- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The NFL looks for the biggest extravaganza it can find for its kickoff game. It found a doozy for Thursday night: New Orleans at Green Bay.

Look for lots of points at Lambeau Field as the two most recent Super Bowl champions, led by title game MVPs, go at it., Also expect a huge, perhaps record television audience for the season opener following those 4 1/2 months of legalese that only enhanced America’s appetite for real football.

The Packers, 4-point favorites, get back several players who weren’t even involved in the Super Bowl run. Most notable are tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant, both potential starters and key contributors.

Add them to an offense led by Aaron Rodgers and the Pack will be formidable when it has the ball.

Same thing, though, for the Saints. Joining Drew Brees in the backfield are rookie Mark Ingram and explosive veteran Darren Sproles, each bringing their specialized touch to an already potent attack. Don’t underestimate the importance of standout center Olin Kreutz being signed, too.

New Orleans also upgraded its defense, is not fearful of big road games, having won at Atlanta and Tampa a year ago, and won’t have nearly as much pressure on it as the Packers. A successful trip to Titletown USA for the Saints.

SAINTS, 30-28


Detroit (plus 2) at Tampa Bay

Looks like Lions have been made a fashionable pick to be 2011’s rising team. Buccaneers are way ahead of them right now, however.


Pittsburgh (plus 2 1/2) at Baltimore

OK, not much of a gamble picking defending AFC champs to handle their archrivals and main divisional competition. But Steelers seem to be ahead of Ravens at this point, and any time they are underdogs, they are worth picking.


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