By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It’s a bit of a complicated time to be a self-aware, knowledge-seeking football fan. The ever-growing research efforts on concussions and brain trauma get compounded by absurdly insufficient penalties for players who assault their wives; the exponentially increasing wallet sizes of the owners stand in stark contrast with the average fan, who is getting priced out of the NFL experience; the expanded Thursday night schedule leads to a watered-down product and runs the risk of oversaturation; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

To put it simply, there have been happier times for NFL fans. But with that being established, let’s be honest here: None of that will be on our minds come Sunday afternoon, when we’ll all be watching football like the addicted drones we are.

Mind you, I use that as a term of endearment, because as much as I’d like to take the highly sophisticated route of pooh-poohing the rough and tumble game of football, the fact remains that the sport is great. Nothing compares. There’s no shame in accepting and admitting that.

Now, perhaps the league ought to do a bit more about protecting brains, and yeah, giving a two-game suspension to a player who dragged his unconscious wife out of an elevator might not be the best way to put football in its proper place in society. So yes, the league has a lot of work to do in making things better, and it’s up to us to keep calling out the NFL in order to effect change.

But for now? For now we’ve got the first NFL Sunday of the year, which for my money is as good as it gets as a sports fan. It’s been a long summer, and everyone wants to make us feel guilty about the sport we enjoy. Let’s go ahead and make the most of it.

(Home team in caps; Wednesday’s lines)

SEATTLE (-5.5) over Green Bay
The most emotional team in the league, playing in front of the loudest crowd in the league, with a Super Bowl banner going up? Whoa, baby. In what is a rare case, this might be the one night you would not want to be Aaron Rodgers. This one could get ugly in a hurry.

Minnesota (+3) over ST. LOUIS
OK, remember all that I said earlier about Sunday being great, and how the return of the NFL is cause for celebration? None of that applies to this game, OK? Just want to make that clear.

New Orleans (-3) over ATLANTA
Can we all agree that we no longer have to act like the Falcons are real Super Bowl contenders every year? A post-Hard Knocks walloping at the hands of Drew Brees and Co. should help make that clear early this year.

Cincinnati (+1) over BALTIMORE
One other reason it’s been a tough summer for football fans: We all had to deal with the fact that Andy Dalton signed a $115 million contract and now somehow draws comparisons to Peyton Manning. What a cruel, cruel world.

As for this game, I liked it a lot more when Cincy was getting 2.5. As it is, the Bengals are still a better team than the Ravens, so the point is still a welcome sight.

Perhaps after this game, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton can share a meal while sitting on chairs made out of hundred dollar bills.

KANSAS CITY (-3.5) over Tennessee
Last year in Week 1, I wrote this of the Titans:

Will the Titans ever be good? Serious question. Since going to the Super Bowl in 1999, the Titans have won exactly two playoff games in the following 13 seasons. They are the NFL equivalent of people who just walk on the treadmill for 12 minutes once a week. What are they really doing?

This year in Week 1, after another disappointing 7-9 season, I basically wonder the same thing.

CHICAGO (-7) over Buffalo
The Bills went 8-8 against the spread last year, but they went 1-3 against the NFC. In 2012, they also went 1-3 against the spread vs. NFC opponents. They’re not very good against the NFC because, well, they’re not very good in general. I just wish we were talking about Jeff Tuel potentially starting Week 1 again. That was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.

Washington (+3) over HOUSTON
I’ll admit I’m still somewhat stuck in the 2012 phase of Robert Griffin, when he was electric and unbelievable, and I’ve chosen to forget 2013 RG3, when he was slow and injured and made some of the worst decisions these eyes have ever seen. Or maybe it’s just that I’m hopping back on the bandwagon early, ahead of the NFL curve. They always say it takes 18 months to recover from those torn knees, and he suffered his ripped ACL in January 2013. Running away from the supercharged, super-rich J.J. Watt should present a good first test to see the strength in that knee.

Oakland (+5.5) over NEW YORK JETS
I’ve got Derek Carr fever, and the only solution is picking the Raiders when they’re getting a handful of points at the Jets.

I do find it interesting that the Jets are 4-1 in season openers under Rex Ryan, and that gives me some pause. But then I remember last year, and this idiot. It’s entirely possible that a Raiders linebacker does the same thing on Sunday, but I still don’t see either team winning this one by more than a field goal.

PHILADELPHIA (-11) over Jacksonville
This is the main reason that people will go to Jaguars games this year:

Jaguars fans watch during the preseason from the pool at EverBank Field. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Jaguars fans watch during the preseason from the pool at EverBank Field. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

You’ll notice that there are no football players in those photographs. Also, how do you get that lifeguard job? Seems like a cush gig. Can anybody even really drown in that water? Seems like you’re kind of stealing money as the lifeguard. OK, I’m getting off track.

