Oh yes. Week 1 is finally here. After a painful lockout and a super-slow summer for football news, the free agent frenzy is over, the preseason is behind us and the games start counting this Thursday. It’s about friggin’ time. Let’s get right to the picks.

At Green Bay -4 New Orleans

The champs open things up at home against a Saints team that has to be hungry to start the season. New Orleans got getting bounced out of the Wildcard round last year by the worst playoff team in NFL history, the 7-9 Seahawks. While most football players we’re working out on their own away from their teammates, Drew Brees led the charge for player-organized workouts. Will all that extra time together pay off against a stacked Green Bay team that’s returning guys like Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant? I’ll take the defending champs at home to cover the spread in a high scoring game.

Pick: Packers -4

At Baltimore -2.5 Pittsburgh

This is the game I’m looking forward to the most. Good ole fashion physical football; a low-scoring brawl to set the tone for the AFC North this season. These two teams always go to war, but the Steelers have the edge. Since 2004, the Steelers are 9-2 in games where Big Ben starts against the Ravens. They split the regular season last year and Pittsburgh won the rubber match in the playoffs. Look for Big Ben to make some big plays in the air against the new Ravens secondary. Sit Ray Rice and take the Steelers to win on the road.

Pick: Steelers +2.5

At Tampa Bay -1.5 Detroit

It’s the battle of the sexy NFC hype picks! Too bad both these teams couldn’t play the Rams in Week 1 as well. To be fair though, both of these squads are on the rise. They both have that perfect storm of a confident, culture-changing head coach, promising young skill players and a little bit of nastiness. There’s a reason why this spread is so low. It’s basically a coin-flip. The Lions finished last year with five straight wins. The Bucs ended the year with a 4-1 finish. Expectations are high all around.

Pick: Lions +1.5

Atlanta -3 At Chicago

There’s talk that the Falcons will enjoy an offensive explosion this year. Combining consistency at running back (Turner), wide receiver (White) and tight end (Gonzalez) with rookie sensation Julio Jones, healthy former-sleeper Harry Douglas and a quality young QB coming off his best season, it’s hard to argue with the high expectations in Atlanta. Chicago got further than anyone thought last year. I don’t think Jay Cutler’s as big of a wuss as people make him out to be, but even with a solid defense, the Bears can’t hang with the Falcons, even in Chicago.

Pick: Falcons – 3

At Kansas City -5.5 Buffalo

I’m not sure what to make of this game. Are the Chiefs really as good as everyone thinks? Is Buffalo really that bad? Here’s the thing that stands out the most to me in this game: The Chiefs led the league with 164.2 rushing yards per game last year and the Bills were the worst in the league at rushing yards allowed (169.6). Cassel may not be 100 percent, but he probably doesn’t need to be. I’m a big Ryan Fitzpatrick fan and I think the Bills will be better than people think, but the matchup favors KC. Take the reigning AFC West champs at home.

Pick: Chiefs -5.5

At Houston -8.5 Indianapolis

You can feel the anticipation in Houston. Peyton Manning’s size 20 neck isn’t right. The Jags gave Garrard the boot. The division is there for the taking! Will Houston find a way to blow it? Probably, but that’ll likely happen much later in the season. I’ll take the high octane Texans offense over the Kerry Collins-led Colts any day of the week. Even with the spread so high, you gotta go with the Texans taking advantage of this early season opportunity.

Pick: Houston -8.5

Philadelphia -5 At St. Louis

The Rams may be a feel good story this year, but not this week. The Eagles are stacked. Vick’s healthy. Maclin is too. DeSean Jackson isn’t holding out and McCoy is slippery as hell. The Eagles loaded up on defense in the offseason. Bradford may be an emerging star, but Philly’s just too much for the Rams right now.

