Here we are, folks, the opening week of the NFL regular season. Didn't think you'd make it, huh? Neither did I. Thank goodness for the draft, rookie minicamps, training camps, preseason and Madden 2013 for being the granola bars and water needed to endure a marathon offseason.
Well, to keep you from waiting any longer—seven full months is already long enough—I present my picks for every Week 1 game. Play along in the comments below.
The last time the Giants opened the season as defending champs they defeated a division rival 16-7 (Redskins). And history always repeats itself, right? This time, at least, it does.
Cowboys 17, Giants 23
Welcome to the NFL, Andrew Luck. Your first opponent: the Bears, not San Jose State. To make matters worse, Luck's offensive line at Stanford may be better than the current group of guys "protecting" him.
Colts 16, Bears 27
A tight battle between two teams I expect to be really good—and potential playoff participants. The Chiefs defense is top-tier, but the Falcons, on the back of a couple of big plays on offense, escape with the win.
Falcons 20, Chiefs 14
My first surprise, head-scratching, "what-in-the..." pick of the season. Yup, you guessed it, I'm taking the team already left for dead by most pundits. The Browns' defense, a top-10 unit in 2011, force multiple turnovers and lead the upset.
Eagles 16, Browns 17
All eyes on rookie sensation Robert Griffin III will quickly be reminded just how proficient Drew Brees is. Like an expert surgeon, the future Hall of Famer will slice and dissect en route to over 300 yards through the air—and they'll need each yard.
Redskins 20, Saints 24
The new (the "and improved" part is to be determined) Rams secondary—free agent Cortland Finnegan and rookies Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson were added in the offseason—will be tested early and often by the arm of Matthew Stafford and the everything of Calvin Johnson. They'll flunk. But don't fret, most do.
Rams 21, Lions 30
I'll take coach Bill Belichick with months to prepare for an opponent (not named the Giants) any day of the week. Add the bitter flavor of a Super Bowl loss to the recipe, and this is a no-brainer. Tom Brady's MVP run gets a head start in Tennessee.
Patriots 31, Titans 20
Who outside of Florida and Minnesota is going to watch this game? To avoid embarrassment, don't raise your hand. This will be a sloppy contest featuring two evenly solid defenses and two evenly raw quarterbacks. Heads, the Jaguars win. Tails, the Vikings win. Flips coin...
Jaguars 14, Vikings 17
It took the Jets until the final preseason game to score a touchdown—a six-yard pass from third-string quarterback Greg McElroy to the recently-cut Terrance Ganaway. And things don't get any easier when the up-and-coming Bills roll into town.
Bills 20, Jets 17
The Dolphins' best bet is to run the ball, grind out yards and control the clock. Not a bad plan—in theory. Too bad the Texans' run defense is elite, and the offense, led by multi-purpose running back Arian Foster, is not very far behind. The home team is simply the better team this afternoon.
Dolphins 10, Texans 21
Russell Wilson's meteoric rise up the depth chart stole the majority of NFL headlines—deservedly so—but John Skelton's story is equally fascinating. The fifth-round draft pick (2010) out of Fordham beat out Kevin Kolb (and his $65 million contract) for the starting gig in Arizona. Now he turns his focus to beating Wilson and division rival Seahawks come Sunday.
Seahawks 20, Cardinals 24
The must-watch game of the week: elite offense vs. elite defense; Aaron Rodgers vs. Alex Smith; Charles Woodson vs. Randy Moss. In an evenly matched game, as this one is, the nod goes to the home team—especially when that home is Lambeau Field.
49ers 20, Packers 27
With a new head coach and added quality and depth on the roster, the Bucs, not the Panthers, are on my short list of surprise teams. The road back to respectability begins with a nail-biting win over the talented Panthers.
Panthers 21, Buccaneers 23
I refuse to hop on the Peyton Manning bandwagon—and I sure as heck am not going to proclaim "he's back"—until he takes a few jarring regular season hits. The Steelers can provide plenty of those, and more. Expect the Steelers, still reeling after an early playoff exit, to send a message. Loud and clear.
Steelers 28, Broncos 17
To ease your concerns, Ravens fans, let me say this: You will not miss Terrell Suggs as much as you think. Sure, it's tough replacing an All-Pro linebacker and Defensive Player of the Year, but what makes the Baltimore defense so special is that it's a group effort—always has been, always will be.
This week, though, it will be the offense that comes up big against a divisional foe.
Bengals 16, Ravens 24
The Chargers are famous—or maybe infamous is the better word here—for slow starts; starts that dig holes too insurmountable in the end. Not this season, not against the hapless Raiders. A healthy and well-rested Antonio Gates finds the end zone twice, the last in what proves to be a game-winner.
Chargers 21, Raiders 17