Sept 4 (Reuters) - The Lineman returns for another National Football League (NFL) season of pigskin prognostications. Each Wednesday, the Lineman offers his predictions and analysis of six matchups.
PICK OF THE WEEK
New England Patriots (0-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-0)
(Line: Patriots minus 9.5)
The tailgating at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson stadium is among the best in the NFL. That's about the only good thing Bills fans have to look forward to this season. Bills supporters learned a long time ago you don't need to win to have a good time.
Buffalo has not had a winning season since 2004.
The Bills have a rookie head coach in Doug Marrone and will start rookie quarterback EJ Manuel against a New England team that has one of the NFL's all-time great coach-quarterback combos in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
After a tumultuous off-season that saw Pro Bowl slotback Wes Welker jump ship to the Denver Broncos, and the tight end combo of Rob Gronkowski (arm and back surgery) and former player Aaron Hernandez (charged with murder) gone, the Patriots should have been ripe for the picking.
But Belichick has done what looks to be a remarkable job restocking the Pats, and with Brady at the controls New England once again looks the class of the AFC East.
Brady has had the occasional clunker in Buffalo but is 20-2 against the Bills as a starter and thrown 51 touchdowns.
Rookie quarterbacks were all the rage last season but Manuel is not Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck and missed almost two weeks of training camp with a minor knee injury.
Giving up nearly 10 points in Week One is risky business but not here against the bankrupt Bills.
Stand Pat on this one. Take New England and give up the 9.5
Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)
(Line Ravens plus 8.5)
The Super Bowl champions start the season as 8.5 point underdogs? Really?
I find it hard to bet against Peyton Manning and the host Broncos but find it harder to give up 8.5 points to a well-coached defending champion with no glaring weaknesses.
Sure, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco may not be Manning but he makes more than the four-time MVP after being rewarded with a six-year $120 million deal and his play last season established his credentials as an elite quarterback.
There are plenty of reasons why the Broncos are the sexy pick to replace the Ravens as Super Bowl champs.
Manning is in his second season under center for the Broncos and will have Wes Welker as his go-to guy after the Pro-Bowl receiver made the move from New England to the Mile High City.
There are, however, a few chinks in Denver's defensive armor with Vonn Miller sitting out a six game suspension to start the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The Ravens have also had to shore up their defense after inspirational leader Ray Lewis retired and safety Ed Reed moved on but Terrell Suggs is back healthy and defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who spent his first seven seasons in Denver, comes over to Baltimore after a fax foul-up on his renegotiated contract last spring made him free agent.
The Ravens have won their last five openers and Joe Flacco is 3-1 against Denver.
Mile High Expectations in Denver this season but a little bit of lunchbox letdown here.
Take the Ravens and the 8.5 points.
Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)
(Line Chiefs minus 3.5)
A matchup between two teams with 2-14 records a year ago with one lucky if they can match that dreadful performance this season.
The Chiefs will not win the Super Bowl this year but they could very well finish as the NFL's most improved team with longtime former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid taking over and San Francisco 49ers castoff Alex Smith stepping in at quarterback.
Since 2011, Smith is 19-5-1 as a starter and has plenty of offensive weapons to work with in wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Jamaal Charles, a breakaway threat who had three touchdown runs of over 80 yards last season and averaged over 109 yards a game.
The best news for Jaguar fans might be that their team will regularly play in London the next few years.
Hey, Tim Tebow is looking for a job.
Take the Chiefs and give up the 3.5
Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)
(Line Lions minus 4.5)
Who would have thought that the Detroit auto industry would get back on its feet before the Lions. Like the bankrupt city they call home, the Lions have a lot of high end talent but rotten foundation that has kept them anchored near the bottom of the standings.
But the Motor City is revved up about the Lions chances this season and with good reason.
Strong-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford leads an offense built around record smashing wide receiver Calvin Johnson, aka 'Megatron.' The addition of versatile running back Reggie Bush should improve the ground game giving Detroit a more balanced attack.
The Vikings offense will once again revolve around league MVP Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 2,097 yards last season falling just nine yards short of the single-season record.
Stop Peterson, you stop the Vikings.
Lions open season with a purrr-fectly good win.
Take Detroit and give up the 4.5.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)
(Line Buccaneers minus 3.5)
For those who thought things could not get much worse for the Jets - they can. And have.
Remember when the Jets were flying high, Rex Ryan was the King of Coaches and Mark Sanchez was the second coming of Joe Namath.
As the season begins, the Jets are already in a nose dive and Sanchez has given up his starting job to rookie Geno Smith.
Regarded as the best cornerback in the NFL, revenge will be on Darrelle Revis's mind as he returns to New York to face his former team, who traded him away after tearing his ACL early last season.
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman would not be anyone's first choice in a Fantasy Draft but he set franchise records with 4,065 yards and 27 touchdown passes last year.
Jets are 6-0 all-time against Tampa Bay at home and Ryan is 3-1 in season openers.
Time to locate those emergency exits. Jets crash in the Meadowlands.
Take the Buccaneers and give up the 3.5.
Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-0)
(Line Rams minus 4.5)
Playing in the same division as the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals and Rams will likely spend the season fighting for third spot.
The Rams, however, may just be able to push themselves into the post-season fight if quarterback Sam Bradford, the number one pick in the 2010 draft, can finally deliver on his promise.
St. Louis said goodbye to all-time leading rusher Steven Jackson putting the pressure squarely on Bradford to lead a young, talented attack.
The Cardinals brought in quarterback Carson Palmer, who will hope to find some instant chemistry with sensational wide out Larry Fitzgerald.
Bradford has won his last two starts against the Cardinals and goes for the hat-trick.
Take the Rams give up the 4.5. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto)