THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME GAME
Indianapolis @ Denver, 8:30 p.m. EDT
The line: Broncos by 7.5
The story: Denver is the defending AFC champion, but plenty of people out there think Indianapolis — not Denver and not New England — is the team to beat this season. The Colts last year knocked off Denver, Seattle and San Francisco (in San Francisco, no less) before the losses of playmakers like Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen and a porous defense finished them. Now they’re missing pass rusher Robert Mathis (four-game suspension), and that hurts. He’s the guy who blind-sided Peyton Manning last year, forcing a fumble and sending him into a second-half tailspin. Without him, the Colts’ best defense is a lot of Andrew Luck completions.
Something to consider: The Broncos are a league-best 40-13-1in home openers, including 13-1 over their last 14.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING …
New Orleans @ Atlanta, 1 p.m.
The line: Saints by 3
The story: Atlanta fell off the cliff last year, first losing Julio Jones, then flushing the season. The Falcons say they’re a different, more physical team now, and with Julio Jones back they’re convinced they can challenge for the division again. Maybe. But this is where we find out. The Saints are loaded. More than that, they’ve won 13 of their last 16 against these guys. I don’t care that Carolina won the NFC South last year. The division runs through New Orleans. Atlanta may have Jones back, but it lost Tony Gonzalez — and don’t tell me that won’t have an effect. Because it will.
Something to consider: Sean Payton is 12-2 vs. Atlanta.
Washington @ Houston, 1 p.m. EDT
The line: Texans by 3
The story: Two rookie coaches make this one … well let’s call it intriguing. More than anything I want to see how RG3 adapts to life as a pocket passer. Then I want to see how long it takes Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt to turn him into a running back again. The Texans think they can challenge in the AFC South, but don’t you have to play with a quarterback? Fans are encouraged to participate in pre-game auditions, with the winner liable to relieve Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half.
Something to consider: In home openers, Houston is 7-0 when it wins the time of possession and 0-5 when it doesn’t.
Cincinnati @ Baltimore. 1 p.m., EDT
The line: Ravens by 1-1/2
The story: It’s not the playoffs, so go ahead and start Andy Dalton, fantasy-football fans. Dalton is in a new offense this year, with former running backs coach Hue Jackson making the calls, which means … yep, it could be a good afternoon to play Giovanni Bernard. The Bengals want to run. The Ravens do, too, only one problem: No Ray Rice. That means it’s up to Joe Flacco to improve on a dreadful 2013 when he had more interceptions (22) than TD passes (19).
Something to consider: Dating back to 2006, the Ravens are 8-0 in home openers — including 6-0 under John Harbaugh.
… AND ONE THAT’S NOT
Oakland @ N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m. EDT
The line: Jets by 5-1/2
The story: The Jets threw for 13 TDs last year; the Raiders threw for 17. Together, they produced a little more than half of what Peyton Manning accomplished. Any questions? Just one: How long will it take before Rex Ryan’s blitzes turn Derek Carr into David Carr? I don’t care how bad the Jets’ secondary is, and they’re dialing 911 for cornerbacks. Take the under here.
Something to consider: The Raiders haven’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter of a season opener since Michael Bush found the end zone on Sept. 14, 2009.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Rick Gosselin — Washington over Houston (-3). Anxious to see what the tandem of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon can do for Washington’s offense and RG3’s career.
Ron Borges — Miami over New England (–4-1/2). The Dolphins always give the Patriots hell in Miami. Sunday is supposed to be hot as hell, and the Dolphins’ defense will make it even hotter. New England is leaving on Friday to acclimate, but that won’t keep the Patriots’ revamped and weakened offensive line from melting.
Clark Judge — Tennessee over Kansas City (-3). After starting 9-0 in 2013, they lost five of their last seven, including a playoff game where they blew a 28-point lead. That, plus offseason losses and the absence of Dwayne Bowe, make this a club headed in the wrong direction.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Jacksonville @ Philadelphia. Let’s make this simple: The Jags could be one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Eagles could be one of the best. Philadelphia won its last four regular-season starts at home in 2013. The Jags lost their last three, period, and have Chad Henne keeping the quarterback position warm until Blake Bortles is ready. What part of this don’t you understand? This is the highest point spread of the weekend (10-1/2) … and it should be.
FIVE GUYS WHO COULD MAKE SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME …
1. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. He has an 11-0 record at home in September.
2. Chicago QB Jay Cutler. He’s won his last eight starts vs. the AFC when he’s thrown at least 15. He also has a 100.4 rating.
3. New England QB Tom Brady. He’s 11-1 in season openers, the best record of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era (minimum 10 starts).
4. Anyone on the San Francisco offense. The 49ers play Dallas, and the Cowboys’ defense has more holes than Sonny Corleone. OK, so the 49ers struggled in preseason. They get well Sunday.
5. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. He’s 17-1 vs. Cleveland, including 9-0 at home.
BELIEVE IT … OR DON’T
1. New England won its last 10 season openers, best in the NFL. With a win in Miami they tie the 1992-2002 for most consecutive Kickoff Weekend victories. The 1965-81 Dallas Cowboys lead everyone with 17.
2. The Rams’ Shaun Hill makes his first start since 2010 when … yep, he beat the Minnesota Vikings in the last game of the season.
3. Dick LeaBeau is 18-2 vs. rookie quarterbacks, just another reason Johnny Manziel sits and waits.
4. For the first time in franchise history, Arizona faces the same opponent (San Diego) in its season opener that it played in its preseason finale. The Chargers are doing it for the first time since 1961.
5. Denver’s five-game losing streak to the Colts (six including the playoffs) is their longest active skid vs. anyone. They haven’t lost six straight since dropping that many in 1970-73 to Kansas City.
Atlanta … Dome
Baltimore … Partly cloudy, high of 76
Chicago … Sunny, high of 74
Houston … Scattered thunderstorms, high of 92
Kansas City … Sunny, high of 78
Miami … Scattered thunderstorms, high of 89
East Rutherford, N.J. …Partly cloudy, high of 80
Philadelphia … Partly cloudy, high of 79
Pittsburgh … Sunny, high of 77
St. Louis … Dome
Dallas …Partly cloudy, high of 92
Tampa …Afternoon thunderstorms, high of 88
Denver …Mostly sunny, high of 82
Peyton Manning display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame