Week 3 2016 NFL Predictions: So Which Is It? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

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We are only two weeks into the 2016 National Football League schedule and there’s already a few things that we can set in stone. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick could probably roll out Marcia Brady at quarterback and the team would win. We’ve seen big name pros fall to season-ending injuries (or essentially season-ending injuries, in the case of Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson), but what has been intriguing is in how a team can look so good one week and, literally seven days later, look like utter dog crap. This is what I like to call the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Effect.

In the literary classic written by Robert Louis Stevenson, a mild mannered doctor creates a drug that, upon ingestion, allows him to indulge in his particular vices without losing his station in life. While in that transformed state, however, he is a sociopath, interested in only his own pleasures and completely uncaring as to the desires or needs of others. Eventually, the transformations begin to occur without the assistance of the drug and he needs to create an antidote to prevent it from happening. It is the place where we get the term “Jekyll and Hyde,” basically a demonstration of the two extremes that can occur in one person.

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So far this season, we’ve seen these “Jekyll and Hyde” transformations go off on several occasions. Perhaps the biggest of these conversions is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In their first game of the season, Bucs QB Jameis Winston (who has probably taken the award for “Jekyll and Hyde” player – we’ll get to this in a minute) blasted the Atlanta Falcons defense for four touchdown passes and a 31-24 victory over their division rival. Seven days later in taking on an admittedly energized Arizona Cardinals team (one that had been beaten by the Tom Brady-less Patriots in their season opener), Winston basically couldn’t identify his own team’s uniforms, tossing four interceptions and losing a fumble on the way to a 40-7 thrashing by the Redbirds.

The same holds true for some other teams in the NFL this season, but perhaps not to the same lengths. The Green Bay Packers had their way against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, but couldn’t muster any offense in another road game against the Vikings last week. The Los Angeles Rams have looked very Hyde-ish in two games, but they are 1-1 after holding the Seattle Seahawks (another Jekyll/Hyde candidate) to only three points last week.

Why does the “Jekyll and Hyde” Effect matter? Because it makes it very difficult to decide on whether to wager on a team or not. Which team are you going to get when you’re looking at the lines? Are you going to get the team that does the right things and wins with ease, or are you going to get the team that basically craps itself on the field and, by the midpoint of the third quarter, everyone is looking at padding their stats instead of winning the game? It usually takes about four weeks to be able to get a true feel for some of the teams but, with the “Jekyll and Hyde” teams, you’re never quite sure even after this point.

We’re going to try to avoid those “Jekyll and Hyde” teams this week, especially after the debacle that was Week 2 (more on that later). Remember, these are the insider’s best…what? Oh, OK…these picks are for entertainment purposes only!

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-7); OVER 41.5

Normally I wouldn’t even look at a touchdown favorite in the NFL, let alone pick them to win the game. This is a rare circumstance, however. The Vikings have basically had the season pulled out from under them, first with the season-ending injury to QB Teddy Bridgewater and then the Week 2 “virtually all of the season” ending knee injury to Peterson. While Sam Bradford came in for Week 2 and did an adequate job, that was with the threat of a Peterson-led running game; going with a Matt Asiata/Jerick McKinnon poo-poo platter, Bradford won’t be having the same success, especially against the vaunted Panther defense.

Carolina arguably should be 2-0 at this point, with a Graham Gano missed field goal being the difference in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos and the thrashing of the hapless San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2. A second home game in a row for QB Cam Newton and Company is almost cruel for the Vikings to have to face. Look for a lot of scoring out of the Panthers, not so much with the Vikes.

Los Angeles Rams vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (-5)

Remember how I said I was trying to avoid “Jekyll and Hyde?” I couldn’t help myself.

For the first time this season, the Buccaneers return to their home at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (three other teams – the Miami Dolphins, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Packers – also are making their home debuts this weekend) and that is a remedy for many ills. It should help out Winston the most, who is coming off a horrendous start against the Cardinals but has reportedly put in a solid week of work towards the home opener. Losing RB Doug Martin might be a slight setback, but look for Winston to utilize his corps of wide receivers even more.

The Rams are a perplexing team in their own right. Beating the Seahawks last week would have been impressive in the past, but only scoring nine points on three field goals doesn’t exactly tell me you have an offensive juggernaut. Then there’s that whole “West Coast team going east” bugaboo…give up the points and take the Bucs and we’ll see if we get Dr. Jekyll this time around.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (+3)

I’ve seen Eagles QB Carson Wentz play two games now and am astounded at the poise presented by the rookie. Instead of just managing the game, the first-year man is making moves that even veterans don’t seem to make: audibles at the line of scrimmage, protection changes, route adjustments, Wentz is doing it all and making it look pretty easy. They’ve had it pretty easy in their first two games (against the Cleveland Browns at home and the Chicago Bears on the road last Monday night), so this will be a big test for the rook.

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Don’t take this pick as thinking that QB Ben Roethlisberger are going to lose this game. He’s still got WR Antonio Brown and RB DeAngelo Williams, two powerful offensive components that will be very active in this game. I just think that the Eagles will keep this closer than the three-point spread and, if they are still hanging around at the end of the game, they might be able to steal one against the men from Steel City.

New York Jets (+3) vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Jets have been another intriguing team at the start of the season. RB Matt Forte has solidified a running assault for the former Titans of New York and WR Brandon Marshall has been a reliable target for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (still finding his groove after extended contract negotiations in the offseason). The Jets racked up 37 points against the Buffalo Bills and looked to have things moving in the right direction.

Kansas City has once again been beset with injuries. RB Jamaal Charles has yet to play this season (no status for Sunday’s tilt yet) and one of QB Alex Smith’s big protectors, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, is out for the game. Like the Steelers/Eagles game, I’m not going to say that the Chiefs aren’t going to win this game, but I can definitely see the Jets keeping it closer than three points.

Last Week:  1-4 2016 Season Overall:  7-5-1

Week 2 was a complete embarrassment. Other than seeing the Eagles beating the spread against the Bears (they won outright), there wasn’t any other pick that came home. Let’s just hope that was a one-week anomaly and that the chakras have cleaned themselves!

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2015 NFL Postseason Picks, Divisional Round: What Does That Bye Week Do?

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The first round of the National Football League postseason is in the books and the games had a bit of everything for the fans. Fluke missed field goal to snatch victory away from your favorite team? We see you over there shaking your heads, Vikings fans. Inexplicable mental meltdowns letting your arch-rival get into position for a chip shot field goal? Put your hands up, Bengals fans. The other games…not really worth mentioning as they were beat downs. But it is a new week and it is time to ask that question…just what was that bye week that the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals fought the entire season for worth?

Since 1990, when the NFL went to the 12-team format for the playoffs, the teams that took the #1 seed in the NFC or the AFC went on to win the Super Bowl on 11 occasions, with last year’s Patriots team the last to pull off the trick (and the Seattle Seahawks the year before the last NFC team to do it). The news isn’t quite so good when it comes to the #2 seeds, however; on six occasions, the #2 seed from the NFC or the AFC has been able to reach football’s ultimate prize. If you do the math, that means that the odds are pretty good that we should see a #1 or #2 seed win the Super Bowl.

So which ones will get there this year? And which ones won’t? That’s not the object when it comes to betting on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing). The object is to put the best bet down that you can and, with the way some of these games are looking this week, there should be a decent shot at making some money.

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Kansas City Chiefs vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-5); UNDER 43

The Patriots needed the week off more than they might have led the nation to believe, with WR Julian Edelman banged up but healthier now and another week of recuperation for WR Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski, who is still nursing a bum knee. It also gave QB Tom Brady a bit more time to shake off some nagging injuries that had plagued him. But just when things were going well for the Pats, the midweek incident regarding DE Chandler Jones and his hospitalization – for what? That’s the $64,000 question (it is rumored to have been synthetic marijuana that caused a bad reaction, not an overdose) – seems to have caused some consternation for Dark Hoodie (head coach Bill Belichick) and the rest of the Empire.

The Chiefs are just glad to have reached this point, especially with their #1 WR Jeremy Maclin expected to have little to no impact on the game due to leg injuries suffered in the win over the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. QB Alex Smith has carried the team, without star running back Jamaal Charles and now Maclin, about as far as he can; it would take a Herculean effort from both sides of the Chiefs – offense and defense – for a miracle to be pulled out at Gillette Stadium.

Expect this game to be one where the weather has a tremendous effect on how the play is conducted. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 30s with light rain all through the afternoon, making moving the ball through the air difficult. Coming into the Patriots’ lair and beating them is difficult under the best of conditions, thus I am going to take the Pats but also the UNDER in the game.

Green Bay Packers (+7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS; OVER 49.5

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has already stated that this will not be a repeat of the two teams’ most recent game. In Week 16, Rodgers had arguably his worst week as a professional football player when he fumbled twice, had an interception and was sacked nine times as the Cardinals undressed the Packers 38-8 in front of a national television audience. The beating was so thorough that, the very next week, the Pack went out and lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings to lose the NFC North division title but still sew up a Wild Card berth.

That seems to have worked out well for Rodgers and the Packers, however. They seem to have righted the ship in thumping the NFC East Champion Washington Redskins 35-18 in the Wild Card round last weekend, while the Vikings are now sitting at home after their debacle against the Seahawks at home. The big question now is can Rodgers back up his words that this will not be a repeat of the game just three weeks ago.

The defense of the Packers will definitely have to find some answers against the #1 offense in the NFL. Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has Big Red running on all cylinders at this point in the season, averaging 30 points a game and racking up 408 yards in total offense. It isn’t just about the offense with the Cards, however, the defense is second against the pass and eighth against the rush (just ask Rodgers about that pass rush, too). I think that Rodgers and the Packers will keep it closer this time, they just won’t be able to pull off the win in a game that will be a shootout.

Seattle Seahawks vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-1.5); UNDER 44

Something’s got to give here. These two teams look very similar on paper…they like to run the ball, have excellent quarterbacks who like to pass the ball but aren’t afraid to take off on the run and strong defenses who will punish the opposition. So who is going to be able to impose their will in this game?

The two teams met earlier this year and it was a barnburner. Seattle led for most of the contest but Panthers QB Cam Newton led his team to touchdowns on their final two possessions to take a 27-23 victory in the Pacific Northwest back in October to preserve what was then a still-unbeaten season. This time around, due to the Panthers’ #1 seed and the Seahawks’ unlikely victory over the Vikings last week, the game will be at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC, where rain is expected with temperatures in the 30s.

After sitting out the game against the Vikings, Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch is expected to be back on the field for the Seahawks and they could use him, especially with TE Jimmy Graham out. The Panthers are at full strength for the fight and they will need everyone for the battle. This is one game that I wouldn’t be surprised to see go either way (in fact, if it isn’t down to a “pick ‘em” by game time on Sunday, I will be surprised) but, due to the defensive strength of each team, it will be UNDER 44 points for both teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+7.5) vs. DENVER BRONCOS; UNDER 40

Call this one “The Game That Might Have Been If It Weren’t for Injuries.” Broncos QB Peyton Manning, who has been sitting since it seems the middle of the season with his plantar fasciitis injury – and with QB Brock Osweiler doing a fine job in his absence – will be under center when the team takes the field at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday, but the big question will be just how healed is the future Hall of Famer. The Steelers defense may not be the “Steel Curtain” of old, but they will pursue the veteran Manning and it might be something that has an effect on the game.

