This is my favourite time of the year. It’s exciting. From the time the Super Bowl ends, right up to opening day, I miss football. The first week is especially thrilling. It’s a time when hope and expectation get put to the test, when we find out what we really know about the men and teams who play this game we love. Everything to this point is speculation, conjecture, and in some cases, a heaping helping of optimism.
True to form, the Best Picks Column in the World is not entering this season timidly. I’ve picked a lot of road teams this week, including some potential upsets. If you’re the sort who likes to partake in a bit of (legal) sports wagering (I love being Canadian!), my advice to you is this: “Go and do likewise.” Early season games are the time for unexpected upsets. As I’ve said in the past, there’s money to be won, so good luck.
Enough stalling; let’s get to it. And for those of you who may have missed it, check out my modestly-titled season preview column.
Enjoy the day, folks. I know I’m going to.
Patriots at Bills
Buffalo’s best chance in this one is to come at Tom Brady hard and hope that New England’s offence still hasn’t adjusted to its drastic changes in receiving personnel. The Pats should be fine, though; they’re solid at RB, and Brady, true to form, will be prepared. Success against New England’s defence depends on the ability to exploit the secondary. Buffalo has to rely heavily on its running game, but the Pats are tough against the run. Winner: Patriots
Vikings at Lions
It’s no secret to anyone that Minnesota’s offence is extremely one-dimensional. Last year, Adrian Peterson was superhuman. The Lions will have a more balanced attack this year, thanks to the addition of Reggie Bush. If Detroit is going to progress, they have to prove that they can win the games they should win. The Vikings don’t have the passing game to be able to exploit the weaknesses in the Lions’ defence, which means that all Detroit has to do is stop Peterson. They can. Winner: Lions
Titans at Steelers
Pittsburgh looks like a team in transition, headed for a third-place finish in their division and another year out of the playoffs. Fortunately for them, they open the season against a Titans team with serious problems on defence. I expect Tennessee to try to run the ball a lot, and if they’re successful, they could keep it close. The Steelers will grind out a win in the end. Winner: Steelers
Raiders at Colts
This Raiders team looks like one of the worst in the league, so it’s hard to imagine them going on the road and beating the Colts and Andrew Luck, who looked like the real deal in his rookie season. Winner: Colts
Falcons at Saints
This is a big matchup to start the season for both teams. The Saints hope to bounce back from the extreme disappointment of last season with the return of Sean Payton. The Falcons want to keep control of the division and hopefully make a deep run in the playoffs. Both teams have potent offences, so I expect to see a lot of points. The difference in this game should be the Saints’ defence. It was historically bad last season. Atlanta has all its major players returning from last season’s offence, plus they added RB Steven Jackson. New Orleans won’t be able to keep up. Winner: Falcons
I expect the Bucs to be a much-improved squad this season. I’ve already pegged the Jets for first pick in next year’s draft. Winner: Buccaneers
Bengals at Bears
Now here’s a game I’m really looking forward to, between two teams with the potential to go far this season. Chicago is a bit of a question mark, after undergoing some personnel changes on defence, as well as some major changes in the coaching staff. Cincinnati seems a bit easier to figure. As I said in my season preview, their time is now. What better statement than a victory on the road against a top team? Cincy’s defence will harass Jay Cutler enough to slow down the Bears attack. How Andy Dalton performs will tell a lot about how ready he is to lead this team. Winner: Bengals
Dolphins at Browns
I’m not at all sold on Miami’s ability to generate much offence this season, and they should have a particularly tough time against Cleveland’s defence. Expect a low-scoring contest. Winner: Browns
Chiefs at Jaguars
Kansas City is a team on the rise. The upgrade to Alex Smith at QB should complement the running game well, and say what you want about Andy Reid, but he’s much better than Romeo Crennel, who didn’t seem to know what was going on half the time. I don’t see much in the Jags to make me think they’ll be much better than last season. Winner: Chiefs
Seahawks at Panthers
Tough road test for a Seahawks team many are calling the best in the NFC, having to deal with Cam Newton and a talented Carolina defence on opening day. These are the games where we see what teams are made of. Don’t be surprised if it’s close, but the Panthers’ lack of diversity on offence will be the difference. Winner: Seahawks
Packers at 49ers
Another great first week matchup with lots of questions to be answered. How will the Green Bay offence look with its new young RBs? Has the Packers’ defence improved? Can the San Fran offence overcome its lack of depth at WR? Has the 49ers’ secondary improved? Early in the season, offence is king. Look for Aaron Rodgers to be the difference maker. Winner: Packers
Cardinals at Rams
I don’t expect either of these teams to contend. If the Cards are smart, then new starting QB Carson Palmer goes to Larry Fitzgerald early and often. Winner: Cardinals
Giants at Cowboys
With these two evenly-matched teams playing early in the season, I’ll give the edge to Tony Romo and his talented group of receivers. Winner: Cowboys
Eagles at Washington
People are expecting big things from Washington after RGIII took the league by storm last year and guided the team to a playoff berth. They’re ripe for a fall, especially since no one knows how well Griffin will play after being injured at the end of last season. Philly and their new up-tempo offence will overwhelm Washington. Expect a big game running and receiving by Shady McCoy. Winner: Eagles
Texans at Chargers
San Diego was bad last year. They’ll be worse this year. Houston is a legitimate contender. This is no contest. Winner: Texans