Vikings at Saints provides excellent matchup to open NFL season

Maybe this time Brett Favre won't get picked off with victory in his grasp.

In as juicy a season opener as the NFL could provide, Favre marches the Minnesota Vikings into New Orleans on Thursday night for a reprise of January's NFC championship game.

The Saints and their long trod-upon fans get the opportunity to celebrate the franchise's first Super Bowl title, then the New Orleans defense tries to batter Favre the way it did in the 31-28 overtime win that sent the former Aints to the Super Bowl.

Favre sort of retired in the offseason before having left ankle surgery in May, then balked again about returning to Minnesota when the recovery was slower than he wanted.

But retirements never really last with the 40-year-old quarterback, and he's back behind center, making the Vikings one of the conference favorites.

The Saints are 4½-point choices in this one. It should be a lights-out shootout if Favre still has the touch and Minnesota can protect him. The Saints don't have any such questions about their offense, led by Drew Brees throwing to a deep assortment of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.

This could be the most emotional game in the Louisiana Superdome since the Saints returned a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Yes, even more emotional than the game Favre gave away 7½ months ago.

The result?

SAINTS, 35-28

Beware the road favorite early in the season? Not in this matchup, where Miami going to Orchard Park late in the season would be an equalizer, but not in September.

BEST BET: DOLPHINS, 21-10

The Jets talk about Super Bowls. The Ravens play like a team headed to a Super Bowl.

UPSET SPECIAL: RAVENS, 17-13

Is Donovan McNabb still haunted by visions of the Dallas defense after moving from Philly to DC? His last two games with the Eagles were lopsided losses to the Cowboys. This should be closer.

COWBOYS, 20-16

Fans of playmaking wideouts have to love a matchup of T.O. and Ochocinco against Randy Moss and a stunningly fit Wes Welker coming off major knee surgery.

PATRIOTS, 31-28

Concerns about the offensive line and the defense as a whole in Indy are offset by the Colts' dominance of this rivalry. Peyton Manning heads for a fifth MVP trophy.

COLTS, 30-20

Are these teams headed in opposite directions? Green Bay has a chance to be special this year, while the Eagles are in something of a transition.

PACKERS, 21-14

First match of the critical four-game stretch for the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger. Can the Steelers at least go 2-2 in that span? Tough way to start.

FALCONS, 14-10

Under normal circumstances, Pete Carroll gets his players all fired up. In his return as an NFL head coach, the Seahawks could take off over Puget Sound by themselves.

SEAHAWKS, 21-20

Chargers could be vulnerable — in another division. But this won't be a rout.

CHARGERS, 22-17

Panthers tend to play very well in Meadowlands against Giants, but Big Blue is officially opening Big Gray — the New Meadowlands Stadium (until a sponsor claims naming rights to the $1.6 billion venue).

GIANTS, 17-16

So tempting to go with Lions here against a troubled Bears squad. Detroit's last road win was in October 2007 — at Soldier Field.

LIONS, 20-7

Not so tempting with the Browns in matchup of coaches on the hot seat.

BUCCANEERS, 10-6

How much action does Tim Tebow get in his hometown in his NFL debut? Not enough to make a difference.

JAGUARS, 13-10

Titans believe they are ready to make noise again after a streaky 2009. Better start with a W here.

TITANS, 23-17

Cardinals suddenly seem like Team Turmoil. They're still far too good for Rams.

CARDINALS, 20-3