Oh, wait…this would be true if the Steelers offense didn’t resemble a M*A*S*H unit. After the brutal hit from Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict that knocked his head into the Ohio River, Steelers WR Antonio Brown will be out for Sunday’s tilt with a concussion, joining RBs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams on the sidelines and marking the first time in playoff history a team will be without its leading rushers and receiver for a playoff game. QB Ben Roethlisberger might have been able to overcome this problem but, due to another hit from Burfict, his throwing arm is being held on by baling wire and bubble gum; a simple breath from Broncos LB DeMarcus Ware might send Big Ben to the sidelines.

There is a huge chance this game will be played between Osweiler and Steelers backup QB Landry Jones, especially if the defenses get to the fragile Manning and Roethlisberger early. With this in mind, it is going to be a close game, the Steelers will cover the spread and might steal it, and the score will be UNDER the 40-point line (think 17-14 or something like that).

Last Week:  4-2
Overall:  48-35-5

Nailed the Seahawks/Vikings game to start off 2-0 and picked right with Green Bay in a pick ‘em game (don’t even ask about the O/U). When it came to the National Championship, I was one of those that was the beneficiary of that “back door” touchdown at the end by Clemson; instead of going 0-2 on that one, that late touchdown allowed me to cover the spread and split (missed the OVER/UNDER badly!). With four games this weekend, it will be a chance to really make some moves!

NFL Week 9 Predictions: Teams Already Blowing Up To Rebuild For Next Season

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Although technically there are no teams eliminated from playoff contention yet, there are a couple National Football League franchises that have begun to blow everything up in looking towards next season. This may sound weird only nine weeks into the season but, by using the last half of the 2015 season as a way to look over their current personnel, many teams will have a head start on knowing what they need to look for come the 2016 NFL Draft or free agency. Sure, these teams may miss not being around for the playoffs, but they’ll be able to rebuild quicker and be more competitive in the future through blowing apart any semblance of a team that will contend this season (at least that’s the theory).

The latest team to go about waving the white flag for 2015 is the San Francisco 49ers. Mired at 2-6 and in the basement of the NFC West, the ‘Niners traded away arguably one of their best assets, TE Vernon Davis, to the Denver Broncos this week for basically a bag of Ramen noodles. After trading Davis, Head Coach Jim Tomsula, despite feverishly backing him all season, benched starting QB Colin Kaepernick in favor of QB Blaine Gabbert, who last started a game in 2013 with the powerful perennial contenders the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the defections from their defense during the offseason, the players on the offense who left (Frank Gore, wherefore art thou?) and these moves by the front office, the surrender banner is up in the City by the Bay.

That banner is also flying on the shores of Lake Huron. The Detroit Lions (1-7, last in the NFC North) fired several offensive coaches prior to their trip to London to play the Kansas City Chiefs and, upon their return, cleared the front office last week by getting rid of General Manager Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand. Following the bloodletting, Owner Martha Firestone Ford ironically said the team wasn’t “giving up” the season, a statement that ranks up there in truthfulness right alongside “I have complete confidence in my Head Coach.” The only thing they’ve got left to cut is players and more coaches, with Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s seat perhaps the hottest of them all.

The reason we bring these situations up? If you’re betting on the games (you know, if you live in an area where that kind of thing is legal), you always like to know when teams are just trying to get through the year, pick up that paycheck each week and look to either getting ready for next season or getting away from the team they are on. There’s are several other teams that might fall into this list in the next couple of weeks (Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers…we’re looking at you, guys), but always try to keep a pulse on what the mental state of a team is like when looking over the lines.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Green Bay Packers vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (+2.5); OVER 46.5

It was amazing to watch that game last week between the Packers and the Broncos and watch as the Broncos defense completely stifled Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Here was a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player being completely stuffed by the Broncos, throwing for only 77 yards FOR THE ENTIRE GAME. While the Panthers don’t have (we think) the same defense as the Broncos, they are going to be scouring that Bronco/Packer game film to find some tricks to use against the Pack again.

I really don’t see how the Packers, on the road for the second week in a row and coming off a devastating loss, are favored heading into this game. Sure, the Panthers allowed a sputtering Indianapolis Colts squad back into their contest on Monday night before eking out a win to go 7-0, but the ‘Cats ruled the game for the most part on both sides of the ball. With QB Cam Newton getting more comfortable with his receiving corps, TE Greg Olsen doing a Southern impersonation of Rob Gronkowski and RB Jonathan Stewart continually and consistently pounding the ball on the ground, this should be a game that the Panthers win outright.

Oakland Raiders vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-4.5); UNDER 48.5

The Raiders have been gaining respectability over the past few weeks and, if you can believe it, are currently battling with the New York Jets and the Steelers for the two playoff spots in the AFC (if the playoffs started today). This would be a good time for them to pull out a victory, on the road at Heinz Field against the men from Steel City, and improve their chances for making the playoff for the first time since 2002.

Something is going to have to give in this game. Will Raiders QB Derek Carr and rookie WR Amari Cooper be able to run roughshod over a Steeler D that resembles more of an “Aluminum Foil” Curtain than Steel, or will a rested QB Ben Roethlisberger (back from his injury and working off the rust last week) and WR Antonio Brown bring the firepower back to the Steeler passing game while RB DeAngelo Williams picks up the slack after the season-ending injury to Le’veon Bell? My pick goes to the Steelers, who battled the AFC Central leading Cincinnati Bengals all the way to the end in a 16-10 loss and showed they might not be a team you want to sleep on for the remainder of the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-7.5); OVER 48

What the hell happened to Saints QB Drew Brees last week? His historic performance (505 yards, 7 TDs) against the New York Giants (in the third highest scoring output in regular-season NFL history, 52-49) might signify that the Bayou Boys may have started to wake up from their early season slumbers. That has probably come at a good time as Carolina (undefeated) and the Atlanta Falcons (6-2, two games ahead but lost the first meeting with the Saints) were threatening to run off with the NFC South.

The Titans aren’t exactly going to throw any fear into the face of Brees or the Saints. Although their defense is holding teams to 22.7 points per game (expect the Saints to have that in the first half on Sunday), Titans QB Marcus Mariota has cooled off after his quick start and the offense is only mustering up slightly more than 18 points a game. Firing former Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt during the week also isn’t going to make for a well-rehearsed game plan, so expect the Saints to administer another drubbing.

Last Week:  3-3
Overall:  25-14-2

Another grotesque weekend in breaking even. Despite being Nostradamus on the Seattle/Dallas game (nailing Dallas plus points and the under), I crapped the bed the rest of the way. Only the low scoring 49ers/Rams game eked me out a .500 weekend as everything else went wrong. The record looks good for the overall year, the past couple of weeks needed some work; we’re going to get that started this week.

NFL Week 6 Picks: Trends Aren’t Necessarily Something to Follow

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In the National Football League, there are some trends that occur in betting that amateurs usually get caught up in (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally place a bet on a sporting event). Everyone loves to take a team coming off a bye week, figuring that the extra rest will have recharged the batteries of the squad and have them fresh for the first game back from the bye. As of 2013, teams coming off the bye week won 53.4% both straight up and against the spread, not as much as you might think.

One trend that does have some legs for some reason is the West Coast team traveling to the East Coast for a game. According to a study in 2013, since 2005 a West Coast team that traversed the continent to play on the East Coast had a record of 44.57 against the spread, a winning percentage of .436. If the teams were traveling to the Central Time Zone, they also had a horrible win rate against the spread, 37-44 (.457). Going to the Mountain Zone, the West Coast team was a bit better off, going 22-10 (.688).

