On the first Sunday of the season, the NFL saved the best for last. A showdown between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers will cap off Sunday’s action. Kickoff is at 8:20 EST on Sunday, September 8 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The game will be broadcast nationally on NBC.
Based on the Week 1 NFL odds, the Patriots are 5.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 51 points.
It must feel a little unusual in Pittsburgh heading into the 2019 season. For starters, the team didn’t make the playoffs last season for the first time since 2013. It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are no longer with the team. Even when Bell was a holdout last season, there was hope that he’d be back at some point. Now both players have officially moved on.
In a way, it feels like the end of an era is approaching. Ben Roethlisberger is 37 years old and starting to show the effects of Father Time. The Steelers are also likely to compete with both the Ravens and (shockingly) the Browns in the AFC North this season. It almost feels like the Steelers are poised to take a big step backward in 2019, making the season opener of the utmost importance, as the Steelers almost need to make a statement that they’re not going anywhere just yet.
As for the Patriots, they will once again begin a season as the reigning Super Bowl champions. It doesn’t seem to be getting old for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, even as Brady moves deeper into his 40s. The Patriots are once again heavy favorites in the AFC East and among the top contenders to get back to the Super Bowl. New England hasn’t gone back-to-back since the 2003-2004 seasons, which should serve as motivation for Brady and company heading into the season.
Of course, there are also reasons to believe that New England’s reign could be coming to an end. In addition to Brady’s age, the Patriots were just 11-5 during the regular season in 2018. That was their lowest win total in a decade. There’s also the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, meaning a big piece of New England’s dynasty is no longer there. Then again, until the Patriots go two or three years without winning a Super Bowl, the dynasty lives.
While the Steelers will look a little different this season, I’m not ready to sell my stock in them. Obviously, going on the road to New England the first week of the season is no easy task. But the Patriots are far from perfect. They’ve also started slowly the past couple of years. After missing the playoffs last year, I think Pittsburgh will have something to prove and will keep this game close enough to at least beat the spread.
Given Roethlisberger’s age and Brown’s absence, the Steelers are likely to put more emphasis on running the ball this season. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When he was healthy last year, James Conner was a steady force on the ground. Jaylen Samuels is also a versatile back who can be used in several ways while rookie Benny Snell is an option as well. That trio should be good enough to give the Steelers a consistent rushing attack. Admittedly, there are questions about who Pittsburgh’s no. 2 receiver will be. But there should be little doubt that JuJu Smith-Schuster is capable of being the top target.
Meanwhile, there are some questions about the New England defense. The Patriots got it together on that side of the ball when they needed to last year. However, they weren’t exactly dominant throughout the regular season. There’s also the matter of play-caller Brian Flores leaving to become head coach of the Dolphins. Plus, with Trey Flowers leaving in free agency, the Patriots could be short on pass rushers. If they allow Roethlisberger to have time in the pocket, he’ll be able to do some damage.
On the other side of the ball, center David Andrews going on IR has thrown the New England offensive line for a loop. The Patriots have made several moves late in the preseason to shore up the offensive line, so continuity there could be an issue. I’m not too worried about Brady and his receivers or the talent of running back Sony Michel. But if there are issues on the offensive line, it could hinder the rest of the offense.
Moreover, the Steelers are still in good shape defensively. The additions of Mark Barron and rookie Devin Bush should help immensely in the middle of the field. The Steelers still have plenty of muscle on the defensive line and quality pass rushers in Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. If there are any problems with the New England offensive line, those players are capable of exploiting them.
Let’s be honest, this game could go either way. If Roethlisberger is on his game, he’s capable of leading the Steelers to a road win. To be fair, the Patriots could also win going away. But New England hasn’t exactly hit the ground running in recent years, which makes me think this will be a close game. I’ll take my chances with Pittsburgh being able to beat the spread, even in a loss.