New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers: Predictions & Preview for Thursday Night Football
Finally. It's Here.
After seven long months of waiting, the NFL is back. This offseason was dominated with free agent movement, a lot of key injuries, suspensions, and the controversial "deflategate more probable than not" scandal. But good things come to those who wait, and NFL fans have been waiting for quiet some time.
The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers will face off on Thursday Night Football in the annual opening day kickoff game. Let's break down the teams and predict who will win.
New England Patriots
It' been a long dramatic offseason for the Super Bowl champions, but it's time to play football. On the positive side, future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady will be on the field, and wide receiver Julian Edelman most likely will as well. Unfortunately, the Patriots do have some key injuries. Brandon LaFell is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and it will be up to Aaron Dobson to finally step up. Danny Amendola will also be playing.
Thankfully for the Patriots, Robert Gronkowski will be playing. Gronkowski is viewed as the best tight end in the league, and rightfully so.
The Patriots defense will look different from what we saw last season,. Long time defensive captain Vince Wilfork is now with the Houston Texans. Although Wilfork is past his prime, he was an exceptional leader and great run stopper. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Brower also found new homes this offseason, leaving a lot of doubt in the secondary. We'll find out if Malcolm Butler can become a No. 1 corner in this league.
The Patriots will have home field advantage, and they will have to take advantage of small ball offense. Brady is more than capable of connecting on deep throws, but without LaFell and a questionable new defense, controlling the time of possession is a must. Belichick surprised many by releasing Jonas Gray, who was actually the Patriots leading rusher last season. LeGarrette Blount is also suspended, so the Patriots ground game is a big question mark.
The defending AFC North champions will try and go into Foxborough on Thursday night and get a win. These Steelers aren't the same as the ones we're used to seeing in the 1970s and 2000s with elite defensive units. Last season the Steelers ranked 18th in points allowed and 18th in yards surrendered. We must also keep in mind the great Dick LeBeau is now with the Tennessee Titans.
In the 21st century "Brady and Belichick era," the Steelers haven't done very well against the Patriots, especially on the road. The Patriots won't be at full strength, but the Steelers have some key players missing as well. Running back Le'Veon Bell (who was with Blount) is suspended for this game, and the Steelers will also be without wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who is suspended four games.
The Steelers should be able to manage without Bryant given the fact that they have one of the bets wide outs in the league in Antonio Brown, but their biggest loss is on the offensive line. Starting center Maurkice Pouncey won't return until Week 9 at the earliest. This is a huge loss considering Pouncey played in all 16 games last season protecting Ben Roethlisberger. When Pouncey missed almost the entire season in 2013, Roethlisberger was sacked 42 times.
The Patriots and Steelers will play each other on Thursday, Sept. 10 at 8:30 p.m. EST on NBC. The game will be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. You can watch a live game stream here.
Neither the Patriots nor Steelers have an elite defense, so we may be in for a high scoring affair here. Fortunately we do have two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks on the field. The Patriots secondary will look dramatically different, but let's not underestimate their line backing core, and they may put some pressure on Roethlisberger. On the flip side, the Steelers have the huge game breaker in Brown who can stretch the field. Not having Shaun Suisham won't help long distant field attempts for the Steelers. In the end, home field advantage makes the difference, barely.
Patriots win 24-21
Follow Damon Salvadore on Twitter @DamonSalvadore1
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