I recognize that such a statement may offend this guy:

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

I’m truly sorry for that. And it is disingenuous. I’m eager to see Blake Bortles play in the NFL. By all accounts, he’s the real deal. But he’s also not playing, because the Jaguars want to roll out boring-as-hell Chad Henne for some reason. So for now, it’s basically swimming pools and homemade helmets keeping the fans going in Jacksonville.

PITTSBURGH (-7) over Cleveland
I think the Le’Veon Bell/LeGarrette Blount duo is going to be pretty spectacular for the Steelers this season, but the Browns were actually pretty good against the run last year (8th in YPA). The Browns were actually pretty good against the pass, too (3rd in YPA). And they ranked in the top-third in offensive yards per game. So … how did they go 4-12 again? I suppose a minus-6 turnover differential didn’t help … being in the top-third in terms of most-penalized teams was likely a factor. Oh, and then there’s the fact that they’re the Cleveland Browns.

Pittsburgh beat Cleveland twice last year, first by 16 points and then by 13 points. And the Steelers stunk out loud last year. I don’t think John Football’s presence on the sideline is going to make much of a difference in this one.

New England (-5) over MIAMI
I understand that Miami Gardens tends to occasionally be a house of horrors for the Patriots, and off the top of my head I can think of some real doozies for Patriots season openers (Bills ’03, Bills ’09 … Bills in ’13). But hey, the Patriots aren’t playing the Bills this time.

I really think teams are going to struggle to put up points against the Patriots this year. Darrelle Revis is that good. Almost as good as the image of Tom Brady throwing passes through that perfect early September Miami sky. Remember three years ago when the Patriots opened in Miami, and Brady threw for 517 yards and four touchdowns? He looked like this:

Tom Brady (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Tom Brady (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

He never looks like that.

I sure remember that, so I think I like the Patriots’ chances this week.

San Francisco (-4.5) over DALLAS
Congratulations to the Cowboys for signing Michael Sam … to the practice squad. Unfortunately, from the practice squad, he won’t be able to help the defense that ranked dead last in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed last season. Credit to Jerry Jones for approaching the 2014 season with the mind-set of, “Well, I could try to make the team better after losing DeMarcus Ware to free agency and Sean Lee to injury … or I could just put the head of officiating on my party bus, leave work early and pick up some tacos on the way home. Hey, that second idea sounds swell.”

Carolina (+1.5) over TAMPA BAY
These NFC South matchups are truly the death of me. Really. They make the least sense in the entire NFL.

I understand that people are down on the Panthers right now due to Cam Newton’s preseason injury and offseason ankle surgery, as well as the losses of Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. But for one, Kelvin Benjamin looks like the real deal, and secondly, has anything changed for the positive in Tampa that would inspire you to believe the Bucs can do better than they did last year against the Panthers? Carolina smoked the Bucs in Tampa, 31-13, and smoked them again in Charlotte, 27-6.

Maybe if the Bucs had added a pool to their stadium, I’d believe in them a little more.

DENVER (-7.5) over Indianapolis
The “will Wes Welker’s suspension cause some unwanted distractions to the Broncos?” storyline is fun fodder and all, but to be honest, the Broncos didn’t even really need Welker last season. That says a lot more about the Broncos offense than it does about Welker, too. The unit is just that powerful.

And I learned my lesson last year when I tried to get too cute with my Broncos picks, when I tried to create reasons why Peyton Manning would come up short. It bit me in the behind  just about every time. The Broncos went 10-5-1 ATS, and in spreads when they were favored by eight points or fewer, they went 5-2. They were as close to a sure thing as you can get. While a part of me thinks they have to take a few steps backward this year, a bigger part of me thinks I’m once again searching for something that’s not there.

I just hope that instead of the same old boring postgame, on-field interview with Manning, the networks are smart enough to stick a microphone in front of Aqib Talib’s face.

New York Giants (+5.5) over DETROIT
Jim Caldwell is the head coach of the Detroit Lions.


Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, staring off into the distance, trying to think of what to do next. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, staring off into the distance, trying to think of what to do next. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Seriously, though — it’s a bold move for Detroit to hire a head coach who’s never once spoken a word in his life. Bold strategy, indeed.

San Diego (+3) over ARIZONA
The Chargers and Cardinals meet in the second Monday night game of Week 1, aka the game where everybody east of Chicago falls asleep before halftime.

I’m picking San Diego for one reason, and one reason only. When I was reading a season preview about Arizona, I read this line: “[there are multiple] reasons to believe Carson Palmer will have his best season in a half-decade.”

That’s some pure comedy right there, man.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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