Week 2 2016 NFL Predictions: Don’t Fall for the Overreactions

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The first week of the National Football League season is in the books and what do we know? That’s the question that all the sports channels, whether they are on television, internet or radio, are trying to tell you. The problematic thing is that NO ONE knows anything about the NFL season at this point; to say that you KNOW anything after one week of playing either means you’ve got great insight into one team and/or you are out there breaking the legs of the players so that their season is over!

Consider this tidbit of information. Last week, the Jimmy Garoppolo-led New England Patriots went into the desert in Arizona and everyone thought they were going to be thrashed, especially after it was learned that TE Rob Gronkowski was also going to miss the game. The line was +6 and the Pats went out and blew it away, winning outright over the Cardinals.

Fast forward to this week. One of the Patriots’ arch rivals, the Miami Dolphins, are coming to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday. The Dolphins have just come off a tough road trip to Seattle, where they put their own hurt on the Legion of Boom before falling at the end 12-10. Do you think that the ‘Fins get any love for that effort? No, they are currently a -6.5 dog to the Pats.

This is what I mean when I say you shouldn’t fall for the overreactions. It is typical that it will happen in the early part of the season (personally have always believed that they shouldn’t do a college football ranking until at least the third week of the season – then you actually know who is a contender or a pretender…are you listening Florida State?) because…well, that’s what the talking heads are paid to do…talk. Look at the Bills on Thursday night, who started off as a -3 favorite against the Jets. By the time the game started, the line had swung over to the Jets being the favorite and giving a point.

Injuries can also explain some of the swings, but it shouldn’t be that much especially if there is a quality backup. Cleveland Browns QB Robert Griffin III went down in Week 1 with a shoulder injury that has put him on the IR. Enter Josh McCown, who has been a serviceable backup/starter with NINE NFL franchises, tossed 73 TDs in his career and generally will have earned his NFL pension by the time he hangs it up. To put it bluntly, McCown isn’t a dewy-eyed rookie and there’s no reason that their opponent this week, the Baltimore Ravens, should have moved from a -4 favorite to a -6 favorite, especially with the game being played in Cleveland.

The best thing to remember is don’t fall for the overreactions. Go through your usual research and impartially analyze the information at hand. That will keep you from making ill-advised bets on the whims of the overreactions.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Cardinals did not look like the same team that made the Final Four in the NFL last year. Perhaps it is another year of age on QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald, perhaps it was a defense that wasn’t ready for the Patriots. They certainly are going to have to improve on all aspects of the game (their second straight at home) if they are going to have an impact on the Bucs.

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Tampa Bay is much like the Cardinals except younger. QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin and WR Mike Evans are coming together nicely and the defense, long the stalwart of the team, now doesn’t feel like it has to win every game. If the Buccaneers O-line can do the same job it did in Week 1, it could be another long afternoon for the Redbirds.

Atlanta Falcons vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (-4.5)

Again, we have a team that didn’t look very good playing at home last week (ironically against the Buccaneers) that is going to the West Coast. The Falcons are solid with QB Matt Ryan and RB Devonta Freeman, it is the defense that needs the work. Giving up four touchdown passes to Winston – who isn’t known as the second coming of Dan Fouts – is something that should have embarrassed the Dirty Birds.

It’s not going to get any easier for the Falcon defensive backs as they get another young stud of a quarterback in Derek Carr. With an arsenal that includes WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and RB Latavius Murray, Carr can basically pick apart nearly any defense. The Raider D is once again a formidable force, which should give the not-very-mobile Ryan some issues. The bookies aren’t giving any respect to the Silver and Black and they may regret it.

Green Bay Packers (-2) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS; OVER 43.5

The Packers impress me this year that they will do just enough to get the job done and little more. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, they didn’t cover the spread but did pull out a four-point win. This is a very similar game in that the Pack doesn’t have to wow anyone, they just have to go in and pull out the victory. With veteran QB Aaron Rodgers, that shouldn’t be a problem with the array of talent behind him.

The Vikings…ah, what could have been. Although they went south last week and beat the Tennessee Titans, the team didn’t look like the powerhouse it would have been with QB Teddy Bridgewater (out for the season – knee injury) under center. The Vikings might be a surprise and get into the playoffs with a wild card, but they’re not going to beat the Pack in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles (+3) vs. CHICAGO BEARS

The Eagles were a bit of a surprise in Week 1 with their rookie QB Carson Wentz, but it was a win over the Browns (predicted to win four games this year). The test will come when they go on the road, many said…but they didn’t expect the Bears to be this dismal, never seriously in the game against the Houston Texans on the road last week. These aren’t the old “Monsters of the Midway” and the offense is QB Jay Cutler and whomever they can find to put around him. The Eagles should come out of this game with a 2-0 record, but I’ll settle for covering the three-point spread.

Last Week:  3-1-1
2016 Season Overall:  6-1-1

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The Titans failing to cover the spread against the Vikings (Tennessee +2.5, lost 25-16) and the push by the New York Giants over the Dallas Cowboys (Giants -1, won 20-19) were the only blemishes on what was otherwise a pretty good week (and good for you if you found the Giants in a “pick ‘em” as some odds makers had it). If you can go 3 for 5 (with one push) over the course of a season, you’re going to do pretty well. Let’s see if this week holds up to the scrutiny.

