By Doug Halberstadt
It’s like Christmas in September for NFL fans! The 2012 season officially opens tonight (Wednesday, Sept. 5), and our first gift to unwrap is a game between two perennial powerhouses of the league. Once known as “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys travel to New York to take on the defending world champion Giants.
I’m not positive they still qualify as “America’s Team,” but I am relatively certain they don’t have enough weapons to go on the road and knock off Eli Manning and his fellow Giants in their home opener. I’m taking the Giants by at least a touchdown.
Now, onto Sunday (Sept. 9), when the games we really care about take place. The Bears host the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field. Quarterback Jay Cutler seems to enjoy throwing to his new target, Brandon Marshall. The two of them exhibited an ability to connect during the preseason. I think it’s imperative the two of them get off to a good start to set the tone for the entire Bears season. The Colts were the worst team in the league last year, and they picked Andrew Luck as their new field general. I think the Bears’ defense will have the rookie yelling “RETREAT” before the first quarter is over. I’m going with the Bears to win their home opener.
The Packers also open the season in front of their home crowd. They welcome the 49ers to Title Town. Green Bay hasn’t lost a step from their 15-1 regular season record last year. The 49ers won’t be intimidated by the Packers’ record from last season, and they definitely aren’t going to roll over and play dead. This should be a decent game from a fan’s point of view, but when the dust settles, I look for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense to put up big numbers against the 49ers’ defense. I see the Packers winning in a game that should produce a lot of points.
Elsewhere around the league, the Falcons are in Kansas City. It’s tough to call games like this in the first week of the season. Kansas City surprised a few people last year with some of their wins, including handing Green Bay their only loss of the year. Recently, the Falcons have been one of the better teams in the league. In a game that could go either way, I’m taking the Falcons.
I’m not sure if Michael Vick is 100 percent healthy this week to lead the Eagles over the Browns. I’m also not sure he needs to be. Despite his preseason injuries, Vick at 75 percent is still good enough to get by the Brownies in Cleveland.
After receiving severe penalties from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the off-season, the New Orleans Saints will be tested in their home-opener against the Washington Redskins. Both teams will have to deal with the recent distractions created by Hurricane Isaac. I think the Saints and their fans will once again show America their resolve and come away with a win.
The Lions open up in Detroit against the Rams. This should be an easy win for Detroit, and will help them get their season started on the right foot.
The Patriots are on the road in Tennessee. Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak was one of only two rookie head coaches (Jim Harbaugh) to post a winning mark last year. The Patriots are a formidable opponent to open up against. I like the Titans, but not enough to pick them over the Pats.
The Vikings open up at home against the Jaguars. Not sure either team is expected to set the league on fire this year. However, with Adrian Peterson at running back, the Vikings could get hot at any moment. I look for the Vikings to win and make all four NFC North teams 1-0 after their season-openers.
The Jets have Tim Tebow as their backup QB this year. He’s listed behind Mark Sanchez on the depth chart. The Buffalo Bills have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen as one and two on their depth chart. I’m a firm believer that there is no more important position in any sport than a quarterback in football. Applying that logic, the Jets have the advantage in this game, plus they are at home. I’m going with the Jets.
In the first all-bird battle of 2012, the Seahawks swoop into the desert to take on the Cardinals. I like Arizona in the heat. In another game featuring two teams from warm-weather climates, the Miami Dolphins visit Houston. The Texans are the better team, and have the home-field advantage. I’m taking Houston.
Carolina QB Cam Newton threw 21 touchdown passes in his rookie season last year. I don’t see him suffering any type of sophomore slump. I think he’s one of the NFL’s emerging superstars. He will lead his Panthers into Tampa Bay, and should walk out of there with the win.
The Sunday night game is an interesting one. It features two veteran quarterbacks who could share space in the Hall of Fame after their playing days are over. Peyton Manning will square off against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Manning will be the one with something to prove in this game. He will be in front of the home fans, and if he doesn’t do well, I expect things to get restless quickly in the thin air. I’m never one to say a season-opener is a “must-win” game, but this one could definitely set the tone for the remainder of Manning’s career. I think he still has enough left in the tank to answer the challenge. I’m taking the Broncos.
There’s a double-header Monday night (Sept. 10). The early game features the Bengals at the Ravens. I don’t envision this as being much of a contest. I’m taking the Ravens at home. The second game is, by far, the better contest. It’s the Chargers versus the Raiders in Oakland. The Raiders have always loved the spotlight of Monday Night Football. I look for all of their fans to be out in full force and full regalia. They will no doubt have the 12th man advantage. I like those odds. I’m taking the Raiders.
Those are my picks for week one. As in years past, they always come with the caveat: this column is purely for entertainment purposes only and should NEVER be used as a guide for your office pool or any other illicit activities!
Make sure you stop back each week for a recap of the previous week and a look ahead at next week’s games. GO, BEARS!
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Sept. 5-11, 2012, issue