Week 1 of the NFL season usually is the one you wind up throwing out if you're in a pool that drops your worst week.
It's no easy task figuring out who has improved from last season and who's gotten worse. It's easy to do on paper, but that's when you come back next week and have to face the music after going 5-11 or something.
But there's no getting around it – the season's starting, and picks have to be made. And as proof that Week 1 is a crapshoot, the expert oddsmakers are saying three-quarters of this week's games are within less than a touchdown's difference.
So let's start with the ones that are supposed to be blowouts. The Colts are giving 9.5 points at home, but that shouldn't be a problem against an Oakland team that may have regressed from 2012. The Patriots go on the road to Buffalo, which has just one winning season in 13 years. Don't sweat the Pats, even though they had a big overhaul on offense, and watch out for Danny Amendola to become a star thanks to Tom Brady. But watch out for the Titans, who could give the Steelers fits on the road.
As for the Bears, they should find out pretty quickly if the offensive line is up to snuff to protect Jay Cutler against a good Bengals pass rush, but at home, they can get it done.
And now, on to the Week 1 picks – for entertainment purposes only, of course.
Cincinnati (10-6) +3 (41.5) at BEARS (10-6)
MattE's pick: Bears 26, Bengals 20
Oakland (4-12) +9.5 (47) at COLTS (11-5)
MattE's pick: Colts 27, Raiders 13
New England (12-4) -9.5 (51) at Buffalo (6-10)
MattE's pick: Patriots 29, Bills 17
Tennessee (6-10) +7 (42) at Pittsburgh (8-8)
MattE's pick: Steelers 20, Titans 17
Atlanta (13-3) +3 (54) at New Orleans (7-9)
MattE's pick: Saints 31, Falcons 26
Tampa Bay (7-9) -3 (40) at N.Y. Jets (6-10)
MattE's pick: Bucs 26, Jets 17
Kansas City (2-14) -3 (41) at Jacksonville (2-14)
MattE's pick: Chiefs 27, Jaguars 17
Miami (7-9) +1 (41) at Cleveland (5-11)
MattE's pick: Browns 28, Dolphins 20
Seattle (11-5) -3 (45) at Carolina (7-9)
MattE's pick: Seahawks 27, Panthers 23
Minnesota (10-6) +5 (46.5) at Detroit (4-12)
MattE's pick: Lions 31, Vikings 28
Arizona (5-11) +4.5 (41) at St. Louis (7-8-1)
MattE's pick: Cardinals 24, Rams 20
Green Bay (11-5) +4.5 (48.5) at San Francisco (11-4-1)
MattE's pick: Packers 28, 49ers 24
N.Y. Giants (9-7) +3 (48.5) at Dallas (8-8)
MattE's pick: Cowboys 27, Giants 20
Philadelphia (4-12) +3.5 (51.5) at Washington (10-6)
MattE's pick: Redskins 34, Eagles 20
Houston (12-4) -4 (44) at San Diego (7-9)
MattE's pick: Texans 37, Chargers 17
Last season: 163-92-1 (.639) straight up, 134-119-3 (.530) against the spread.
Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for 12 seasons. He covers mixed martial arts for The Times and is assistant MMA editor for USA Today and MMAjunkie.com.