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. Kickoff is set for 7:30 on NBC.
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 4½ months of legalese that only enhanced America’s appetite for real football.
The Packers, four-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. BEST BET: BUCCANEERS, 21-17
• Pittsburgh (plus 2½) 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. ... UPSET SPECIAL: STEELERS, 17-13
• 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 6½) 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 4½) 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. ... PATRIOTS, 35-17
• Indianapolis (plus 6½) 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 6½) 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. ... CARDINALS, 30-20
• 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. ... CHARGERS, 33-17
• Seattle (plus 5½) at San Francisco — Either of these teams could win NFC West — at 7-9 like Seahawks did last year. Both could also finish last. ... SEAHAWKS, 14-13
• 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
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.