Pick: Eagles -5

At Cleveland -6.5 Cincinnati

That’s an awfully high spread for Cleveland, but then again, the Bengals are an awfully bad team. The consensus this offseason is that Cincinnati will be the worst team in the NFL this year. They have a rookie QB with a rookie wide receiver as his top option. Their starting running back didn’t get any sniffs in free agency and he’s coming off a quick prison stint. McCoy played decent last year. Hillis faded down the stretch, but the Browns can take it to a Bengals team that’s in full-on rebuilding mode this year.

Pick: Browns -6.5

At Jacksonville -3 Tennessee

I don’t like Matt Hasselbeck, but I like Luke McCown even less. McCown is 1-6 in seven career NFL starts. Del Rio must see something in this guy to give him the gig just days before the start of the season, but I can’t pick this guy’s team to win. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. MJD’s a beast without any threat of a timeshare, but the guy Chris Johnson can run pretty hard, too. This game feels like the kind of contest where you’ll see both offenses run on third and long, just to avoid turning the ball over. Not the kind of game I wanna see Week 1.

Pick: Titans +3

NY Giants -3 At Washington

The Giants had their flaws last year (Eli Manning’s 25 picks come to mind), but the team still moved the ball well. The Chargers, Eagles, Texans and Colts were the only teams that gained more yards per game on offense last season. If Eli can contain his mistakes, he has plenty of options to throw to.  Plus, Brandon Jacobs, who averaged 6.1 yard per carry in the preseason, is back in the fold and playing in an incentive-loaded contract situation. On the flipside, the Redskins are starting Rex Grossman. Since 2007, Grossman has started 11 games. He’s 3-8 in those games. Tim Hightower may have found new life in DC, but I like the Giants to take it to the Skins this week.

Pick: Giants -3

At Arizona -7 Carolina

Bo Jackson may think that Cam Newton is gonna blow up the league this year, but his preseason performances showcased his rawness. He’s going to need some time to develop. I really like Kevin Kolb. I think he was a good pickup for the Cards. I’m not sure if Beanie can be a workhorse, and I’m not sure how the carries are going to shake out in Carolina. Both defenses seem bendable. I think the Kolb-Fitzgerald combo gets the edge here.

Pick: Cardinals -7

At SF -5 Seattle

Can the addition of a new head coach really transform a team into a contender? It feels like the Niners have been on the verge of not sucking for awhile. Maybe Harbaugh will be the answer, but is Alex Smith really going to collect Ws in the short term? Will Braylon Edwards be an impact player from the get-go. Frank Gore and Vernon Davis give the Niners a chance, but it remains to be seen how the team is going to fit together. Seattle has its own questions, too. Is T-Jack the answer at QB? Can Rice and Lynch add more sizzle to this offense? Both these teams have identity issues they need to sort out, but one thing’s for sure, San Fran has a better defense. Give the edge to the home team.

Pick: 49ers -5

At San Diego -8.5 Minnesota

McNabb looked less-than-serviceable last year, but he’s in a much better situation in Minnesota. If he can minimize mental mistakes and embrace his role as a game manager, this team can be good. We all know the Chargers are good, but they never come out of the gates firing on all cylinders. They don’t play well on the road early in the year, but this game will be played in bright glare of the San Diego sunshine. The Chargers will probably win, but not by a margin that wide.

Pick: Vikings +8.5

At NY Jets -4.5 Dallas

The Jets are for real. The Cowboys might be too, but their secondary has holes. The Jets don’t have holes on D, and they re-upped on offensive weapons this offseason. If Sanchez doesn’t make any stupid throws, the Jets should be able to handle the Cowboys in the Meadowlands.

Pick: Jets -4.5

New England -7 At Miami

The Pats win easy. In two regular season matchups last year, the Pats beat Miami by a combined score of 79-21. I think that trend we’ll continue on Sunday.

Pick: Pats -7

At Denver -3 Oakland

The Raiders beat the entire AFC West last year and still didn’t win the division. You get the feeling that this team could put together a respectable 8-8 campaign this year, maybe even better. I don’t feel the same about Denver. I like the Raiders to come out swinging for their new head coach.

Pick: Raiders +3

Last season: 133-125-7 ATS

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