The first week of National Football League predictions usually prove the most challenging — unless your name happens to be Reade Brower.

In the first week of the 22nd annual version of the "Pigskin Pundits," one person found the end zone — namely, the winning call — more often than the others. And that was Brower.

However, it is now Week 2 of the regular season and a new opportunity to match wits with the four Courier Publications/VillageSoup regulars and guest in this crazy, pandemic-weary 2020.

After 17 weeks of the regular season — if the league can successfully navigate the rough waters churned by COVID-19 — will one of the media company's group or a guest have bragging rights?

As usual, the Courier Publications/VillageSoup crew includes Brower, owner; Ken Waltz, sports director; Mark Haskell, associate sports director; and Zack Miller, sports reporter.

The way it works is each week through the Super Bowl, a guest, along with the VillageSoup group, make predictions on the outcome of games. The outcomes are based on wins and loses, not a point spread.

The Week 2 guest is Howard Fogg Jr. of Monmouth.

After one week, Brower finished 11-5, Miller 10-6, Waltz 9-7 and Haskell 6-10. The Week 1 guest, Dave MacNeill of Warren, finished 8-8.

Waltz has been the regular-season winner the last two years, but others have risen to the top in the postseason.

For decades, the weekly picks were featured in Courier Publications’ newspapers The Courier-Gazette, Camden Herald and The Republican Journal. Now, those picks are made exclusively on the organization’s websites — knox.villagesoup.com and waldo.villagesoup.com.

The picks appear each week — usually on Thursday or Friday — online.

After 17 weeks of regular-season play, the guest with the best weekly record will return to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Miller and Brower for the playoffs and Super Bowl. The guest with the best weekly record also will receive a year's subscription to one of Courier Publications' newspapers or one of the organization's websites.

For the past two years, the guest winner has been Brad King of Camden, who has clearly proven the “king” of the guest pickers. Last year, he went 12-3-1 in Week 1 to earn the right to pick against Brower, Waltz, Haskell and Miller in the playoffs, while two years ago, King went 11-4 in Week 12 to earn the honors.

Those interested in being a weekly guest picker should email Haskell at mhaskell@courierpublicationsllc.com.

The second week of the 2020-21 schedule includes:

Thursday, Sept. 17

Cincinnati at Cleveland

Sunday, Sept. 20

N.Y. Giants at Chicago

Atlanta at Dallas

Detroit at Green Bay

Jacksonville at Tennessee

Minnesota at Indianapolis

Buffalo at Miami

San Francisco at N.Y. Jets

Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia

Denver at Pittsburgh

Carolina at Tampa Bay

Washington at Arizona

Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers

Baltimore at Houston

New England at Seattle

Monday, Sept. 21

New Orleans at Las Vegas

The following are the Week 2 picks of the Courier Publications/VillageSoup crew and guest:

Brower — Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, Green Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Kansas City, Baltimore, New England and New Orleans.

Waltz — Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, Green Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota, Buffalo, San Francisco, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle and New Orleans.

Haskell — Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta, Green Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota, Buffalo, San Francisco, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle and New Orleans.

Miller — Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Green Bay, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Buffalo, San Francisco, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle and New Orleans.

Fogg — Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, N.Y. Giants, Dallas, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Buffalo, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle and New Orleans.

History lesson

In 2019-20, Waltz finished 165-90-1 (.647 winning percentage), Brower 159-96-1 (.624), Haskell 158-97-1 (.620), Miller 155-100-1 (.608) and guests 158-97-1 (.620).

Among the 'Pigskin Pundits,' Brower had the best weekly records at 14-1 in Week 8 and 13-2-1 in Week 1, while Brad King finished 12-3-1 in Week 1 for the best mark among the guests.

In the playoffs, Miller went 9-2, Waltz and Haskell 7-4, Brower 5-6 and King 3-8. Miller, Waltz, Haskell and Brower correctly picked the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54, with Haskell’s prediction of 33-23 the closest to the 31-20 final score.

Guest participants in 2019-20 were: Week 1, Brad King of Rockland, 12-3-1; in Week 2, Michele Scheffler of Jefferson, 8-8; in Week 3, Howard Fogg of Monmouth, 11-5; in Week 4, Ethan Butler of Appleton, 7-8; in Week 5, Scott Case of Belfast, 7-8; in Week 6, Emily Cole of Waldoboro, 9-5; in Week 7, Casey Holmes of Dixmont, 11-3; in Week 8, Jacob Light of Warren, 10-5; in Week 9, Chad Blake of Rockland, 6-8; Week 10, Brad Strong of Rockland, 4-9; Week 11, Otis Kneeland of Stockton Springs, 10-4; Week 12, Chris Hart of Rockport, 10-4; Week 13, Sandy Cameron of Belfast, 11-5; Week 14, Dagney Ernest of Thomaston, 10-6; Week 15, Lynsey Carr of Augusta, 11-5; Week 16, Connor Kneeland of Stockton Springs, 12-4; and Week 17, Laura MacDonald, 10-6.

In 2018-19, Waltz was the “top dog” in the regular season as he finished 161-93-2 (.634 winning percentage), thanks to a 16-0 final week, while Miller was second at 157-97-2 (.618), Haskell third at 151-103-2 (.594) and Brower fourth at 142-112-2 (.559). The guests finished 148-106-2 (.583).

Overall, Waltz finished 167-98-2, Miller 162-103-2, Haskell 158-107-2, Brower 150-115-2 and guests 159-110-2.

Brad King of Rockland, who went 11-4 in Week 12 and earned the right to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Miller and Brower in the playoffs.

In the postseason, Brower finished 8-3, Haskell and King 7-4, Waltz 6-5 and Miller 5-6. All five correctly picked the Patriots to defeat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.