It is time to rejoice NFL fans, the gloom and misery of dull Sunday night TV is about to change for another five months. Neil Monnery gives us his look at the teams to follow en route to Super Bowl LIII...
'Blake Bortles won't scare anyone as a Quarterback but when you look at the way their defense is shaping up, they might well be the very best in the business.'
Are the Pats a worthy favourite?
Betting against the New England Patriots has not been the way to make money in the past 15 years or so. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick just keep on doing their thing. Until that dynamic duo ends, it'll be a brave person to go against them.
The only time in the past four years that they've failed to even reach the Super Bowl was due to an other-worldly defensive effort by the Denver Broncos. Number 12 keeps getting older but the performances haven't shown any sign of age.
Julian Edelman will miss four games due to a drug suspension which isn't ideal. The wide receiver has long been the comfort blanket of the future Hall of Fame Quarterback in big situations. Rob Gronkowski starts the season healthy but whether he finishes likewise is an important factor to weigh up. When he's out there, you won't find a bigger mismatch in the league. The return of Chris Hogan is a sneaky important piece to the Pats offense.
Defensively however Matt Patricia won't be on those sidelines anymore and that scares me. With regards to coaching coordinators, he has been at the very top for several years now. Losing him to the head coaching position in Detroit cannot be overlooked.
On paper, should everyone be healthy, New England are the best team but they aren't so far ahead to be overwhelming favourites, which they are on the Betfair Sportsbook. 4/1 is a hard pass from me at this juncture.
If not New England then who from the AFC?
Since the dawn of time, mankind has known many constants. Sunshine will eventually follow the rain, fire is hot, a bacon sandwich can cure a hangover and the AFC South is a weak division. Not this year.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were a blown call away from winning the AFC last season. Blake Bortles won't scare anyone as a Quarterback but when you look at the way their defense is shaping up, they might well be the very best in the business. With Leonard Fournette a bulldozing force in the backfield, the franchise that may one day call Wembley Stadium their home are in good shape.
Elsewhere in the division, the Houston Texans welcome back Deshaun Watson. The former Clemson standout is every bit as good as advertised. Following a season-ending injury a year ago, I expect big things from him and his offense this time around.
When Andrew Luck's return is being overshadowed by Watson's above, it shows just how far his stock as fallen. Until we all see that the former number one overall pick is a) healthy and b) still the gutsy stand in the pocket deep ball throwing machine that he was before his shoulder issues, then it is best to take a wait and see approach.
The other team worth noting is the Pittsburgh Steelers. I've become lukewarm on Ben Roethlisberger over the past year or so but his supporting cast is phenomenal. If you like your team blessed with skilled players then look no further.
What about over in the NFC?
It was the Philadelphia Eagles who stood tall against all the odds to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February but do not expect the road back to the Super Bowl to be easy. Sometimes teams just get hot at the right time and that is how I feel about the defending champs.
Carson Wentz is an outstanding Quarterback and one who can lead a team to glory. However the former North Dakota State Bison still has injury questions heading into the season. Nick Foles was immense as his backup but don't expect lightning to strike twice. The 9/1 second favourites on the Betfair Sportsbook should not be that short.
Three teams are within touching distance on the Sportsbook (Packers and Vikings 10/1, Rams 11/1). The one that entices are the 11/1 shot.
If the NFL was like a computer game, adding the likes of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh would surely push you over the edge to win it all.
Getting such characters to buy into a system in real life is a very different kettle of fish. However with Wade Phillips at the controls of that defense, I'm sold. What he's done throughout his career and particularly in Denver is top-notch coaching. The Rams are all in and they could be even better than advertised.
For Green Bay, having Aaron Rodgers under Center always give you the opportunity to go deep in the playoffs. I do love the addition of Jimmy Graham to the offense but losing Jordy Nelson is a blow. Minnesota were whiskers away last season and with Stefon Diggs along with his wide receiver buddy Adam Thielen grabbing balls from new QB Kirk Cousins, they can score enough to be real contenders.
The all-important picks
In the AFC I really like the Jags D to dominate and at 18/1, that price is very big. Over in the NFC the field is more open. Both the Vikings (10/1) and Rams (11/1) are good value plays.
if you want a long-shot then can I interest you in the 50/1 New York Giants? Having watched every single play Saquon Barkley had in college, I know he's going to be great. Throw in the likes of OBJ, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram to catch some Eli Manning passes then they could be one of the most explosive offenses around. Everything for them depends on whether that o-line can gives the QB a chance.