School is back in session, the days are getting shorter, and commutes are getting longer. But for football fans everywhere, the end of summer can mean just the beginning of the best time of year.
Labor Day Weekend brought the game back with a bang, thanks to arguably college football's best opening weekend ever. This week the gridiron graduates to the professional ranks, bringing out the inner child in many of us.
This season's weekly picks will be presented similarly to last season's "Pigskin A Blanket," using a new name to align with a new approach.
Much like the two-minute drill means a fast tempo on the field, this column will work toward more of a rapid-fire pace, aiming to deliver strong plays that can be read through in two minutes or less. When possible, and ideally beginning next week, an "Overtime" section will be included as an appendix of sorts for those seeking a deeper dive.
With the ground rules in place, it's time to unleash the no-huddle attack on the Week 1 board.
Chicago +6.5 at Houston
Houston stole offseason headlines by going all in on Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller, but despite the hype the simple reality is the Texans are paying both to perform at a level they haven't reached yet and might never reach, especially behind the current patchwork offensive line.
J.J. Watt also made news in the offseason after undergoing a surprise back surgery, and while he's naturally progressing ahead of schedule, he should be limited at best Sunday.
Chicago grabbed far fewer headlines in the offseason, and fairly so, as the Bears don't bring much excitement to the table. But they do bring a defense that can be expected to improve in Year 2 under John Fox, in addition to a scrupulous scouting report on Osweiler thanks to the time he and Fox shared in Denver.
This year's Bears won't remind Chicago fans of the Super Bowl Shuffle days, but they don't have to in order to take the new-look Texans down to the wire.
Teaser: Tennessee +8.5 vs. Minnesota, New York Jets +8.5 vs. Cincinnati
There may not be a more optimal way to play a teaser than to take a small home underdog up through key numbers 3 and 7 in what projects to be a low-scoring game, in which the relative value of each point increases.
Each of those elements and then some applies to both of these games. In Tennessee, it'll be baptism by fire for Sam Bradford just a week after getting his Vikings playbook. At the Meadowlands, Cincinnati's offense could struggle to build a big lead after the offseason departures of two key pieces in former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and No. 2 wide receiver Marvin Jones. Andy Dalton has his work cut out for him against a mean Jets defense eager for the challenge.
Pick of the Week: Denver +3.5 vs. Carolina
The sharpest oddsmakers in the world opened the Super Bowl rematch with the reigning champs favored. While the move to Carolina as the favorite is easy to understand, giving the Broncos and their defense more than a field goal at home is daring the oddsmakers to be wrong by a rare margin.
Working against Denver, of course, is one of the worst quarterback situations in the league. But at this price, that's factored into the line. Besides, Peyton Manning didn't exactly set the world on fire last season, and after his retirement they could've done worse than Trevor Siemian.
Week 1 Record: 1-2
Picks of the Week: 1-0