After months of a lockout and endless player transactions, it's an incredible feeling to know that an NFL game that actually means something is happening tonight. That means it's also time to start to make our weekly picks that we'll continue throughout the year. The goal is to be 100 percent right. Or maybe 50. Let's be honest, the NFL is so up and down each season besides a few teams that seem to have a permanent address in the top or bottom of the standings that it's hard to predict. But each week, we'll try our best.
This week has several intriguing first week match-ups, but none are as big as the opening game tonight. Here's our picks for Week One:
New Orleans at Green Bay
The defending champs are always difficult to top at home, no matter how good the team is that year. Coming off of a Super Bowl win, expect Lambeau to feel even more amazing than it normally does. The Packers stood pat this offseason for the most part while the Saints retooled with several impressive pieces. But those pieces will take time to gel and the Packers will win this one handily. The Saints will look much different around Week 12.
Packers 33, Saints 21
Atlanta at Chicago
The Falcons added significantly to their pass rushing ability this offseason, while the Bears continue to have offensive line issues. Julio Jones cost a lot, but the Falcons already had a difficult offense to contend with. Here's guessing that game one signifies a major fall ahead for the Bears, while the Falcons make good on their sexy status as contenders in the NFC.
Falcons 24, Bears 10
Cincinnati at Cleveland
Andy Dalton might be the next great quarterback in Cincinnati, but I'm betting on a rookie season more like Jimmy Clausen than Sam Bradford here. A long year is in store for the Bengals once again, while the Browns appear on the upswing due to a very easy schedule in the early going. They're still not a good team, but Colt McCoy will win this Ohio showdown.
Browns 17, Bengals, 7
Buffalo at Kansas City
The Bills made some good additions this offseason on a porous defense, but the Chiefs should have a chip on their shoulder with the naysayers coming out of the woodwork after another abysmal preseason. There's too much talent on both sides of the ball for the Chiefs to lose this contest, but expect another sloppy close contest just like the last time these teams played.
Chiefs 13, Bills 6
Philadelphia at St. Louis
The Rams are definitely a team on the rise, but their brutal schedule will sink them early on from any conversations of being a contender. If they can tread water in the early going, watch out for them on the back nine. Bradford has his work cut out for him against this new look Eagles secondary. Mike Vick and company will make relatively easy work of a team of a team that's not as bad as this score will make them out to be.
Eagles 27, Rams 10
Detroit at Tampa Bay
The Lions are a hot pick for a playoff sleeper and that might be the case when everything is said and done. But every single impact rookie has had health issues, and last time I checked, the preseason doesn't mean anything. So I'm not buying Matt Stafford as Joe Montana just yet. Get healthy. Prove yourselves. Then ask me to pick you. Josh Freeman, meanwhile, is the real deal.
Bucs 17, Lions 14
Tennessee at Jacksonville
This pick switched with one player transaction. I've already gone on record saying the Jags will lose every single game that Luke McCown is the starter, and that means even when they play the Titans. By the way, no one is talking about Tennessee, but I'm buying stock in the Jake Locker/Matt Hasselbeck combo and the newly extended Chris Johnson. This is a team going somewhere and no one seems to care. You will in 16 games.
Titans 21, Jags 20
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Easily the best game over the weekend. This will be the slugfest you've come to expect but continuity will win the first of two divisional match-ups here. The Ravens have brought in several new faces and experienced a bit of turnover. The Steelers will enjoy the chemistry that comes with familiarity and win a close battle.
Steelers 24, Ravens 21
Indianapolis at Houston
No Peyton Manning makes this an easy pick, but let me use this space to say that the Texans had my favorite draft haul this year. J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed will significantly change this defense by year's end and the Texans could leapfrog everyone straight to the playoffs.
Texans 30, Colts 24
NY Giants at Washington
The Redskins have already announced their Tank in 2011 campaign in the hopes of drafting Andrew Luck in 2012. No team goes with Grossman and/or Beck with a serious look on their face unless there's another plan. As for the Giants, they're lucky they play the league's doormat in 2011 with so many injuries on defense.
Giants 14, Redskins 13
Seattle at San Francisco
The single worst player transaction this offseason (pre-Garrard) is the signing of Tarvaris Jackson and subsequent announcing of him as the starting quarterback for the Seahawks. There's simply no justification for it anywhere, and it's worse than the ridiculous trade that brought over Charlie Whitehurst. Pete Carroll might work wonders elsewhere on the roster, but whoever is scouting QBs needs to be fired. I still think they win, however, I just wanted to vent.
Seahawks 21, 49ers 7
Minnesota at San Diego
The Vikings will be much better than they were last season and I'm a believer that Donovan McNabb still has some tread on the tires. The issue in this first game is they meet a Chargers team that should play with a chip on their shoulder after their poor performance last year. Usually SD starts slow, but something tells me they're hungry this year.
Chargers 27, Vikings 17
Carolina at Arizona
The good news: the Panthers have more talent than they did last year at this time. The bad news: it's still the league's worst roster. Cam Newton will show signs of life, but his magical ride will end with an overall brutal first year. The Cardinals aren't that much better, but this one's an automatic win.
Cardinals 13, Panthers 6
Dallas at NY Jets
The personalities alone involved in this game will make it worth watching. Rex Ryan's team does a lot of trash talking, and at home against the Cowboys, they'll begin to back it up. Dallas will keep things interesting, but there's too much defensive talent facing the Cowboys still suspect offensive line to win.
Jets 20, Cowboys 17
New England at Miami
These Monday Night Football contests couldn't be any more boring. Tom Brady sits by halftime in this joke of an opener to the MNF season.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 17
Oakland at Denver
I like the long-term prospects of John Fox as Denver's head coach. I also like Hue Jackson. Jackson has a lot more talent available to him, even with the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha. Denver's still a major work in progress given the personnel moves of the regime before him.
Raiders 14, Broncos 7