While the average person might say “AHA!” and run with this, you still have to do the math. The West Coast teams are the Oakland Raiders (putrid for much of the last decade), San Diego Chargers (42-38 over the past five years), San Francisco 49ers (three outstanding seasons between 2011-13 with an 8-8 slate in 2014 and a 6-10 record in 2010 and dismal results prior to 2010) and the Seattle Seahawks (23-41 between 2008-11, 36-12 between 2012-14). As you can see, the teams who make up the “West Coast” franchises have had long stages where they weren’t exactly the best team to be making a difficult trek across the country to play the games. Basically, whenever you see someone spouting about a “trend” that always has to be followed, you have to put your own analysis to the test before you jump off the diving board.

This week in the NFL is a tough one, with several games that could go either way. There are some good choices, however, if you’re brave enough to take the risk (home team in CAPS, pick in bold).

Arizona Cardinals vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (+4); UNDER 45

Here’s an example of one of those trends that has actually been scientifically proven. When a dome team goes to play an outdoor team in conditions where the temperatures are around 40 degrees, the dome team only wins the game about 20% of the time. The forecast for Heinz Field in the Steel City on Sunday is for temps to hover around 44 degrees with a gusty wind knocking the chill down to 39 degrees. Although Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has some experience playing in these conditions (he played college ball for the University of Pittsburgh), the Cardinals are that dome team that will have problems with outdoor games.

I also like the Steelers in this game because they seem to have figured out that running the ball with RBs Le’veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams might be a good way to operate the offense while QB Ben Roethlisberger is out and Michael Vick (still dangerous, by the way) is under the center. If the Steelers are able to control the pace of this game, they’ll stay close to the Cardinals and keep it under 45 total points for the game.

Chicago Bears (+3.5) vs. DETROIT LIONS; UNDER 44

This is the game that will be on the NFL Sunday Ticket bar televisions in Hell. Both teams are downright ugly and it is stunning as to why. The Lions aren’t exactly bereft of talent with QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson, but they are the only team in the NFL so far this season without a win. The Bears have had some injury issues, but that doesn’t explain why they are averaging slightly more than 17 points per game and seemingly have begun the “fire sale” to gut the team and rebuild for the future. The Bears have shown that, on occasion, they can stop an opposing offense, thus I’ll take the former “Monsters of the Midway” and go UNDER in what will be a torturous affair.

Miami Dolphins vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (-2); UNDER 43.5

After their game two weeks ago in the United Kingdom, the Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin. Whenever you are firing your coach four games into the season, that isn’t going to bode well as to your chances for the remainder of the year.

Still, we see a couple of the “trend” theories playing out here. The line originally opened at Titans (-3), so that has closed up a bit (perhaps because of the “bye week” trend?) and the O/U was set at 45.5. It’s now dropped to 43.5 as some weather conditions have arisen that could cause some issues for the teams (“warm weather” team playing in bad conditions?). The Titans are going to bring a good game against the ‘Fins, with the Titans averaging 25 points per game and QB Marcus Mariota looking very solid behind center, thus they get the pick.

Last Week:  5-0-1
Overall:  19-8-2

SO CLOSE to perfection last week! The only pick missed – and technically not missed but a push – was the Seahawks losing to the Cincinnati Bengals by three, the exact spread of the game. This week’s going to be a bit tougher to fade, but we’ll see what happens.

Are You Ready for Some Football!?!? How About Fantasy, Sports Betting…

If you’ve been in a cave for the past six months, you might not realize that the National Football League is about to start its 95th season of action tonight. Over the next six months, the 32 teams in the NFL will battle it out for supremacy in what is the biggest professional sports league in the United States. It will also bring about more wasted time in with the activities of fantasy football and sports betting thrown into the mix.

It hasn’t exactly been the greatest of years for the NFL. The end of last season was scarred by “Deflategate,” the accusation that the now-Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (after one of the stupidest calls in NFL history by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll) used deflated footballs to win the AFC championship over the Indianapolis Colts, and the resulting investigation. After a few months, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down massive fines against New England and, in his boldest move, suspended star quarterback Tom Brady for four games for his “part” in the scandal.

