‘Gienie’ in a bottle: Pigskin Pick’em kickoff special

By Ross Gienieczko

Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/TNS/MCT
Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/TNS/MCT

Thursday night: New England Patriots (-7) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Finally, after months of drama surrounding Tom Brady and “Deflategate,” there is real football to be played. The defending champion Patriots kick off the season against one of the top challengers to the throne in the AFC, the Steelers. This game should be close most of the way, but in the end I see New England’s depth tipping the scales. The Steelers will be missing two of their best players in running back LeVeon Bell and center Mike Pouncey, and I think that will enable the Patriots to turn them into a one-dimensional team offensively. The Patriots will struggle at times to contain quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown but Pittsburgh won’t exactly have the answers against New England’s offense either.

The pick: Patriots 30, Pittsburgh 17

Green Bay Packers (-7) at Chicago Bears

Jordy Nelson is a massive loss for the Packers, who learned just how dangerous preseason football can be. In this week one matchup however, his absence won’t matter. Aaron Rodgers – the best quarterback in football – is still surrounded with weapons (Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, Devante Adams, etc.), and he is lining up against a Bears defense that allowed 93 points – yes, 93 – in two meetings against Green Bay last season. This won’t be close.

The pick: Green Bay 42, Chicago 20

Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) vs. New Orleans Saints

The Cardinals surprised many last season and they did so despite battling one of the worst injury bugs in the league. This year, however, they enter with a healthy Carson Palmer and several other returning key cogs. On the other hand, I’ve long maintained that New Orleans is one of the softest road teams in the league. I actually think they’ll be okay this year, but they’ll need a few weeks to figure out how to replace Jimmy Graham, and the Cardinals boast of the better home field advantages in the league.

The pick: Arizona 24, New Orleans 14

Denver Broncos (-4.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens

The Broncos are healthy and at home, so why am I picking the Ravens?  For one, I think Baltimore might be the second best team in the AFC, and were probably unlucky to lose to the Patriots in the Divisional Round last season. Joe Flacco is a gamer who elevates his performance in big situations and he makes big throws late in games better than almost anyone in the league. The Ravens are a tough, tough team and I think they’ll feed off the Denver crowd.

The pick: Baltimore 28, Denver 24

Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Atlanta Falcons

If you like the Eagles this year (I do), there won’t be many more chances to take them giving this week’s spread of only a few points. I don’t think Atlanta will be able to stop Philadelphia at all. Sam Bradford has looked healthy and comfortable and might just be the quarterback Chip Kelly is looking for to sling the ball around. The weapons the Eagles have on offense – Demarco Murray, Ryan Matthews, Darren Sproles and several big-play receivers – will be too much for the Falcons to handle, and I think the Eagles’ front seven on defense will overwhelm a shaky Atlanta offensive line.

The pick: Philadelphia 34, Atlanta 14

Bonus pick: Super Bowl

It’s week one of the regular season, which means everyone who follows the NFL is obliged to make a Super Bowl prediction. I’ll take it a step further and make conference championship predictions as well.

In the NFC, the clear favorites are Seattle and Green Bay and I don’t see anyone knocking them off if they both manage to get home field for the divisional round. I like the Packers to advance. They should have won last year’s NFC championship and I think they’ll have home field on their side this season. In the AFC, it’s the Patriots and a host of contenders including the Colts, Ravens and Steelers. I like the Ravens to come out of that group because they have the toughness, experience and will be healthier this season. As for a Patriots-Ravens championship game, it’s a coin toss. I think New England will be at home, so I’ll take them.

In the Super Bowl, however, I think New England’s secondary departures will come back to hurt them. They lost to the Packers even with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner last season, and they would fare poorly in another matchup sans that tandem against Aaron Rodgers. I also think Green Bay’s defense will round into a better group this year.

The pick: Green Bay 30, New England 21 in Super Bowl 50

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien.