The tennis at the U.S. Open has been great especially for Canadians.

Now here’s something arguably even greater, the start of the NFL season.

It began in Tampa last night (Thursday) with a thriller.

One could not have asked for a better opener as the Buccaneers needed a field goal with two seconds left to beat a stubborn Dallas Cowboys team 31-29.

Tom Brady was what we expect of Tom Brady and Dallas QB Dak Prescott answered his critics with a superb performance.

The defending champion Bucs returned all 22 starters, the first team to do so in more than 40 years since the Raiders of the late ’70s.

Last year the 2020 Super Bowl champs KC Chiefs returned 20 of 22 starters.

In other words, good players want to remain on good teams, sometimes at the expense of a bigger paycheque.

This year the fans are treated to more games going from 256 in the regular season to 272 as all 32 teams play 17 games instead of 16.

More games could mean more fun, more drama, and more suspense, especially if the opener is any indication.

COVID-19 interrupted the schedule last season but after some adjustments, each team got their full allotment of games.

This season, the virus will be a factor again, but the NFL one way or another will find a way to have a complete schedule.

A word of caution, do not put any stock into the preseason results.

The LA Rams went 0-3 but did not play their starters. With Matthew Stafford at QB, they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

The Houston Texans won two of their three exhibition games but they are the odds on favorite to have the worst record in the 2021 season.

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Did you know that in each of the past 31 years at least one NFL team has increased its win total by five or more games from the previous season?

Last year, for example in the AFC, the Cleveland Browns went from a 6-10 record in 2019 to an 11-5 mark in 2021.

The Browns were rewarded with a playoff spot and they even got a post-season win.

San Francisco is a good bet to increase its win total by five or more after struggling thru an injury-plagued 6-10 record last year.

Dallas (6-10) and Denver (5-11) also have a shot of adding five more victories.

In 16 of the last 18 NFL seasons, there has been at least one team go from worst to first in its division.

The Washington Football Team was 3-13 in 2019 before climbing to 7-9 last year, which was good enough to win the NFC East, also known as the NFC Least.

The last-place teams in 2020 were NY Jets, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, and Denver in the AFC plus Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, and San Francisco in the NFC.

In this group, I give San Francisco the best chance of climbing from worst to first in its division although the NFC West is arguably the league’s toughest division.

Since 1990 when the playoffs expanded to 12 teams, (now there’s 14) a minimum of four teams have advanced to the playoffs in every season that was not in the post-season the year before.

Last year, Tampa Bay, LA Rams, Chicago, and Washington in the NFC plus Indianapolis and Cleveland in the AFC advanced to the post-season after missing the previous year. (Note: there was an extra playoff team from each Conference added to the post-season in 2020).

This year, New England, Miami, LA Chargers, Dallas, Minnesota, and San Francisco appear to be the best bets to qualify after missing out a year ago.

Here are the 14 teams I am picking to make the playoffs.

In the AFC, Kansas City from the West, Buffalo, and New England from the East, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland from the North, and Tennessee from the South.

In the NFC, LA Rams, Seattle and San Francisco from the West, Dallas from the East, Green Bay from the North, and Tampa Bay and New Orleans from the South.

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Amidst the culture of the NFL, many fans compete in a growing trend, where participants speculate and pick weekly winners in a popular contest widely referred to as THE FOOTBALL POOL.

Prince George is no different than most cities as interest in the NFL elevates by competing in a pool.

Some, like the one hosted by 94.3 the Goat is free.

The link is right here.

Others have a token entry fee.

There’s a wide spectrum of pools that include:

  • Time frame: weekly winners or season-long chase.
  • Elimination pools: pick one team each week to win, keep going until the last player is left alive.
  • Survivor pools: pick one team each week to lose, keep going until the last player is left alive.
  • Team-win pools: draft certain teams whose wins count for you during the season.

  • Here are some guidelines that I try to follow when picking winners:
  • Know the line: Vegas odds-makers are professionals when they establish a line. Use that as a gauge.
  • Past reputations: Avoid picking teams living off previous reputations that have not been successful recently.
  • Key to Success: The blueprint for winning a pool is “nailing” the games that are close on the spread (three or fewer points). In this realm, upsets are common. Still, it is important to have some basis for believing the so-called better team will lose.
  • Have an even keel approach: Do not get discouraged about having a bad week. Standings fluctuate and it only takes a few games to change the direction of the leader-board.

Week one is usually difficult picking a team in both an Elimination and Survivor pool.

For example, the Bucs were 8 1/2 point favorites over the Cowboys Thursday night, the biggest spread of the week, alongside San Francisco over Detroit. While Tampa won the game, some fans will be disappointed they did not cover the spread.

I generally don’t like taking a road team as a lock.

My best guess for a sure-fire win in Week one would be LA Rams over Chicago Sunday night.

My best guess for a sure-fire loss in Week one would be Cleveland as the Browns play Sunday (1:25 PT) in Kansas City.

I know the Browns are a good team but Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has a 10-0 record in September since becoming the KC starting quarterback in 2018.

NFL week one odds can be found right here.

 

FROM THE QUOTE RACK:

A tissue that a tearful Lionel Messi wiped his nose with, in his news conference to announce he is leaving Barcelona, sold at auction for $1 million. This brings new meaning to blowing your money.

*Contributor Alex Kaseberg

On Saturday, Nevada played at California in NCAA Football (which Nevada won 22-17). Considering the chaos on the border of the two states earlier in the week, especially at Lake Tahoe, they should have called the game The Fire Bowl.

*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California

Tampa Bay Rays’ Nelson Cruz, 41 on Tuesday night became the oldest batter in major league history with 30 home runs in a season. So Tom Brady wins a Super Bowl, Cruz is blasting home runs, does this mean Joe Thornton will have an MVP season if he only gets traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning?

*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com

In Case You Missed It:

A great-grandmother and former softball player caught a foul ball at a San Francisco Giants game. Minutes later she was offered a contract by the Baltimore Orioles.

*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com

Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He also is the radio color commentator for P.G. Cougars’ home games.
Hartley has been on the Prince George airwaves since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).