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NFC Championship game dress rehearsal for Seahawks and Packers - NFL Week One Preview

Football’s back baby!

Seahawks Packers Football Russell Wilson will hope to get his season off to a great start this evening. Source: Jeffrey PhelpsAP/Press Association Images

Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks

Story of the game: In the early hours of Friday morning, the Seattle Seahawks will play their first game as defending Super Bowl champions. The omens are good for Pete Carroll’s team. Since 2004 – when the NFL decided the defending champions should play in the first game of the season — they have won eight of ten games with only the New York Giants (2012) and the Baltimore Ravens (2013) failing to win.

Not so good is the record of those hoping to defend their title though. Since the Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls a decade ago, the combined number of playoff victories by defending champions the following year is, incredibly, zero.

There are any number of reasons for this, Super Bowl winning players are very much in demand and so it’s hard to keep teams together. The Seahawks are different. As mentioned yesterday, they’ve kept the core of their team together this season – specifically the secondary of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.

Success tonight for the Packers wouldn’t be a huge surprise, especially as they’ll hope to exploit rookie right tackle Justin Britt with pass rushers Clay Matthew and Julius Peppers. Peppers may be heading into the twilight of his career but his addition makes it much more difficult for the Seahawks to double team Matthews and should increase the pressure on Russell Wilson.

That said, the Packers have their own worries on offensive line giving up eight sacks in the first half alone the last time these two sides met. Seattle’s defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril will hope that Packers’ left tackle David Bakhtiari is as generous as he was last season, giving up 10 sacks and 28 quarterback hurries.

Line: Seattle Seahawks are 5.5 point favourites.

Best bet: Eddie Lacy any time touchdown scorer (evens). The Green Bay running back will have a lot touches in the redzone as Aaron Rodgers steers clear of the Seahawks’ secondary.

Fantasy advice: Aaron Rodgers will be a points machine for you this season but you’re taking a massive risk playing him in week one against this defence. I’d sit him.

Verdict: The Seahawks are still the best football team in the NFL. They’ll prove that tonight. Seattle by 6+

Dolphins Patriots Football Can the Dolphins spring a surprise on Sunday? Source: Michael Dwyer/AP/Press Association Images

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

Story of the game: Bill Lazor is the man charged with revitalising a Miami Dolphins offence that stumbled in the latter stages of the 2013 season when a visit to the playoffs looked a real possibility. The former Eagles’ quarterback coach has promised to bring in an up-tempo offence designed to bring third year QB Ryan Tannehill to the next level.

Part of that process was revitalising the offensive line through the Draft and free-agency and adding Knowshon Moreno to the backfield. Will that be enough to improve an offence that only managed 19.8 point per game (26th) last year? I think so and there’s no better place to prove they mean business this year than against a divisional rival.

The big question for the Patriots this week is whether or not Rob Gronkowski plays. With the tight end on the field, New England are a better team. Their ability to break big plays, never mind their scoring power, increases with a fit Gronk. Whether or not he starts Sunday could be decisive.

Line: New England Patriots are 5 point favourites.

Best bet: Patriots to lead at half-time with Dolphins winning at the end 9/1.

Fantasy advice: Shane Vereen finished his last preseason game with 75 yards and two touchdowns. Get him in your line-up.

Verdict: I think the Dolphins can cause the first shock of the season here. Miami by 3.

Rams 49ers Football The 49ers offence will expect an easy ride on Sunday. Source: Tony Avelar/AP/Press Association Images

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys

Story of the game: These two sides could not have more different recent history. While the 49ers have made three straight NFC Championship games, the Cowboys have gone 8-8  in those three seasons and failed to make the playoffs since 2009. So much for America’s team.

This year though, you sense that Dallas would be happy to reach .500. Afterall, losing your best player – Sean Lee – for the season is hardly ideal, especially when he leaves a defence that was already the most generous in the NFL, giving up a whopping 415.3 yards per game in 2013.

The 49ers have their own problem on defence with injury and suspension putting paid – it would seem – to any hope San Francisco have of overcoming the Seahawks in the NFC West. However, their offence is still a real threat and expect a lot of runs to the left on Sunday as Joe Staley and Mike Iupati dominate that side of the line of scrimmage.

Line: San Francisco 49ers are 4.5 point favourites.

Best bet: With two defences far from their best, the 10/11 on over 51 points looks very tempting.

Fantasy advice: Any running back with a San Francisco 49ers jersey on is likely to hit double digits on Sunday night.

Verdict: The Cowboys have redefined mediocre over the past few seasons. San Francisco by 6+

Other games and picks

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons +2.5
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens -1
Buffalo Bills @ Chicago Bears -7.5
Washington @ Houston Texans -2.5
Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs -3.5
Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets -5.5
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Philadelphia Eagles -12
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers -7
Minnesota Vikings @ St. Louis Rams -3
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers -1
Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos -9
New York Giants @ Detroit Lions -5.5
San Diego Chargers @ Arizona Cardinals -3

Note, the team in bold is picked to beat the spread, not necessarily win the game.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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