, these teams combined for four wins. Last season, they combined for 22. This year, I expect the Falcons and the Fish to finish somewhere in between. Sunday, give me the Falcons at home in a close one. Wildcat, schmildcat. Mike Smith’s been preparing for that junk since the day the schedules came out. Atlanta’s D will be ready for Miami — regardless of who’s taking snaps.
The pick: Falcons 24, Dolphins 20.
Kansas City at Baltimore: There are blowouts, and then there are games like this. Ray Lewis may eat — yes, actually eat — a Kansas City Chief player on Sunday. This one should be over by the third “Two and a Half Men” commercial.
The pick: Ravens 34, Chiefs 3.
Philadelphia at Carolina: Robert Siegel’s new film “Big Fan” stars Patton Oswalt as a talk-radio obsessed Giants fan. His enemy? A fellow caller named “Philadelphia Phil,” who taunts Oswalt’s character’s after every move, every phone call. Philadelphia Phil (you’ve got to see who plays him) is a sarcastic, mean, Giants-hating S.O.B. In other words, he’s an accurate portrayal of just about every Eagles fan I’ve ever met. Philadelphia Phil and all his cronies will be happy Sunday — gimme the Iggles on the road in this one.
The pick: Eagles 27, Panthers 20.
Denver at Cincinnati: Coming off an extremely turbulent offseason with a new coach, new quarterback and (still) paper-thin defense, can Denver pull it off and win on the road in Week 1? Wait for it … Hold on … Wait … Been wanting to say this for weeks … OK … In 3, 2, 1 … Child, please.
The pick: Bengals 28, Broncos 24.
New York at Houston: Mark Sanchez is the first Jets rookie QB to start an opening-weekend game since Matt Robinson did it in 1977. In 69 career NFL games, Robinson completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw 20 more interceptions than touchdowns. Let’s hope Sanchez has a bit of a better go at it. Whether he plays like Matt Robinson or Matt Ryan, I can’t see Sanchez’s Jets escaping Reliant with a W on Sunday.
The pick: Texans 20, Jets 16.
Minnesota at Cleveland: The last time these two teams squared off in Cleveland, Browns backup QB Mike Pagel threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to LB Van Waiters on a fake field goal to beat the Vikes in OT. That was 1989. Twenty years later? The Vikings will win by about 25. The whole keeping the starting quarterback a secret thing? It’s not cute. It’s lame. And in truth, it doesn’t matter either way.
The pick: Vikings 31, Browns 7.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis: No Coach Dungy, no Coach Meeks, no Marvin Harrison … no worries. Peyton and Co. pick up right where they left off and win their 10th straight regular-season affair.
The pick: Colts 28, Jaguars 17.
Detroit at New Orleans: Hey rookie, welcome to the NFL. Of course, I’m not talking about Matt Stafford, who could actually be OK against the wafer-thin Saints defense on Sunday. I’m referring to Louis Delmas, Detroit’s rookie safety, who will undoubtedly be picked on from the get-go by Drew Brees.
The pick: Saints 31, Lions 21.
Dallas at Tampa Bay: The Cowboys have an NFL-best 33-15-1 (.688) record on Kickoff Weekend and looked sharp this August. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, well — I don’t think there’s a Buccaneers fan in the world who could tell you he or she expects big things from the team this season. Safest bet of the weekend? Jon Gruden has a better debut in the booth Monday night than Raheem Morris does on the sidelines Sunday afternoon.
The pick: Cowboys 34, Buccaneers 10.
Sunday 4 p.m. ET games
San Francisco at Arizona: After being courted heavily by the Niners in the offseason, Kurt Warner returned to Arizona, inking a two-year deal in the spring. The 38-year-old is 9-1 (.900) as a starter vs. San Francisco with 3,197 yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 102.7 passer rating. Make it 10-1 after Sunday. The defending NFC champions silence their critics. Well, for one week, at least.
The pick: Cardinals 27, 49ers 21.
Washington at New York: An interesting stat? The last four times DeAngelo Hall’s gone up against Eli Manning, he’s intercepted at least one of his passes. Look for that to end Sunday. The Giants will win. Just like they have done six of the last eight times these two teams have squared off.
The pick: Giants 16, Redskins 9.
Rams at Seahawks: Have you seen the Rams’ depth chart at receiver yet? What was “The Greatest Show on Turf” just 10 years ago now looks like “A Bunch of Guys Who Might Be Able To Catch a Few Passes … Perhaps. Maybe. I think.” Avery, Burton, Stanley, and Robinson? Is that a law firm or a receiving corps? The Hasselbeck-Houshmandzadeh era, meanwhile, will start off with a splash. Expect big fantasy numbers from both those dudes on Sunday.
The pick: Seahawks 31, Rams 6.
Sunday night game
Chicago at Green Bay: The last time these two squared off in Lambeau, the Pack beat the Bears, 37-3, in a game where Green Bay outgained Chicago 427-234. Of course, that was before the Bears got Jay Cutler. Winning in Lambeau at night on national TV is nearly impossible. Cutler finds a way to do it in his Chicago debut. Now, let the hate mail commence.
The pick: Bears 24, Packers 23
Monday night games
Buffalo at New England: Remember a few years back when Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy willed the Bills to a blowout victory over New England on opening day? Sam Adams was lugging down the sidelines on an interception return for a touchdown? Bills fans, cherish those memories. Savor them. Really digest them. Because Monday night will be nothing like that whatsoever.
The pick: Patriots 35, Bills 14.
San Diego at Oakland: Over the past four weeks, Oakland’s head coach allegedly punched his assistant in the face, the team fell behind 38-0 in a preseason game and they traded a future first-round pick for a player who didn’t show up for two days. That’s it? That’s all you got? In Raiders world, that’s what they call a pretty good month.
The pick: Chargers 34, Raiders 16.
Reader e-mail of the week
I like your writing, but must say you’re predictions were a bit — how do I say this — zzz? And flat-out wrong to boot. I promise you the Steelers will NOT win another Super Bowl. It’s just not in the cards this year. In fact, I am telling you now that this is the year the Browns beat them. Not once, not twice, but three times in one season. We’re all very excited for the Mangini era in my household. My wife, my three kids, and I, we’re all thinking Super Bowl. Now, THAT’S a bold prediction. Browns, baby.
— Brad H., Beachwood, Ohio
Do you plan on having the “Browns Super Bowl” conversation with the kids before or after the Easter Bunny/Santa Claus one?