PRO PICKS: Brady back, Patriots kick off season vs. Steelers
So we won't be finding out how Jimmy Garoppolo will fare in the glaring spotlight of the NFL's prime-time season opener. Some guy named Brady will be behind center for the Super Bowl champions.
With the deflated footballs scandal behind us (for now), perhaps everyone can put all that hot air behind them and pay attention to two top-flight teams kicking off the schedule.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady certainly sounds ready for that as New England faces Pittsburgh, which won the AFC North last year and could have the firepower to match New England's strong offense on Thursday night.
''I love football, I love the sport, and I love playing in the NFL,'' said Brady, the four-time Super Bowl winner who last week won his appeal of a four-game suspension handed down by the league in what has become known as ''Deflategate.''
''To get the opportunity to do it, certainly with all my teammates and my friends - I've had so much support with my family through all of this. For the last 20 years I've been playing football this time of year, and it feels good to be able to do that again.''
Coincidentally, it's the Steelers who are short-handed for the opener. Their championship-level quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger (2-1 in the big game) will be behind center, but he'll be missing All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell and emerging receiver Martavis Bryant, both suspended by the league. Star center Maurkice Pouncey is injured.
Still, Roethlisberger knows the juices will be flowing.
''It will be electric,'' he said. ''Nerves will be running. Jitters will be running for everybody. For young guys, I think it will be fun that they get to experience this. Even old guys like myself, I am sure I will be nervous.''
The Patriots are a 7-point favorite; sure would have been interesting to see what the line would have been minus Brady.
KNOCKOUT LEAGUE TIP:
A new fixture for Pro Picks: which team to choose with no spread that must win. Our choice for Week 1 is GREEN BAY.
New York Giants (plus 5 1/2) at Dallas
This is more a choice based on the Giants myriad problems than any belief in the Cowboys being a power.
BEST BET: COWBOYS, 30-17
Cincinnati (minus 3 1/2) at Oakland
And this is more a choice based on oddsmakers being too kind to the Bengals on the road.
UPSET SPECIAL: RAIDERS, 19-17
Baltimore (plus 4 1/2) at Denver
Was tempted to make this the big upset, but couldn't make that mile-high leap.
Green Bay (minus 6 1/2) at Chicago
Oldest rivalry in pro football could be very lopsided.
Miami (minus 3 1/2) at Washington
Dolphins can't stumble in these matchups if they want to challenge Patriots in division.
Seattle (minus 4) at St. Louis
Could be a memorable defensive faceoff in St. Loo.
Indianapolis (minus 2 1/2) at Buffalo
Yet another road favorite that will struggle but get by.
Carolina (minus 3 1/2) at Jacksonville
And another, that will struggle - and flop.
Philadelphia (minus 3) at Atlanta, Monday
Philly will have an easier time in prime time on the road.
Tennessee (plus 2) at Tampa Bay
Marcus vs. Jameis. Go with the rookie QB with more support offensively.
Minnesota (minus 2 1/2) at San Francisco, Monday
Vikings supposedly a team on the rise, Niners a team on the decline. Maybe, but not this week.
Kansas City (plus 1) at Houston
J.J. Watt begins his campaign for league MVP - in a defeat.
Cleveland (plus 3) at New York Jets
Two defenses that could be rugged, especially against these offenses.
New Orleans (plus 2 1/2) at Arizona
Eager to see if a healthy Cardinals roster can match 2014's fast start.
Detroit (plus 3) at San Diego
Chargers have eyes on two cities: Detroit and Los Angeles. Still ...
2014 RECORD: Against spread: Season (133-122-5). Straight up: (177-88-1)
Best Bet: 9-12 against spread, 13-8 straight up.
Upset special: 9-9 against spread, 7-11 straight up.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL