You know the familiar catch phrase: “Are you ready for some football!!!?”

We are indeed.

So, cue Hank Williams Jr. or Carrie Underwood or whichever country singing star is going to start the 2021 season with a rocking, inspiration message.

Let us kick off National Fooball League campaign in style with the 23rd consecutive year of the “Pigskin Pundits,” weekly game selection by the MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff and their guests.

Reade Brower

Those selections begin this week and kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 (with Tom Brady and the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, no less), as well as a entire slew of games on Sunday, Sept. 12 and another on Monday, Sept. 13.

And, on a Midcoast level, a tradition of its own, which began more than two decades ago, is ready to tackle a new campaign.

For the 23rd year, the media company 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.”

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

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 — and appear most Thursdays.

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 go head-to-head to pick the winners (no scores or points spreads involved) of that week’s slate of games.

The foursome and guests return for the harder-than-it-looks weekly guessing 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 the MaineStay Media/VillageSoup newspapers or one of the organization’s websites.

Ken Waltz

Last year’s top guest picker was Howard Fogg Jr. of Monmouth. He earned a 13-3 record in Week 2 to earn the distinction. As the defending guest champion, he returns as the Week 1 guest in 2021.

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).

Ultimately, after 256 gridiron clashes from September to January, that included one tie, Brower prevailed by two games over Waltz, three over Haskell and six over Miller, as well seven over the guests.

In the postseason, Haskell proved the top 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 LV.

The Week 1 schedule includes:

Thursday, Sept. 9

Dallas at Tampa Bay

Sunday, Sept. 12

Philadelphia at Atlanta

Pittsburgh at Buffalo

Minnesota at Cincinnati

San Francisco at Detroit

Arizona at Tennessee

Seattle at Indianapolis

Los Angeles Chargers at Washington

New York Jets at Carolina

Jacksonville at Houston

Cleveland at Kansas City

Miami at New England

Green Bay at New Orleans

Denver at New York Giants

Chicago at Los Angeles Rams

Monday, Sept. 13

Baltimore at Las Vegas

Mark Haskell

The following are the Week 1 picks of the MaineStay Media/VillageSoup “Pigskin Pundits” and guest:

Brower — Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, San Francisco, Arizona, Seattle, Washington, Carolina, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New England, Green Bay, Denver, Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore.

Waltz — Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New England, Green Bay, Denver, Los Angles Rams and Las Vegas.

Haskell — Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tennessee, Seattle, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New England, Green Bay, Denver, Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas.

Miller — Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Buffalo, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tennessee, Seattle, Washington, Carolina, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New England, Green Bay, N.Y. Giants, Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore.

Fogg — Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Buffalo, Minnesota, San Francisco, Arizona, Seattle, Washington, Carolina, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New England, Green Bay, N.Y. Giants, Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas.

History lesson

For the guests in 2020, in Week 1, Dave MacNeill of Warren finished 8-8; Week 2, Howard Fogg Jr. of Monmouth 13-3; Week 3, Rusty Worcester of Cushing 7-8-1; Week 4, Emily Cole of Waldoboro, 6-9; Week 5, Ryan Jackson of Warren, 10-4; Week 6, Richie Oliver of Jefferson, 9-5; Week 7, Casey Holmes of Dixmont, 9-5; Week 8, Matt Petrie of Wiscasset, 8-6; Week 9, Erik Benner of Friendship, 10-4; Week 10, Sandy Cameron of Belfast, 6-8; Week 11, Meagan Miller of Warren, 9-5; Week 12, Austin Haskell of Rockland, 11-5; Week 13, Lucas Brower of Rockland, 11-4; Week 14, Garrett French of Warren, 11-4; Week 15, Brad King of Camden, 10-6; Week 16, Sam Clement of Bennington, Vt. (originally from Lincolnville), 9-7; and Week 17, Laurie Cole of Rockland, 12-4.

Zack Miller

For the media crew, Miller and Waltz finished tied with the best weekly records at 14-2 in Week 2, while, for the guests, Fogg earned the best weekly mark at 13-3 in Week 2, thus will pick against the media members in the playoffs.

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 LIV, 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.

Howard Fogg Jr.

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.

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