LOS ANGELES, September 7, 2016 — The horror known as the National Football League offseason is now over. The greatest game in the history of civilization is finally back. Real football is back. In only six months, Super Bowl XL (51) will be upon us. It can wait. Peyton Manning is retired, while Dennis Green and Buddy Ryan are watching football in heaven with God. The Cleveland Rams who moved to Los Angeles and then St. Louis are now back in Los Angeles With Jeff Fisher and his shades. The Chargers are in San Diego for now, and the Raiders have yet to leave Oakland for Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
Tom Brady is suspended four games, while Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews were cleared of wrongdoing and will start the season. Tony Romo is out for at least the first half of the season, while Teddy Bridgewater may miss the entire season. Six teams have new coaches, with some being a head coach for the very first time. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were the top two draft picks, and neither one will start the season.
The opening Sunday falls on the 15th anniversary of the original September 11th attacks. As we did back in 2001, many Americans on this painful today in 2016 will seek solace in football. Expect emotions to run particularly high in Metlife Stadium as many proud FDNY and NYPD heroes join the New York Jets before the game.
With 256 games until the playoffs, it is time to take a look at the first 16 games. Here is the NFL 2016 Week 1 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
Carolina Panthers (-3) at Denver Broncos — Despite physically beating up Carolina in Super Bowl L, the absence of Peyton Manning has oddsmakers abandoning Denver. They shouldn’t. Defense matters, especially at home in front of 70,000 screaming fans. Upset special, Broncos win outright.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-3) — Both of these teams improved last year but remain mediocre. With all things equal, take the home field. Falcons cover.
Minnesota Vikings (-2) at Tennessee Titans — Minnesota looked like a Super Bowl contender until Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season. Tennessee will be better than last year’s 2-14 team, but Mike Zimmer’s smash-mouth running and hard-nosed defense will get the job done. Vikings cover.
Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles (-4) — The Browns are still a year away from contention while the Eagles have a chance to be the league’s worst team. Hue Jackson and Robert Griffin III make their debut as Browns, but the Eagles could win ugly. Eagles win but fail to cover.
Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) at New York Jets — Both of these teams could regress from last year due to tough schedules. The emotion of 9/11 in New York will motivate Gang Green, especially on defense. Upset special, Jets win outright.
Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints (-1) — The Raiders have been the offseason darlings, but nobody wins anything in March. The Saints are a shell of what they were, but the Raiders do not get the benefit of the doubt until they prove it. Until then, trust Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Saints cover.
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (-7) — The Chiefs are the better team, but Alex Smith does not put many points on the board. The Chiefs win with defense, but Philip Rivers can still sling it. Chiefs win but fail to cover.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (-3) — Barring a miracle, Rex Ryan’s final season as an NFL head coach begins with a loss. Give the Ravens the edge at home. Ravens cover.
Chicago Bears at Houston Texans (-6.5) — The Bears are a mess, and Jay Cutler may never be right in the head. Houston’s defense is stout, but the spread is too high given that nobody knows if Brock Osweiler can actually play football. Texans win but fail to cover.
Green Bay Packers (-5.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars — Even if the Jaguars are improved, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers ready and relaxed. This could get ugly early. Packers cover.
Miami Dolphins at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5) — Unless Adam Gase is the second coming of Don Shula, this is the mismatch of the week. The Legion of Boom should overwhelm Miami’s uninspiring offense. Seahawks cover.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (Pick ‘em) — Tom Coughlin is not on the sideline, and nobody knows if Ben McAdoo can coach. With Tony Romo out, the entire football world will soon learn if Dak Prescott can play football. At home with a roaring crowd, he will have a shot at success. Cowboys win.
Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts (-3.5) — Andrew Luck finally has some offensive line help, but the Lions were one Hail Mary of finishing 7-1 last year. Martha Ford has lit a fire under her moribund organization, and Jim Caldwell will unleash Matthew Stafford. Give Indianapolis one chance at home. Colts win but fair to cover.
New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals (-6) — With Tom Brady, the Patriots would still have a tough test against perhaps the best team in the league. Arizona’s defense will beat Jimmy Garoppolo like he was Janeane Garofalo. The Patriots will lose very few games. This is one of them. Cardinals cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) at Washington Redskins — Last year the Steelers returned to the smash-mouth football that Mike Tomlin demands and the Steel City expects. Big Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. This year will tell if Jay Gruden really is that good or if Washington overachieved last year. Expect the latter. Steelers cover.
Los Angeles Rams (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers — The Rams are back in Los Angeles while the 49ers are in hell. The Rams have a tenacious defense while the 49ers are just awful. However, they shocked a much better team in their home opener last year and will do so again before reality sets in. The Rams tend to start slow. Upset special, 49ers win outright.