There will be no weekend without NFL Football until February from now and Sunday evenings won't be the same.
Things have changed since the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers to win the Super Bowl, notably Peyton Manning walking away from the NFL. Losing Brock Osweiler in Free Agency was a huge surprise meaning Denver look incredibly short at Quarter Back in terms of experience as they look to defend their title.
It won't be easy in the AFC West with the Kansas City Chiefs showing plenty of consistency and the Oakland Raiders being one of the more improved squads. Even the San Diego Chargers could be stronger and there is no guarantee the Super Bowl Champions will be able to even make the Play Offs, even with a Defensive unit that should be amongst the best in the NFL again this year.
The losing Super Bowl participants look better prepared for another shot at glory and the Carolina Panthers benefit from being in a weak Division. That will give them a chance to secure home advantage through the Play Offs for the second time in a row, but the loss of Josh Norman has weakened the Secondary and Cam Newton needs to show that 2015 was not a career best year but one he can match.
Kelvin Benjamin is back to give the Panthers a big weapon in the passing game and I do think Carolina will get back to the Play Offs, although it has been over twenty years since a losing team in the Super Bowl have made it back to the big game in the following year.
Teams like New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers will all feel they can take over from Denver as the representative in the AFC at the end of the season, while the usual teams in the NFC are expected to challenge the Panthers. Both the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals look to be the pick of those in the NFC, but rule out the Seattle Seahawks at your peril.
On the other end of the scale, I am looking to the likes of the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns to be the leading contenders to 'win' the Number 1 Pick in the next Draft.
There has been plenty of drama in the NFL in the off-season as is usual for this League, but now the focus will be on the field and how teams can perform. Week 1 isn't going to make or break the season for any team, but all thirty-two teams begin on an even platform with the hopes that this will be the year they can go all the way.
For fans the excitement of Week 1 can be replaced by the realities of Week 2, but I am looking forward to the next several months even if as a Miami Dolphins fans I am not expecting much more than a 6-10 record at this moment.
I always look at the results from the previous season and try and work out what went wrong- 2015 was looking really strong but a disastrous Week 16 followed by a poor run in the Play Offs put pay to that. Better management with the units would have helped, but I also expect a much better percentage of winners going into 2016 and try and to get back to the kind of levels produced in 2013.
Carolina Panthers @ Denver Broncos Pick: The new NFL season is opening up with a Super Bowl rematch and I have to admit I was not ready to see the Carolina Panthers as the favourite on the road. Something tells me too much stock has been put into the retirement of Peyton Manning and taking care of the ball will give Denver Broncos every chance to not only covering, but winning this game outright.
Of course the big news in the off-season for Denver was having to break in a new Quarter Back once Brock Osweiler decided to let his bitterness of being overlooked for Peyton Manning down the stretch of the 2015 factor into a decision to walk away. Mark Sanchez thankfully didn't win the job and it is Trevor Siemian who is going to Quarter Back the team with First Round Draft Pick Paxton Lynch backing him up.
Siemian has been given full backing and his task is going to be to look after the ball and let the Defensive unit help him through games. There are still big Receivers here though when Siemian is throwing the ball and he will be glad to note that Josh Norman has moved on from the Carolina Secondary which is a little more inexperienced now.
Of course the Panthers can generate plenty of pressure up front and have a very strong Linebacker unit which will continue to make them dangerous. Siemian will look to establish CJ Anderson running the ball, although there won't be a lot of room and the game certainly looks like one that will be determined by Special Teams and turnovers.
Special Teams is an area Denver will feel they are stronger than Carolina, while they are looking for their Defensive unit to continue to match up well with the Carolina Offense. The Broncos Defense has mainly remained intact although Carolina do have the huge body of Kelvin Benjamin back to give Cam Newton more weapons after a career best year.
Last year Newton exceeded expectations with a banged up Receiving corps, but Benjamin is back with Greg Olson and Devin Funchess looks more experienced to play at this level. The question for Newton is whether he can handle the pressure that Denver are going to bring against this Offensive Line better than he did in the Super Bowl.
There won't be a lot of running room so Newton could find himself in third and long a number of times, while he will be put under pressure against the fierce pass rush Denver will throw at Quarter Backs. If Newton isn't given the time to find his Receivers downfield, Carolina are going to get bogged down as they did in the Super Bowl and this might be another tough evening for the former Heisman winner.
Carolina do have a lot of success as a small favourite, but they are not often favoured on the road. This is going to be playing on the mind of the Denver players as they can't feel good being an underdog at home when reigning Super Bowl Champions and they covered as the home underdog both times they were in that spot last season.
