Find out how to watch Steelers vs. Patriots in Week 1 on Sunday.
Father Time may be undefeated, but Tom Brady continues to give him a challenge worthy of his status as an all-time great. The 42-year-old Brady and the New England Patriots begin their title defense and bid for a record seventh Super Bowl victory as they host the revamped Pittsburgh Steelers to open Sunday Night Football.
Brady and the Patriots have been in the NFL’s showcase game three years running and won for the second time in that span in February, stifling the high-powered Los Angeles Rams offense in a 13-3 victory. While the road to an 11th consecutive AFC East title looks largely obstacle-free, there are challenges Brady and New England must overcome to become the first team to play in four consecutive Super Bowls since the Buffalo Bills turned the trick from 1991-94.
The biggest one is the Rob Gronkowski-sized hole in the offense, with the tight end retiring at the age of 30 due to the cumulative pounding he took in recent years that contributed to him missing 16 games over the past three seasons, including the playoffs. The mismatches Gronkowski created vertically in all three areas -- short, intermediate and deep -- allowed slot receivers to zip through open spaces underneath and turn every shallow crossing pattern into a potential big gain.
Julian Edelman has thrived in that role, and the veteran receiver is ready to go after missing part of the preseason with a thumb injury. The No. 2 wide receiver spot will belong to either veteran Demaryius Thomas or Josh Gordon, with the latter recently reinstated after being suspended in December for violating the terms of his previous reinstatement with relation to the league’s substance-abuse policy.
When available, Gordon was an integral part of New England’s offense, totaling 40 receptions for 720 yards in 11 games. While Brady may have one less reliable target without Gronkowski, he does have a burgeoning ground game in Sony Michel and James White. A late first-round steal last year, Michel finished 69 rushing yards shy of 1,000 despite missing three games, and White continued to be the premier safety valve for Brady, registering career-bests with 87 catches and seven receiving touchdowns.
The defense, which did a masterful job shutting down the Rams, could be even better this season led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy and a secondary anchored by shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore, safety Patrick Chung and twins Devin and Jason McCourty.
The Steelers -- the only other NFL team with six Super Bowl titles -- appear to be at a crossroads of sorts, especially offensively after missing the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger is back at quarterback, but after playing last season without holdout running back Le’Veon Bell, 2019 offers a greater challenge as Pittsburgh is sans Bell -- gone to the New York Jets in free agency -- and wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Brown, who sat out the season finale against Cleveland with a playoff berth at stake, was dealt to Oakland as his relationship with Roethlisberger was fractured beyond repair. That the Steelers settled for a third-round pick and fifth-round selection for an elite wide receiver coming off his sixth consecutive 100-catch season, while leading the NFL with 15 TD receptions, tells you how toxic the relationship had become.
Pittsburgh, though, had another star wideout waiting in the wings in JuJu Smith-Schuster, who enjoyed a breakout second season with 111 catches for 1,426 yards. The question is whether free agent signee Donte Moncrief can fill the No. 2 spot as well as Smith-Schuster did after totaling 48 catches for 668 yards with Jacksonville last season.
While big things are expected of first-round pick and linebacker Devin Bush, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has not tipped his hand regarding how much playing time he could get in a challenging debut to a pro career lined up opposite Brady. Pittsburgh still has a quality defensive line led by T.J. Watt and Javon Hargrave, and they could exploit a Patriots team missing starting center David Andrews, who is out for the season after being diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung.
How to Watch: Steelers vs. Patriots
Date: Sunday, Sept. 8
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (try for free)