Has it really been seven months since the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl? Because, I'll tell you. . .it seemed like a whole lot longer. But, in just about 12 hours or so, the National Football League will be playing games that actually count right before our very eyes. With that, it's time to bring back our weekly NFL picks column for your gambl -- er, reading pleasure.
Similar to last season, yours truly will be picking games both straight-up and against the spread, with the numbers provided by our good friends at OddsShark. Remember, the point-spread numbers are for entertainment purposes only. Oh, and once again I'm not picking any games involving the Minnesota Vikings, because I'm not going to insult your intelligence by trying to tell you that I can do so in an unbiased manner.
So, no more stalling ... away we go!
Game of the Week: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (-3.5)
Why is this the Game of the Week? Because it's the first game of the season, that's why. And seriously. . .has a defending Super Bowl champion ever been as overlooked and disrespected as these Giants have been? People want to talk about all of these other teams, but don't talk about the team that actually won the final game of the 2011 season. I don't understand it. The Giants are going to get everyone's attention this evening, I think.
Straight-Up: Giants, ATS: Giants
Lock of the Week: St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions (-7.5)
Yikes. I'm surprised the Lions are only a 7.5-point favorite, to be honest. The Lions have had a bit of a rough off-season, but the Rams. . .well, the Rams aren't very good. Their top draft pick is out with an ankle sprain, I don't know who Sam Bradford is throwing the ball to, and I don't know who's covering Calvin Johnson. If you want to get out of Week One of your Survivor Pool. . .something I've failed to do for the past couple of years from trying to get too cute. . .make this your pick.
Straight-Up: Lions, ATS: Lions
Upset of the Week: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-4.5)
Apparently we're supposed to believe that the Niners are in for this huge regression or something after being a play or two away from the Super Bowl last season. Sorry. . .not buying it. Their defense is too good for them to completely drop off the map. The Packers will still be one of the NFL's best teams, but there's a pretty good chance they'll match their loss total for 2011 in the first week of 2012.
Straight-Up: Niners, ATS: Niners
The Rest of the Week
Philadelphia Eagles (-9) at Cleveland Browns
I want to like the Eagles. I want to pick them to be really good this year. But I can't trust Michael Vick over the long-term. Just can't do it. The Eagles should have more than enough to take care of the Browns this week, though, regardless of whether rookie running back Trent Richardson plays or not.
Straight-Up: Eagles, ATS: Eagles
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears (-11)
It's Andrew Luck's first NFL start that matters, and his first test is behind a bad offensive line against a very good Chicago defense. Luck has all the makings of a very good NFL quarterback, but he's going to get quite well acquainted with Julius Peppers and company on Sunday afternoon.
Straight-Up: Bears, ATS: Bears
New England Patriots (-7) at Tennessee Titans
Ho-hum, another year where the Patriots are considered the AFC's Super Bowl favorite. Have to be going on about a decade straight now for that. I'm not sure what to make of the Titans over the course of the entire season, but I do know that they're going to have a lot of difficulty hanging with the AFC's best team.
Straight-Up: Patriots, ATS: Patriots
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-1)
If there's one team that falls firmly into the "they could be good but there's just as good a chance that they'll completely implode" category for this year, it's the New York Jets. This team makes the Real Housewives look low-key. After scoring one touchdown all pre-season and with a backup quarterback as their most heralded player, I think that things are going to be a little rough for Rex Ryan and company this year. It starts this Sunday against what should be a very good Buffalo defense.
Straight-Up: Bills, ATS: Bills
Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints (-8)
Drew Brees will stop denying evidence of the bounty scandal long enough to host Robert Griffin III and the Redskins in New Orleans. Washington gave up the farm to get their exciting, young signal caller, but this is a tough draw for him in his first NFL start. Having said that, the Saints are still having plenty of issues, and RGIII might be able to keep this one close. The Saints still win, but it will be closer than most think.
Straight-Up: Saints, ATS: Redskins
Atlanta Falcons (-2.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
One of the more intriguing Week One matchups takes place at Arrowhead, where the Chiefs will try to get back on track after losing a bunch of players to injury last season, yet remaining competitive in the AFC West. The Falcons are a dark horse candidate for many people for Super Bowl XLVII. There's a good chance that this one will come down to quarterback play. . .and, if that's the case, who in their right mind is going to take Matt Cassel over Matt Ryan?
Straight-Up: Falcons, ATS: Falcons
Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans (-13.5)
The biggest point spread of the first week of the season has the Texans as a near-two touchdown favorite over Team Hard Knocks. Ryan Tannehill will make his first NFL start for the Dolphins, and it's a good thing for CBS. They'll probably be fixated on Lauren Tannehill before halftime of this one. I generally hate to pick teams to cover spreads this large, but I like the Texans a lot, and the Dolphins. . .well, I don't like them quite so much. This is a good option for you Survivor league players, too.
Straight-Up: Texans, ATS: Texans
Carolina Panthers (-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers ended last season on a 10-game losing streak, giving up a ton of points and ultimately getting coach Raheem Morris fired. They've made some moves on offense with Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. . .but not much in the way of defense. That's bad news against Cam Newton, Steve Smith and company. The Panthers will get off to a fast start in 2012 at the expense of their division rivals from central Florida.
Straight-Up: Panthers, ATS: Panthers
Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at Arizona Cardinals
This game features a whole lot of quarterback cash sitting on the bench. Highly-paid Matt Flynn will watch rookie Russell Wilson lead the Seahawks into Arizona, where highly-paid Kevin Kolb will be holding a clipboard behind second-year man John Skelton. I'm not exactly sure how to bet on this one. Then again, if you're betting on this one, you might have what we call a problem. Let's go with the home team by a field goal in a mild upset.
Straight-Up: Cardinals, ATS: Cardinals
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (-1)
Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Peyton Manning. Also, Peyton Manning. He's going to make everyone in Denver forget their quarterback from last year really quickly. You know, if they haven't already.
Straight-Up: Broncos, ATS: Broncos
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-7)
The Bengals have a very talented young team, behind quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. That said, they had plenty of difficulty with the Ravens in 2011, and Baltimore is a team that knows they have to be nearing the last hurrah for players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, if this season isn't it. The Ravens are still the class of the AFC North, but the Bengals are going to give them a fight.
Straight-Up: Ravens, ATS: Bengals
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (pick 'em)
If you're staying up late on Monday night, you'll get an AFC West match-up for your viewing pleasure. I don't think there's any way that Philip Rivers will be as bad as he was last season, even with the loss of Vincent Jackson. A healthy Antonio Gates will obviously help. As far as the Raiders, it will be a matter of whether or not Carson Palmer has anything left in the tank. Quite honestly, I'm not sure that he does.
Straight-Up: Chargers, ATS: Chargers