Denver are also 4-0 against the spread when given three points or fewer as the underdog and they can win this game if Trevor Siemian can look after the ball. The Super Bowl winners have gone 8-4-1 against the spread in the opening game of the next season, while the Super Bowl losing team are just 2-11 against the spread in their first game of the following season.
Turnovers can't ever be guessed, but they will play a key role although I am confident enough for a small interest on the Denver Broncos with a field goal head-start at home.
Buffalo Bills @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: There are always Head Coaches on the hot seat going into a new NFL season and Rex Ryan has to be in that position for the Buffalo Bills. Another mediocre season for a Ryan team last year means the Buffalo wait for a Play Off berth goes on another season and it remains the longest in the NFL, but the Bills are expecting to win now and missing the Play Offs might not be tolerated this time around.
They head out onto the road for the opening game of the 2016 season and face the Baltimore Ravens who finished with their lowest wins under John Harbaugh last year. However that season was down to a number of injuries which gutted the roster and many of the Baltimore losses came by less than double digits which suggests they are ripe for a much improved season.
Joe Flacco is the big return from the Offensive point of view and Terrell Suggs is back on the Defensive side of the ball to give Baltimore a stronger look. Flacco is an obvious big improvement from the back ups that took over at the end of last season although losing Ben Watson from the Tight End position means Baltimore will be looking at some of their Wide Receivers to step up.
The question for Buffalo is whether they can improve Defensively after another underachieving year for a Rex Ryan Defensive unit. He has brought in twin brother Rob to try and change things around, but Rob Ryan Defenses have rarely been amongst the best in the NFL and both men are under pressure to deliver on what feels like a last chance saloon for them.
Can Buffalo get the pressure on Flacco at Quarter Back having struggled last yer with their Sacks, but now in a second year of Rex Ryan's system? It won't be easy with the Offensive Line that Baltimore have and I think they will get enough time for Flacco to make plays, while it will be down to the Quarter Back as Baltimore won't have a lot of running room.
I do think Baltimore will be able to move the chains in this one, but I am not so sure Buffalo will be able to have the same level of success. This is a team that won't give up too many yards on the ground which means LeSean McCoy is perhaps not having the impact Buffalo would have wanted in this game and the pressure will be on Tyrod Taylor to make the plays at Quarter Back.
Taylor was a big surprise for Buffalo last season, but he can be a little fragile as a moving Quarter Back who might take some big hits. He did play at Baltimore too so you would have to think Harbaugh will know the strengths and weaknesses Taylor brings to the table and I think the Ravens Defensive unit can win enough battles to slow down the Bills.
Sammy Watkins is a huge threat for Buffalo, and Ryan will be focused having felt he was overlooked for the Baltimore Head Coach, but the Bills have a huge home opener against the New York Jets on Thursday. A team like Buffalo can't overlook any team as they try to get back into the Play Offs, but that game with the Jets is definitely one they would have circled.
Baltimore are a good home favourite to back when playing a non-Division opponent while Rex Ryan is 2-13-1 against the spread when the road underdog against a non-Division opponent. I will be looking for Baltimore to extend that trend and look for them to cover this number.
Chicago Bears @ Houston Texans Pick: There is a new excitement around the Houston Texans with the arrival of Brock Osweiler to give the franchise the Quarter Back they have felt has been a missing piece for a Super Bowl contender. It is some pressure on Osweiler's shoulders, but he has played well for the Denver Broncos in relief of Peyton Manning in the 2015 season and Bill O'Brien does have a reputation for being a 'Quarter Back whisperer' since becoming a Head Coach.
There were some things I liked about Osweiler at the Broncos, but I do have to say that he did make some rookie mistakes and he is not exactly the experienced Quarter Back that the contract he was given by Houston suggests. Osweiler will have some big Wide Receivers to target but the Chicago Bears Secondary might be underrated in this one after a strong performance a season ago.
Chicago managed to get plenty of pressure up front while they have a Defensive Line which will feel can limit the impact new Running Back Lamar Miller can have on the game. Miller is a threat catching the ball from the backfield, but this does feel like a game where the Texans might not have the ease in moving the chains as some may think they will.
I like the Chicago Bears to have their own success when it comes to having the ball in their Offense's hands. Jay Cutler remains a polarising Quarter Back, but he played well last year and has the benefit of having Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery to throw the ball to this time around with the former missing the whole of 2015 and the latter only making it through half the games.
Both are big Wide Receivers and that might be a problem for the Houston Secondary even though the likes of Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph played well at Corner Back in 2015. Both are sub 6 feet tall though and that should mean Cutler should be able to throw the ball up and allow his Receivers to get the ball.
