A dispute begets a lockout…a lockout begets uncertainty…an uncertainty begets a meeting of the minds…a meeting of the minds begets resolution, which results in the return of the greatest sport known to man.

Given the length of the NFL lockout (135 days), the league was forced to condense its offseason (training camp, preseason games and roster cuts) into a mere six to seven weeks.The effects of this abbreviated offseason are more than evident as league-wide injuries moving in a conveyor belt-like fashion and teams are trying to find their way. If anything, 32 teams, more than ever before, are forced to play with the hands that have been dealt to them. The season starts tonight and turning back is not an option. Without further ado, here we go:

Packers over Saints– NBC could not have asked for a better opening to the 2011 season than the last two Super Bowl champions in the same stadium. I’m expecting these two to combine for a minimum total of 60 points. Yes, the scoreboard will be ignited, but Green Bay’s physicality will outlast New Orleans’ finesse.

Ravens over Steelers– Congratulations to Baltimore on getting a deep threat in receiver in Lee Evans. Pittsburgh’s secondary is prime for the picking. The question is, “Can Joe Flacco take what Pitt’s defense gives him?”

Falcons over Bears– Atlanta has become a media darling…so much of one that they’re being deemed the NFC representative for Super Bowl 46. I almost bought into Chicago pulling this off until revelation hit me. Chicago dropped the ball in improving its offensive line. Unless a miraculous change takes place between now and September 11th, this could be a season-long ailment for Chi-Town.

Browns over Bengals– Carson Palmer has come out of retirement and returned to Cincinnati. The Nati will need more than a dramatic return to heel its woes. Meanwhile, Cleveland is gradually rising from the AFC North cellar. Keep an eye out for the Dawg Pound!

Texans over Colts– No team in the NFL, right now, is more reliant on one player than the Indianapolis Colts. Owner Jim Irsay tweeted, “.#18’s out for a while, but compete ,we will/BELIEVE”. Far be it from me to write off anyone’s season, but the Colts will be a different team without him, to say the least. Speaking of difference, some coaches are meant to be coordinators, as is the case with Wade Phillips. Watch the difference he makes in Houston as its new defensive coordinator.

Titans over Jaguars– Although Chris Johnson made a last-minute return, I have a feeling not much has changed with him. Meanwhile, David Garrard is shown the door out of Jacksonville in favor of Luke McCown. Hard to call that one!

Bills over Chiefs– The absence of Charlie Weiss (now University of Florida’s Offensive Coordinator) is going to be felt in Kansas City. On the other sideline, Ivy League product Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the nod as Buffalo’s quarterback. Other than being a fan of the underdog story, there’s no logic behind this choice.

Rams over Eagles– Now that all the hype, smoke and lasers have faded, the picture that is the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, aka the “Dream Team” is clearer. This club has two areas of ailment. The offensive line thus far has given way to pass rushers and the linebacker corps can be picked apart. Looking at Sam Bradford, he has proven he can pick apart that area of the defense. And if you forgot, Steve Spagnuolo, once upon a time, was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, which means he’s faced the Eagles twice the season and still possesses the formula needed to give Philly’s offense fits. Yes, this is my upset special of the week. #CountIt

Lions over Buccaneers– I was not supposed to name Detroit my surprise mob of the season until 2012, but things are taking place and I’m throwing my reservations out the window. I have a feeling these two will be involved in the final stretch of this year’s playoff race, but pairing Ndamukong Su with Nick Fairley spells trouble for any opposing offensive line.

Panthers over Cardinals– Given that both teams are at the drawing board, trying to restore winning ways, I went with the safest route possible in choosing a winner here…Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Moe. Square business!

Chargers over Vikings– It’s not always safe to go with San Diego in the first quarter of the season. They habitually turn on the switch in the second half and surge their way into the playoffs. I have a feeling this season will be different. By the way, Phillip Rivers has a moxy about him that can’t be denied.

49ers over Seahawks– A Pac 10 rivalry will be renewed in the form of the NFC West, as Jim Harbaraugh will match wits with Pete Carroll. Seattle struggles to win on the road. With that said, I’ll give Harbaraugh his first win as an NFL coach.

Redskins over Giants– No team has been bit more by the injury bug than Big Blue. The majority of the injuries have taken place in the secondary. When it comes to Rex Grossman, you can’t help but wonder which of his alter-egos, “Sexy Rexy” or “The Gross-Man” will show up. It’s safe to say Redskins Nation is rooting for the former over the latter.

Jets over Cowboys– Dallas’ injuries may not be of the same quantity, but they’re of the same quality. In addition to Terrence Newman, Mike Jenkins is also on the mend and his status for the Sunday Night opener is unknown. Somewhere out there, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes are gleaming.

Patriots over Dolphins– Even the addition of Reggie Bush won’t stop this from possibly being the most lopsided game of the week.

Raiders over Broncos– This one is too close to call. What intrigues me most is how Oakland will fill the huge void left by former leading receiver Zach Miller.

It’s a new season, which means new challenges are ahead. As always, my mission is to stay above .500. Let’s see how week one pans out. Enjoy the games and Happy Football Season to you.

By Antoine Hoffman


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