Who has the edge in Thursday night's Week 1 matchup between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers? Don Banks makes his pick below.
The Steelers’ assigned role in the NFL’s season-opening game isn’t quite as predetermined as the fate that awaited the Jim Mora-coached Falcons team that drew the misfortune of a Monday Night Football trip to New Orleans for the emotionally charged re-opening of the Superdome in September 2006, but it’s close. Pittsburgh will be missing the suspended Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, two of their premier play-makers, while New England will welcome back quarterback Tom Brady after his perceived league-executed persecution, giddily hang a fourth Super Bowl banner, and seek to relieve about seven months of Deflategate-inspired pent up organizational frustration in the process.
So good luck, Steelers. And try not to dwell on the fact that the Patriots have lost only one home opener in their past 13 seasons, suffered a mere two season-opening defeats from 2002 on, and will start a quarterback who is 43–1 at home against AFC teams since mid-November 2006. You know what they say: On any given Thursday night.
Actually, the Steelers still have an explosive Ben Roethlisberger-led offense that can do some major damage to a Patriots secondary that you may have heard is going to play without both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner this season. So I’m not completely sleeping on the Steelers’ chances to pull the upset here and send all of Foxboro back into the funk wherein they spent the entire off-season. Especially since Brady looked positively mortal in August.
But then again, Pittsburgh’s remodeled Keith Butler-coordinated defense didn’t exactly conjure up comparisons to the Steel Curtain this preseason, so the Patriots' pass defense might not be the most glaring question mark to take the field at Gillette Stadium for this center stage game. Advantage New England.
It’s at least worth noting that the last time the always-proud Patriots had their knuckles rapped by the league office for transgressions that involved seeking a competitive edge, they started the 2007 season 18–0 and came within a David Tyree helmet-catch of winning the Super Bowl and going down in history as the greatest team of all time. I’m not quite ready to buy the 2015 Patriots season doubling as a revenge tour just yet, but the Men of Belichick will easily earn a measure of satisfaction against a Steelers team that doesn’t have its full array of weapons on offense and doesn’t yet know exactly what it’s going to be on defense.
Alas, it won’t take a last-second Malcolm Butler goal-line interception for the Pats to put this one in the win column. Once the long-awaited party starts in New England, it won’t end happily for Mike Tomlin's Steelers.