Cutler should be given time by the Offensive Line which played well last year and also because the Quarter Back has sped up his release. With JJ Watt likely limited, Houston might not get the pressure to speed up Cutler even more and that should give the Bears time to move the chains.
Matt Forte is gone these days, but he would not have had a lot of success running the ball against this front. The Bears will start Jeremy Langford at Running Back and he showed enough in 2015 to feel they could move Forte on, but it will be his catching ability that might be most at play in this one.
It does look like a game that Houston are more likely to win but I think the Bears might be getting too many points. Bill O'Brien's Houston have been very good as the home favourite but they have a big game on deck against the Kansas City Chiefs who have ended a couple of post-season runs for the Texans.
Getting almost a Touchdown start on a team that could move the chains as effectively as their opponent could looks too much here and I will back the Bears to cover.
Green Bay Packers @ Jacksonville Jaguars Pick: In many publications and websites you will see the Green Bay Packers tipped to win the Super Bowl and I do think they are one of the top teams in the NFL. Any team that can call upon Aaron Rodgers will come close, but the return of Jordy Nelson is huge for this team.
There are still some question marks, notably the decision to allow Josh Sitton to be cut from the Offensive Line, but the Green Bay teams looks strong on both sides of the ball. It will be interesting to see how the new look Offensive Line plays against the Jacksonville Jaguars who have added Malik Jackson to the Defensive Line from the Denver Broncos Super Bowl winning squad as well as having a returning Dante Fowler from injury as they look to improve the Sack numbers.
It won't be easy against a mobile Quarter Back like Rodgers, but the Jaguars Secondary has also been improved in Free Agency although stopping the Packers passing Offense through an entire game is not really possible. Eddie Lacy can take advantage of the fact that teams will drop men into coverage to protect against the pass, and he looks like a player that has come into camp in far better shape than he was at the beginning of the 2015 season.
Lacy could have some success if Jacksonville commit to stopping Rodgers throwing all over the field against them, but the Jaguars played well against the run last year. They look strong on that Defensive Line which can at least limit Lacy to some extent and keep the scoring to a level where the ever improving Offense can stay with the Packers.
I am a fan of Blake Bortles and do think he will be more than a serviceable starting Quarter Back in the NFL. He had much improved numbers last season and Bortles has the likes of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas in the passing Offense to make big plays. That won't be easy against the Green Bay Packers who look to have a very strong Secondary, especially if a much changed Offensive Line can't finally start protecting their Quarter Back.
Bortles has been Sacked 106 times in two seasons which is not sustainable, but Jacksonville have brought in Chris Ivory to join TJ Yeldon in trying to give Jaguars a chance to ease that pressure by establishing the run. That won't be easy against the Packers either, but Green Bay have lost a huge body in BJ Raji on the Defensive Line.
This is a solid Green Bay team and they look capable of winning it all with better fortunes and better luck on the injury front. However, I do think Jacksonville can keep this one closer than it may feel, especially in the heat of Florida in September.
The Packers have been a strong road favourite to back, but not always when facing non-Division opponents as their 7-10 record against the spread may suggest. They might also be focused on a huge game at the Minnesota Vikings next week and the heat has to be a factor against a Jaguars team that looks like they will be able to score points.
Green Bay likely wins, but I think it might not be by more than a Field Goal as Jacksonville will probably be the stronger team in the second half. I will take the points with the Jaguars to keep this one close.
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: There was a clear suggestion in the summer that the Denver Broncos would not be able to match their 2015 season and that the Kansas City Chiefs might be the favourites to win the AFC West. That is going to be tested with a Divisional game right out of the gates, while the Denver Broncos have already shown they might be better than people think.
Andy Reid has done well as the Head Coach of the Chiefs as they got back into the Play Offs for the second time in three seasons and Kansas City have won at least nine games in all three years under his guidance. There isn't much to get excited about when you watch the Chiefs, but they can be effective and get Jamaal Charles back from a big injury at Running Back.
The Charles recovery is going to be key for Kansas City but they did show they have a couple of strong Running Backs behind him on the roster depth. This has been a key strength for the whole Offensive unit, although Kansas City have made big changes on the Offensive Line which might mean they just need some time to get the blocking schemes in place.
This has been a weakness of the San Diego Defense when it comes to stopping the run and they will have a new look Defensive Line to control the line of scrimmage better than they have the last two years. Joey Bosa is not going to suit up having only signed his contract with the Chargers in the last couple of weeks and missing much of Training Camp, but San Diego will feel they are a little stronger against the run.
San Diego's Secondary has some holes to fill having lost Eric Weddle in Free Agency, but they will also know Alex Smith is not likely to take too many risks in the passing game. That means the Chargers can cheat up a little bit and the key will be to slow down the running game and force Kansas City into third and long where they struggled in 2015.
Ahead of this game there are also some issues for Kansas City in key Defensive areas with both Justin Houston and Tamba Hali either out or limited. That is the pass rush for the Chiefs likely absent and will mean Philip Rivers has time behind an Offensive Line that was hit by injuries last season and look stronger this time around.
Rivers is one of the better NFL Quarter Backs and he plays largely mistake free football although not the most mobile. While the Chiefs have a strong Secondary that loves picking up an Interception or two, Rivers has enough talent in Receiving areas to help move the chains with the time he is expected to get up front.
The Chargers were disappointed with the running game last year, but Melvin Gordon has had that year of experience under his belt now. The improved Offensive Line is expected to open better running lanes than in 2015 but it still won't be easy against this Chiefs Defensive Line that is stout up front which means Rivers is likely to have to have success if the Chargers are going to earn the upset.
I think there is every chance San Diego can do that in this opening game. San Diego have thrived as the road underdog in Divisional games going 9-2 against the spread in that spot in recent years while they are 13-6-1 against the spread as the road underdog overall under Mike McCoy.
Add in the fact that Kansas City are 3-12 against the spread as the home favourite in Divisional games since 2008 while the Chargers are 3-1 against the spread in their last four visits to Arrowhead Stadium and I will take the bunch of points being given to the road team in what could be a tight game.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: I wanted to see where this line landed on Sunday before I pulled the trigger and I think it is possible to back the New York Giants to snap a three game losing run in Dallas. I have a lot of time for the Cowboys, but their Defensive issues coupled with a rookie Quarter Back taking the snaps in his first full NFL start.
Dak Prescott was good at Mississippi State and he has an Offensive Line he can have confidence in. Prescott is a mobile Quarter Back and will be able to make plays with his legs too and the benefit of having an Offensive Line that can create plenty of running lanes for the new star Running Back in town in Ezekiel Elliot.
Elliot is also a rookie, but he was strong in Ohio State and I think the Running Back can make a big impact on this game. However it does have to be said that Dallas are going up against a New York Giants team that have tried to strengthen the Defensive Line significantly this off-season.
The Giants will get pressure off the edge, but they have planned to slow down the run which has gashed them in each of the last two seasons. New York look to have brought in the right guys in the off-season with Olivier Vernon the stand out new face on the Defensive Line which struggled to get to the Quarter Back in 2015.
The Secondary still looks like it will have some teething problems which may show up huge if the front seven cannot stop the run and also fail to get pressure on the Quarter Back. However Tony Romo is not going to be throwing the ball and we don't know how Prescott will be able to handle the first NFL start with a new look Defensive Line likely to be bearing down on him.
Despite the injury to the starting Quarter Back, it is the other side of the ball where the Dallas Cowboys look to have really suffered. They are going to have Orlando Scandrick back who was the considered the best player in the Secondary, but injuries have suspension have ravaged the front seven.
Eli Manning had a strong season for the Giants last time around, with 35 Touchdown passes and 14 Interceptions and he was protected pretty well by the Offensive Line too. With Victor Cruz back to join Odell Beckham and rookie Sterling Shepherd, I like the Giants passing game if they can continue to get protection for Eli Manning.
That will likely be the case on Sunday with the Cowboys perhaps missing the pass rush in this one, but Manning could do with some help from the rushing Offense. Rashad Jennings is the starter but was short of 1000 yards last season and the Giants were a little hit and miss when it came to running the ball which put more pressure on Manning to make the plays.
The Giants are playing a Defensive unit that had issues shutting down the run in 2015 and it does look like it will be possible to establish the run against the Cowboys. The Giants have not been a great road favourite to back in Divisional games and they have lost on their last three visits to Arlington.
However New York might not have a better chance to win here again and I think the Giants can be backed to win and cover this week.
Detroit Lions @ Indianapolis Colts Pick: This could be one of the higher scoring games in the NFL Week 1 with both the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts looking stronger on Offense than they do on the Defensive side of the ball. That is a bit harsh on the Detroit Lions Defense which generates plenty of pressure up front, but it was possible to run against them.
With a healthy Andrew Luck back at Quarter Back after a series of injuries in 2015, Indianapolis could find some holes in the running game for Frank Gore as the Lions look to defend the pass. They will get pressure on Luck, but the Quarter Back can move and extend the plays too while his Receivers look capable of stretching the field against this Secondary.
