Seven months after either the best comeback or worst meltdown in Super Bowl history, depending on your perspective, the NFL is back. For fans of all stripes, that means it's time for some unadulterated good times, ideally accompanied by good friends, good beer and, if we play our cards right, good bets.
I'd be remiss not to advocate for moderation when it comes to the beer and betting, and perhaps even friends (to quote the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness: "One to three is sufficient"). As fate would have it, one to three also tends to get the job done with beers and bets, so let's crack open a cold one and pick a few spots to strike on the Week 1 board.
Arizona -1.5 at Detroit
After the Cardinals could've been taken as the underdog for much of the offseason, the favorite has flipped leading up to kickoff, and for good reason. Laying less than a field goal, Arizona remains worthy of an investment.
The Lions may have finished 2016 with the better record, but the numbers tell us the Cardinals are the better team. Using net yards per play, for example, last season Arizona was a full yard per snap better than Detroit.
The Cardinals suffered their share of injuries in 2016, which helps to explain their losing record, and the health of aging QB Carson Palmer is a concern from a season-long standpoint. But Week 1 is likely as fresh as we'll see him all year, and the matchup must have him licking his chops. According to Football Outsiders, the Lions had the league's worst defense both overall and against the past last season. They set an NFL record by allowing a completion rate of almost 73 percent. They finished second from the bottom in sacks, just one ahead of the Raiders. And as this season draws near, their defensive front looks even worse than before, with injuries already taking a toll on a couple of key cogs in the trenches.
Factor in Detroit's 9-4 record in 2016 in one-possession games - generally a 50/50 proposition for teams other than the Patriots - and the Lions are due for regression. Week 1 against a superior opponent is a reasonable time for that regression to kick in, and that makes Palmer and the Cardinals fair value as the short favorite.
Tennessee -2.5 vs. Oakland
As with Arizona-Detroit, this game has seen the favorite flip recently. And once again, laying less than a field goal makes the current favorite a justifiable play.
While the pick is on the Titans to cover the point spread, it's anti-Raiders as much as anything. Like the Lions, Oakland is in line for regression, although for the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders it'll come in not one but two areas. First off, Oakland went 9-2 in one-possession games last year. In addition, the Raiders tied for the NFL lead in 2016 with a +16 turnover differential, which can be expected to net out closer to zero in 2017 given the randomness, by and large, that goes into turnovers over the course of a season.
This pick does become more about the Titans when they have the ball against the Raiders' porous defense. Tennessee boasts arguably the league's best offensive line and 1-2 punch at RB, not to mention the assortment of pass-catching options at Marcus Mariota's disposal.
After so much broke right for Oakland through most of last season, the law of averages suggests Sunday's battle may well belong to the Titans.
Pick of the Week: Chicago +7 vs. Atlanta
If last season's Carolina Panthers aren't enough to demonstrate the effects of the Super Bowl hangover, consider this: Since 2000, the loser of the previous Super Bowl is 5-12 outright in Week 1 and 2-15 against the spread, including 1-11 on the road. And after watching a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter slip through their fingertips, the Falcons could be in for the hangover of hangovers.
Super Bowl meltdown aside, Atlanta has new coordinators on both sides of the ball and should need time to adjust, especially with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian attempting to fill the void left behind by Kyle Shanahan.
The Bears, meanwhile, are due for some positive regression after having been the NFL's most injured team and going 1-6 in one-possession games last season.
With the Falcons likely to take a step back and the Bears in line for some better fortune, it wouldn't be a stunner to see Chicago win outright. And when it comes to keeping it within a touchdown, they don't even need to look like dynamite to pull it off.