After much lockout nonsense, the NFL returns to full-swing this weekend, albeit with the nation's heart heavy in remembrance of 9/11 on its tenth anniversary. Home teams in CAPS.
ST. LOUIS (+4.5) over Philadelphia
Ah, the rites of fall - cooler weather, leaves, and me picking against the Eagles. I readily admit that this is a biased pick, but the Rams are an up-and-coming team. Fortunately, they steer clear of the "new hot team of the year" curse, which this year is a toss up between Detroit and Houston. Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo has made his bacon on solving tough offenses, and while his work will be cut out for him against Mike Vick et al, this is still a pretty good matchup. Why? Because the Eagles, in building a supposed Dream Team, neglected to put together a defense with one actual tackler. The Rams would be well-served to gut the Eagles up the middle with Steven Jackson and use the Sam Bradford-to-Danny Amendola combo on passing downs to move the chains. Anything that keeps the Eagles offense off the field will help the Rams at least keep this close.
CLEVELAND (-6.5) over Cincinnati
I'm not betting on the Browns, I'm just betting against the Bengals. Andy Dalton figures to take the first of many lumps this year at the helm for Cincy, and while A.J. Green is a nice weapon, both of them are learning on the fly together. And how much can the Bengals rely on any running game, with Cedric Benson spending 5 days in jail last week and guard Bobbie Williams suspended? The Browns playbook could consist of nothing more than Peyton Hillis left, Peyton Hillis right, and Peyton Hillis up the middle, and that would be enough to cover this one.
Buffalo (+6) over KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs snuck up on a lot of people last year, but it may be an even bigger surprise if they return to the playoffs this year. Matt Cassel has been upgraded to probable for this game with a rib injury, but even if he were 100% healthy I still would have given the Bills a puncher's chance. Buffalo is short on talent but not on fight, and played enough solid games against solid teams last year to prove that. If they can roll coverage in Dwayne Bowe's direction (an easier task given the season-ending injury to TE Tony Moeaki) and keep Jamaal Charles from steamrolling people in the open field, then there's no reason that the Bills can't circle the wagons and make this a close, ugly game - a game they could very well win outright.
ARIZONA (-7) over Carolina
If you can't ride a team at home against the Panthers, then when can you ride them? While I'm not ready to hand Kevin Kolb 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns the way an alarming number of people are, there is no question that Larry Fitzgerald will be able to stretch his legs out there for the first time since Kurt Warner retired. Cam Newton makes his NFL debut, and while he may dazzle at times (like many have tended to do against the Cardinals defense), I think he'll cough one up in the second half that will put this game out of reach.
Dallas (+5) over NY JETS
The Cowboys have made some very curious personnel decisions recently, essentially jettisoning 60% of their offensive line in favor of two rookies and a third-year man with one career start. Making matters worse, Terence Newman has been declared out, and RT (9th overall draft pick) Tyron Smith is questionable, along with CB Mike Jenkins. Then why am I still taking Dallas to cover? Because Tony Romo is going to have to get rid of the ball very quickly on Sunday night, which means a ton of work for Jason Witten against a defense that has been victimized by opposing tight ends many times in recent years. And while Rob Ryan's new defense is not going to mesh well immediately, I do believe it will at least free DeMarcus Ware up from double-teams enough to get to Mark Sanchez once or twice and maybe even force a turnover. There is going to be a ton of energy at newly-named MetLife Stadium on the anniversary of 9/11, so an outright Cowboys win would be a big surprise, but not as big a surprise as a lopsided game either way would be.
Last Season: 42-41-2