Favre's returns adds clarity to Vikings-Saints

All will be right with the world by Thursday. The NFL returns, and Brett Favre's new Wranglers commercial will air at least six times during the broadcast.

In early August, Favre's $7 million text message had the sports books dealing with a curveball. There was a 2- to 2½-point bump in the line, as the New Orleans Saints went up to minus--6½ for the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Finally, sanity kicked in and the game was taken off the board.

But now Favre is back and so is the number, with New Orleans at minus 4½. All the storylines are set for a great show.

Minnesota has been beset by injuries and headaches at wide receiver. If Favre can control his gunslinger mentality a bit, the Vikings could be OK by simply handing the ball to running back Adrian Peterson and relying on their strong defense.

Minnesota's regular-season win total is listed at 9½. New Orleans' win total is 10½ (under minus-130).

What to make of the defending Super Bowl champs? The Saints still have a high-flying offense, but they are now the hunted and face the usual possibility of a letdown from an offseason party that lasted until the start of training camp.

But in this particular instance, they might just be that good again, and Sean Payton seems like a coach who won't tolerate anything but his team's best efforts.

There are old faces in new places. Specifically, Washington comes to mind. Mike Shanahan now rules the sideline and quarterback Donovan McNabb is running the offense. If McNabb stays healthy, the Redskins will not be the doormats they were last year.

The NFC East remains one of the league's most compelling soap operas. Dallas is a fashionable pick to play at home in the Super Bowl, despite looking terribly disjointed at times in the preseason. The Cowboys' win total of 10 (under minus-150) has them the favorite to win the division.

Can the New York Giants bounce back? Questions also surround the Philadelphia Eagles, who go to battle with Kevin Kolb at quarterback.

Green Bay (9½ wins, over minus-140) and Atlanta (9 wins, over minus-130) are up-and-comers that have attracted money on futures wagers. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Falcons' Matt Ryan could be poised to become the next QB sensations of the near future.

Ben Roethlisberger's off-field escapades that cost him a four-game suspension have prompted the Pittsburgh Steelers to go from 12-1 odds to win the Super Bowl to at least 20-1. There may be value on a Steelers future wager. When Roethlisberger returns, Pittsburgh will be a handful, if it has not fallen too far off the pace.

The New York Jets are getting the hype in the AFC, but Indianapolis and New England are still legitimate championship contenders based on elite quarterback play alone.

San Diego, Baltimore, Houston and Tennessee are capable of turning the AFC upside down. Will Favre lift the Vikings over the top?

At the conclusion of the preseason, the NFL has all kinds of question marks. Thankfully, it's time to start getting some solid answers.

Brian Blessing, host of Sportsbook Radio on ESPN (1100 AM) and 98.9 FM, can be reached at blessproductions@yahoo.com.