For many, with the opening game of the National Football League season set to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 (with Tom Brady and the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers), it is practically an unofficial holiday to again sit back, kick up one’s feet and watch the best pigskin players in the world lace up their cleats.

And, on a more Midcoast level, a tradition of its own, which began more than two decades ago, will again kick off.

For the 23rd straight year, the MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff ushers in its annual “Pigskin Pundits” weekly NFL game selections, where readers/fans are invited to test their football wits against the “professionals.”

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.

Each year during the pro football season, Ken Waltz (sports director), Mark Haskell (associate sports director), Zack Miller (sports reporter), Reade Brower (company owner) and a weekly guest have gone head-to-head by picking the winners (no scores or points spreads involved) of that week’s slate of pro football games.

After 18 weeks, with the regular season extended to 17 weeks and one bye week, 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.

Last year’s top guest picker was Howard Fogg of Monmouth, who also was, at the time, the boys varsity soccer coach at Belfast Area High School. He picked a 13-3 record in Week 2 to earn the distinction.

After 17 weeks of the 2020-21 regular season, Brower finished 166-89-1 (.651 winning percentage), Waltz, 164-91-1 (.643); Haskell, 163-92-1 (.639); and Miller, 160-95-1 (.627). The guests finished 159-56-1 (.624).

Haskell proved the top playoff picker with a 10-3 record, while Waltz and Fogg finished 9-4; Miller, 8-5; and Brower, 6-7. Waltz, Miller and Fogg correctly picked the Buccaneers to win Super Bowl 55.

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

MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com.