After seven long months without any NFL games that counted (who cares about the preseason?), the 2013 NFL season kicks off tonight in Denver as the Broncos host the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.

My plan for these Thursday columns is to pick the game being played tonight and also to give five fantasy football related thoughts for this week. My write-ups for the Thursday games will be longer than the Friday column where I pick all the games and will have shorter thoughts for some games.

Last year I did the picks with a couple of buddies. One of them just got married and is working a lot more this year. The other has a wife expecting a baby next month, so they won't have time to join me. I decided to go solo this year in order to make sure I meet the deadlines I have set for myself.

Straight Up Last Season: 176-79-1 (.690) - I'm pretty sure that was my best year ever. I hope to top it or at least come close to it.

Baltimore at Denver 8:30 PM

It's definitely different to see the Super Bowl champs open on the road considering that they usually get home games to open, but issues with the Orioles prevented that from happening. Publicly the Ravens didn't complain about it. Privately I'm sure they aren't thrilled about it. Ultimately it's not a big deal since they're playing eight games at home and eight games on the road just like everybody else.

I think the Broncos offense will be very impressive in terms of their passing game. Since they picked up Wes Welker from the Patriots in the offense, I'd expect Peyton Manning to look for him a lot early in the game as a way to show everybody what they can do together. Manning's #1 target is still going to be Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will do well too, but I'd expect 8 or 9 catches from Welker in this game. We don't know too much about Denver's running game except that it's likely going to be a committee. I don't think the Ravens will worry about getting beat by the run game too much.

What the Ravens need to do is establish a pass rush. They certainly have the players to get some pressure because they added former Bronco Elvis Dumervill to the mix that already had Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata among others. If they can get in Manning's face, perhaps force him into some bad throws and create some turnovers they can definitely win this game.

On the other side of the ball, I think the Broncos have a lot of question marks on defense. They tied for the league lead in sacks last year, but that team had Dumervill (11 sacks) and Von Miller (18.5 sacks) to get after QBs. With Dumervill gone and Miller suspended for six games they're losing a lot of production. You can't just pick up 29.5 sacks off the street or expect backups to come close to matching those numbers.

The Ravens offense will have a good night. Ray Rice should get a lot of touches in the ground game and I expect him to catch more balls this year than any year of his career since they're without Boldin (traded to Niners) and Pitta (injured). I also think top WR Torrey Smith will make it up to 80 catches this season with Joe Flacco looking for him a lot. It's not like they have much else to throw to! And that's the problem. Teams know they don't have much depth at WR, so if they focus on Smith they could force a turnover or stall the Ravens offense.

I like the Broncos to win a high scoring game that's relatively close. Looking at the spread right now it says Broncos by 7.5. I think they'll jump out to a two TD lead, Ravens will adjust, make it close and the Broncos will win by four points. Hopefully the Broncos have learned from last year's playoff loss to the Ravens. Be aggressive on both sides of the ball all game long. Don't take your foot off the pedal because the Ravens have the heart and talent to always come back. Give me a Peyton Manning team in a home opener. It works for me. Broncos 31-27

I'm a big time fantasy football player with seven leagues in total (five for money) and am very active on Draftstreet.com, which has plenty of different ways to play fantasy football without lasting the whole season. You can draft teams every week. You can fit players under a salary cap. It's awesome. With that in mind, here are some fantasy football thoughts for this week.

Fantasy Football Five Thoughts for Week 1

1. If you have anybody playing in the Falcons/Saints game on Sunday, start them without hesitation. I'm talking about the starters of course, but even with the Saints I'd start Sproles or Ingram in a flex spot too. Last year when they played in New Orleans the score was 31-27 Falcons. I think there will be even more points this year with both teams having more time to prepare. I'm really high on the Saints offense this year. I know they're always good, but with head coach Sean Payton back after being suspended last year I think they'll be even better. I also love the Falcons offense. The presence of Steven Jackson may take away some of the TDs that White, Jones & Gonzalez may get, but it's not like you can bench them either. They're too good.

2. I know some Cam Newton owners are leery about starting him at home against the Seahawks and you should be. The Seahawks have the best defense in football and Newton had no TDs against them last year in a game where he threw for 141 yards and rushed for 42 yards. That's an awful game. If you have a backup that's somebody like Ben Roethlisberger home to the Titans then start him. I think even Sam Bradford (of my beloved St. Louis Rams) is a better play. However, if your backup is questionable or in a tough matchup you might have to roll with Newton. Hopefully he improves on his game against the Seahawks from last year.

3. If you own any of the top RBs start them with confidence. You drafted them high for a reason. Don't overthink it. Obviously Adrian Peterson is the best RB in the game, but don't be surprised if Stevan Ridley is a top 5 RB by the end of the year. I grabbed him in round two or three in a lot of my leagues. Starting off the year in Buffalo (31st against the run last year) is a great way for Ridley to begin the season. I think he'll put up 125 yards with 2 TDs.

4. I'm very interested in seeing how Robert Griffin III does on Monday night home to the Eagles. Since the Eagles don't possess a great defense, I expect Griffin to have a huge game while silencing the doubters. He may not run as much as he did last year, but I expect the Redskins to have a very good run game led by Alfred Morris and that will open up the deep ball as RG3 looks for Pierre Garcon down the field. Starting off against a poor Eagles defense will be a great thing for RG3's confidence in week one.

5. Last point is most important. Don't overrate a week one performance. It's a long season. Just because your top RB or WR has a below average game in week one doesn't mean they should be benched. It could be a matchup issue or something else. Remember Dallas WR Kevin Ogeltree last year? He caught two TDs in week one. Foolish owners picked him up, likely started him and were disappointed the rest of the way when he only caught 32 balls for 4 TDs. Don't overreact after one game.

I'll be back tomorrow with my picks for the rest of the week one games.

Email mrjohncanton@gmail.com

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