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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 16 Predictions: Let’s See…What’s This Button Do?

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Yes, it has been a bit since I’ve stepped into the aura of being the next Jimmy the Greek. Due to some familial situations and travel, have been away from the shop for a bit. That will be a rare circumstance, I can assure you, as I do find the release here to be quite good for my overall well-being.

When it comes to the National Football League season, however, there are some very serious moments on the horizon. With only two weeks left in the season, there are a host of teams that still haven’t set their plans come January 4. The problem is that, when it comes to wagering on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing), there are three different types of teams that are taking the field.

First, there’s the team with their future preordained. Think of the Carolina Panthers or the New England Patriots here. They’ve already sewn up a spot in the playoffs or, as these two teams have, clinched their division titles. Now the questions that they have to answer is how hard do they want to go over the next two weeks? Carolina, looking to keep their record unblemished, would probably like to rest QB Cam Newton, but they have to at least try for the perfect regular season; New England is still in the fight of trying to seize home field advantage.

Second, there are those teams who are scrapping for the final playoff slots. These are teams like the New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs (in the NFC, Minnesota and Seattle have basically assured themselves of a Wild Card). Those three AFC teams are currently involved in a fight for the two Wild Card seats and one is going to be left out and steaming over a (probably) .500 Houston Texans team hosting a playoff game as a division champion.

Finally, there are the “X-factors.” These teams – basically anyone who isn’t in line for a playoff spot, meaning about half the league (15 teams with some hanging by a thread) – could go in one of two different directions. They can come out and try to be that proverbial “spoiler,” that team that is working for 2016, or they can be that team that comes out and just wants to get to the finish line with all the ligaments and bones intact.

Why are these designations important? Because you have to look at the matchup and whether you have a team that is simply looking to get to the end of the season or a team that can potentially pull off a “spoiler” upset over an overconfident playoff team. It is important to be wary of these things when you’re laying it on the line.

(Home teams in CAPS, pick in bold)

New England Patriots vs. NEW YORK JETS (+3); UNDER 45.5

This is one of the few battles on the schedule between two teams that actually have something to play for. The Jets are in that Wild Card dogfight and the Patriots are looking to hold off the Cincinnati Bengals (without QB Andy Dalton) and the Denver Broncos (without QB Peyton Manning, and perhaps for the best) to take the overall #1 seed. In the past, this has normally proven to be a competitive game and I see it going that way this time.

Pats’ QB Tom Brady is probably asking players to put their names on the front of their helmets with masking tape, seeing how he has lost pretty much all of his rushing attack to injury (the team signed RB Steven Jackson, who hasn’t played all year, to a one-year contract earlier this week). He does have TE Rob Gronkowski, but he doesn’t have either of his scat back WRs Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman. The Jets have been sneaky good this year and are in the midst of a four game winning streak. They might not win it outright, but I’ll take the points here and go for the UNDER due to injuries on the Pats side and the general plodding attack of the Jets.

Green Bay Packers vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-4.5); UNDER 51

These are two teams that are already set for the playoffs but have some other gold rings to reach for. The Packers still have a shot at the NFC North division title and the Cardinals still have a chance at getting one of the first round byes. Thus, they are going to go at it hard in the desert on Sunday.

This is one of those games that you might want to send a statement, in the Cardinals’ case, so if the Packers come back in a couple of weeks, the memory will be fresh. You might also not want to show too much to the opposition, just in case that rematch occurs and they have full tape of your schemes. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been having some difficulties with his running game of late, while Cardinals QB Carson Palmer seems to have the Big Red Machine running well. With this in mind – and the powerful Cardinal defense looking to chew up Rodgers into little Packer sausages – I’ll take the ‘Birds but with a low-scoring affair (so there isn’t any film).

Cincinnati Bengals vs. DENVER BRONCOS (-3); OVER 39.5

Probably one of the toughest games to pick this week. The winner of this game will, in all likelihood, take the #2 seed in the AFC (there’s a whole contingency on this, but let’s save it for next week). Both teams are missing their star quarterbacks and both have had backups step up and win big games for them. The key question is who will break first and, as a result, lose this particular game.

Coming off a tough loss to the Steelers, the Broncos are now only a game in front of the Chiefs for the AFC West division crown. This, along with the strong Bronco defense that will give QB AJ McCarron fits in the Rockies and QB Brock Osweiler doing some decent things for the Broncos, gives me reason to believe that the Broncos will emerge victorious in this game. While the teams are under backup QBs, they should manage to score more than 40 points between the two teams.

Week 14:  3-2-1
Overall:  39-27-4

Not a great week of play two weekends ago, but it wasn’t a loser. Overall we’re doing OK (a 55% clip) and, although this late in the season it is virtually impossible to get over the 60% mark, I’m still looking to rack up some more positive weekends as the regular season comes to a close next weekend.

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.

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!