- 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.


Atlanta (minus 3) at Chicago

Simple logic here: both teams won divisions last year, Falcons have improved, Bears have not.

FALCONS, 23-17

Philadelphia (minus 5) at St. Louis

Rams are team to watch in NFC West. Eagles are team to watch in entire NFC. Still, this will be close.

EAGLES, 26-24

Cincinnati (plus 6 1/2) at Cleveland

Even if Carson Palmer was quarterbacking Bengals, Cleveland would be the clear choice in this middling Ohio skirmish.

BROWNS, 16-7

Dallas (plus 4 1/2) at N.Y. Jets

Cowboys began to right their ship somewhat with win over Giants in Meadowlands last midseason. Their revamped OL must deal with perplexing Rex Ryan blitzes.

JETS, 22-20

New England (minus 7) at Miami

Seems like lots of people remember only Patriots’ postseason flop, not their 14-2 record of 2011.


Indianapolis (plus 6 1/2) at Houston

Once a matchup of most predictable of franchises against least predictable. With Peyton Manning out, there’s no certainty about Colts anymore.

TEXANS, 28-14

Tennessee (plus 3) at Jacksonville

Jaguars are in third year of retooling, Titans in their first. But it was Jags who cut their starting quarterback, David Garrard, this week.

TITANS, 17-16

Buffalo (plus 6 1/2) at Kansas City

Questions about Chiefs QB Matt Cassel’s health muddle this picture _ just not enough to pick Bills to pull off upset.

CHIEFS, 17-13

Carolina (plus 7) at Arizona

Big difference in QBs taking over these teams: rookie Cam Newton for Panthers versus experienced Kevin Kolb for Cardinals.


Minnesota (plus 9) at San Diego

After last year’s turmoil, two teams expecting to turn it around. Count on Chargers to get early start toward that goal.


Seattle (plus 5 1/2) at San Francisco

Either of these teams could win NFC West _ at 7-9 like Seahawks did last year. Both could also finish last.


N.Y. Giants (minus 3) at Washington

Main thing to avoid in preseason is injuries. Giants did terrible job of that, but still are stronger than Redskins.

GIANTS, 17-13

Oakland (plus 3) at Denver

Raiders went 6-0 in AFC West a year ago. That streak ends Monday night.

BRONCOS, 28-27


2010 RECORD:

Against spread 132-109-19; straight up 172-102.

Best Bet: 8-11 against spread, 11-8 straight up.

Upset Special: 11-8 against spread, 11-8 straight up.



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