By Doug Halberstadt
Tomorrow night (Thursday, Sept. 4), the National Football League will make its long-awaited return to millions of living rooms, dens and man caves all across North America. I, for one, could not be happier. The opening game of the season features the Green Bay Packers visiting the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Last year, the Seahawks were 13-3 during the regular season and destroyed the AFC champion Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. CenturyLink Field is home to Seattle’s “12th Man,” and is one of the toughest places for road teams to play. During 2013, the Seahawks were 7-1 at home. Their only loss came to the Arizona Cardinals Dec. 22.
Green Bay won the NFC North Division with an 8-7-1 record and lost in the Wild Card playoff game to the San Francisco 49ers 23-20 in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.
This game will showcase the talent of two of the best quarterbacks in the league, Aaron Rodgers for the Packers and Russell Wilson the Seahawks. I’m taking the Seahawks in what could be a very high-scoring game.
The Chicago Bears open their 2014 season Sunday (Sept. 7) at home against the Buffalo Bills. The Bears spent much of the off-season improving their defense with the acquisition of linemen Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. The steady performance of Matt Forte combined with the big-play threats they have at both wide receiver positions (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery) will score a lot of points again this year for Chicago. I look for the Bears to open up the season with an impressive double-digit victory over the Bills.
The other two NFC North teams should also start the season on a positive note. The Minnesota Vikings play their first game of the year on the road. They are in St. Louis to take on the Rams. St. Louis will be without the services of their starting quarterback, Sam Bradford. He suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Rams’ third pre-season game. Bradford’s absence combined with Adrian Peterson’s presence for Minnesota will translate to a win for the Vikings.
The Detroit Lions will have to wait one extra day before beginning their season. They face the New York Giants at Ford Field on Monday Night Football. Like the Bears, the Lions have a formidable stable of offensive weapons. The ground attack duo of running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell complement the air threat of wide receivers Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and the newly acquired Golden Tate. That’s more than the Giants’ defense will be able to handle. The Lions should come out of the gate with a 1-0 record.
In the other Sunday games, I like the Saints to win on the road over the Falcons. At press time, the Saints did not have a kicker on their roster. I’m still holding out hope that they will bring back Rockford native Derek Dimke. Even if that doesn’t happen, I look for the Saints to be in the upper echelon of all NFL teams this year.
The Cincinnati Bengals will invade the nest of the Baltimore Ravens. They won’t get a warm welcome. In contrast to the laws of nature, I’m taking the birds over the cats. The Washington Redskins will be another team that won’t be a welcome guest when they show up in Houston to take on the Texans. Both teams are looking to rebound from disappointing 2013 seasons. I’m taking the Texans to start the year on the right foot.
I like the Kansas City Chiefs at home over the Tennessee Titans. Look for the Patriots to pick up a road win over the Miami Dolphins. The New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers all have home games and should come away victorious. The Jets face Oakland, the Eagles will send Jacksonville home 0-1, and the Steelers will take care of business against the Browns.
Another team I rarely pick against when they play at home is the Denver Broncos. They open up against the Indianapolis Colts in prime time on Sunday night at Mile High Stadium. Peyton Manning will have a little extra incentive when facing his former teammates. This may end up being a lopsided game if Manning gets hot at all. In the battle of the horses, the Broncos will outrun the Colts.
I’m giving the edge to the San Francisco 49ers over the Dallas Cowboys. I think this game has the potential to be much closer than many people think. Even though the Cowboys have the home field advantage, I’m taking San Fran.
The Carolina Panthers are the final road team I’m picking to win in week one. They travel down the coast to Tampa Bay.
The first week of the season concludes with the second game of a Monday night double-header. For those of us who will be staying up late to watch the Arizona Cardinals host the San Diego Chargers, look for the Redbirds to prevail.
Those are my predictions for week one of the 17-week NFL regular season. All 32 teams start the year with high expectations and postseason hopes. When the game clock in the Arizona/San Diego Game hits all zeros, half of the teams will still have those high hopes, the other half will be wondering what adjustments they need to make to get ready for week two. Which half will your favorite team be in?
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Sept. 3-9, 2014, issue