Welcome back, football fans! This is now the sixth year in which I have committed myself to picking every single NFL regular season game.
As a reminder, I pick the winners straight-up, without taking the spread into account (although I do offer my best guess as to what the margin of victory will be). My goal, as always, is to beat ESPN's NFL "experts": Eric Allen, Mike Golic, Merril Hoge, Ron Jaworski, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, Mark Schlereth, and Seth Wickersham, as well as the "Accuscore" and "Pick 'em" predictions.
Writing these columns is much more fun when my readers get involved, so please consider offering your own predictions in the comments section below.
Now it's time for my picks for the NFL's Week One:
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8
New Orleans at Green Bay (8:30 PM) [Line: Packers by 4]
Pretty much everyone expects the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to win the NFC North and make a deep run in the postseason. TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant are healthy again, and Aaron Rodgers has proven himself to be an elite quarterback.
The New Orleans Saints are widely expected to be competitive in a tough division. They drafted DE Cameron Jordan and RB Mark Ingram and the first round, and both are likely to be big contributors. They also added two defensive tackles, Aubrayo Franklin from San Francisco and Shaun Rogers from Cleveland.
RJ's Pick: Green Bay by 8
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
Atlanta at Chicago (1:00 PM) [Line: Falcons by 3]
Like the Saints, the Atlanta Falcons are expected to finish at or near the top of the NFC South. They drafted the very talented WR Julio Jones, who can stretch the field with his excellent speed. There is a lot of pressure on QB Matt Ryan to take this team back to the playoffs, and this time actually win a game or two (or three or four).
The Chicago Bears are expected to battle the Detroit Lions for second place in the NFC North. The rule change mandating kickoffs from the 35-yard line largely nullifies Chicago's excellent return game and therefore puts more pressure on QB Jay Cutler. Speaking of Cutler, he was sacked 52 times last season, and Chicago's offensive line does not appear to have been upgraded significantly in the offseason.