There is a lot of speed in the Indianapolis Offense and the Detroit Secondary is a little more inexperienced at the moment. The Lions certainly don't look as strong back there and I expect Luck to show he is back with a big game throwing the ball.
There is a misconception that Detroit will struggle without Calvin Johnson who retired in the off-season. Any team losing Johnson will be hurt, but Matthew Stafford is still here and looks like he will have a clean pocket to work with thanks to the injuries suffered by the Indianapolis Colts at the Defensive positions.
Players like Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron can help Detroit move on from the Megatron era, and I think Stafford will have a big game in a potential shoot out. The problem for Detroit was running the ball in 2015, but they do have a solid Running Back in Ameer Abdullah although fumbling issues have to be behind him to hold onto the starting job.
Abdullah should have some success in this one running the ball and I like the chances of both teams being able to score. Detroit are just 2-6 agains the spread as the road underdog against non-Divisional opponents though and Indianapolis have been a decent enough home favourite with Luck at Quarter Back before the poor 2015 season.
It is under a Field Goal now and I think Luck makes enough plays at home to win this game and cover the number.
Los Angeles Rams @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: Life has changed in the NFL as a franchise returns to Los Angeles, one of the biggest sports markets in the United States. Another team is expected to join the Los Angeles Rams next season, but for now it is Jeff Fisher's team that will have sole control of the market.
To keep the interest piqued in a city that wasn't enamoured with the NFL the last time they had the Rams in town, it is up to this Rams franchise to get back to winning ways. The 'Greatest Show on Turf' is a long time ago in the memory and Fisher has been the Head Coach for mediocrity in recent years. The Rams have not won more than seven games in any of the last four years under Fisher and he has to be on the hot seat this season.
He won't be helped by being a part of the decision to give up a number of Draft Picks to ensure they could take Jared Goff as the Number 1 Overall Pick. The Quarter Back played well in California in a pro-style Offense, but Goff struggled in Training Camp and pre-season to the point that Case Keenum has been installed as the starting Quarter Back.
Keenum played well for the Rams last season and he should have time to make his plays in the pocket with the San Francisco front seven not generating the pressure they would like. It has meant the Secondary have been exposed and they allowed over 68% of passes to be completed last season although this Rams team are not blessed with the best Receiving corps.
However I expect them to have joy throwing the ball as they will have established the run with Todd Gurley behind an Offensive Line who bring back the same five starters from 2015. They were strong in pass protection, but also opened up holes for Gurley, and they are facing a 49ers Defensive Line that were gashed on the ground last year and haven't brought in any reinforcements in Free Agency.
San Francisco might also have some new systems in place with Chip Kelly taking over as Head Coach. He left Philadelphia after putting a few noses out of joint and Kelly will be under pressure to show he has learned from his experiences, although he is also taking over a much weaker San Francisco team than the Eagles one he took to a 26-21 in three seasons and started with back to back 10 win seasons.
Blaine Gabbert remains the starting Quarter Back having beaten out Colin Kaepernick in Training Camp and pre-season but it will be interesting to see what Kelly can get out of him. Gabbert can run the ball, which is important in the way Kelly wants the Offense to play, but he had a 10-7 Touchdown-Interception ratio and this is a Receiving corps that has struggled and have lost Anquan Boldin in the off-season.
Gabbert is also behind an Offensive Line which gave up a lot of Sacks last season and now face a Los Angeles team that love taking down the Quarter Back. With Carlos Hyde looking banged up, San Francisco may struggle to even establish the run and could leave their Quarter Back in a position where Gabbert is getting plenty of pressure on him.
I am not a fan of backing favourites in these Prime Time games because they have a tonne of public money on them and regularly fall short. Remember last season Minnesota going into San Francisco as the road favourite and being blown out in Week 1 on Monday Night Football as an example and San Francisco have won two of their last three home games against the Rams.
Jeff Fisher teams as road favourites are not banker material either but Chip Kelly's Philadelphia team were 0-2 against the spread as the home underdog. San Francisco played well in this spot, but I think Los Angeles can mark their return to LA with a victory on the road in Week 1 and cover this number behind a really big Defensive effort.
It won't be a really high-scoring game because the Rams don't have a great Offensive team, but they do have Todd Gurley and I think he makes the difference in this one and helps the Rams cover on the road.
MY PICKS: Denver Broncos + 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Baltimore Ravens - 3 Points @ 1.83 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Chicago Bears + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Jacksonville Jaguars + 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
San Diego Chargers + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
New York Giants - 1 Point @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Indianapolis Colts - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Los Angeles - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)