The “Deflategate” game continued through the summer and virtually up to tonight’s first event of the season, the tradition clash between the defending Super Bowl champion (New England, in this case) against a potential challenger to their crown (the Pittsburgh Steelers). After failed settlement talks, a judge stepped in and struck Brady’s suspension, allowing the four-time Super Bowl champion to start the season. All of this “action” off the field continued to hide the other issues facing the NFL, including concussion protocols, drug, alcohol and physical abuse situations from players and the problems with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the league and the players.

The result of all this turmoil? Nobody is probably more ready for the season to start than Goodell.

Goodell is in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position in the NFL. He is hired by the owners to protect the integrity of The Shield, but it is tough to do that when the people who hired you fail to have your back. New England owner Robert Kraft came just short of demanding Goodell’s head on a truncheon over the “Deflategate” controversy and, if you add in the vehement anger of the players over some of Goodell’s decisions, you wonder why the man wants to continue as the Commissioner of the league. There is but one reason:  $44 million in salary paid by the league to Goodell in 2013; you can be sure that it hasn’t gone down because of his “bad leadership.”

Anyway, Goodell and the rest of the NFL would like you to know that the first game of the season is tonight. The Steelers come into Gillette Stadium to face the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters and other sports bars across the United States will be bustling with activity (and just wait until Sunday, when those bars will explode). There are several ways to look at the game:  through the eye of Fantasy Football, through the world of sports betting and through the activity of being a fan.

The Thursday games, since the NFL expanded their schedule a few years ago to include at least one per week, have been plagued by many problems since they started (quality of the games, the quick turnaround from playing on the previous Sunday bringing the potential for more injuries, etc.). As a result, the Thursday game in all three scenarios is affected; fantasy players have to make sure their lineups are set (instead of waiting until Sunday), sports bettors have to take into account the short layoff in their bets and fans have a game to watch and a day still left in the working week, so they can’t stay up too late to watch whichever game is playing.

Since it’s the first game of the season, this Thursday’s tilt between the Steelers and the Patriots won’t be affected by any “short turnaround” curse. Fantasy players will definitely look to have certain players – Patriot players Brady and Rob Gronkowski on one side of the ball, Steelers players Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown on the other – in their lineups to get off to a good start for the weekend. Fantasy players will want to know that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell won’t be in the lineup (one game suspension for marijuana usage from last season), but DeAngelo Williams, over from the Carolina Panthers, is a nice backup to have on the team.

Williams won’t be enough to pick up the slack on the scoreboard for Pittsburgh, however. Brady, after everything that went on with the “Deflategate” scandal, is coming out in “Fuck You” mode for the entirety of the season and that starts tonight with a whipping of the Steelers. The line on the game opened with the Patriots a 2.5 point favorite, but that was before Brady was cleared for the game. Now the line sits at Patriots -7, so it may be tempting to take Pittsburgh; keep away from that temptation, take the Patriots and give up the points but take the UNDER on the 50.5 O/U.

As far as being a fan, there’s no better time than the start of the season in any of the major professional sports leagues. Everyone starts out 0-0 and the hopes and dreams are there for every team to make the playoffs at the minimum and the Super Bowl at the max. With this in mind, I’ve looked it over and these are the teams that should make the playoffs for each conference:

NFC:  Philadelphia (East), Green Bay (North), New Orleans (South), Seattle (West) NFC Wild Cards:  Arizona, Dallas NFC Champion:  Seattle

AFC:  New England (East), Cincinnati (North), Indianapolis (South), Denver (West) AFC Wild Cards:  Pittsburgh, San Diego AFC Champion:  Indianapolis

Super Bowl 50 Champion:  Seattle

Maybe I’ll try to throw some picks your way over the coming four months (you know, if betting on games was LEGAL or something) and maybe we’ll check this out again come January 2016 when the playoffs roll around. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the game, intoxicated by the fantasy aroma or have a few ducats riding on the game, the NFL is back and the game is on!