Football is back. No, seriously. The Pittsburgh Steelers kickoff against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 in a game that already seems to hold ground in this NFL season.
The Bills are coming off an AFC Championship loss with a quarterback many compare to Ben Roethlisberger. Some say he's better.
The Steelers haven't beaten Buffalo in two years, but their previous games have been without plenty of star players. Outside three IR guys, this team is healthy - and ready to prove something, according to T.J. Watt.
So, what are we watching for?
The Offensive Line
Look, everyone keeps talking about the offensive line and the possible struggles it could have this season. That's because that worry is real.
The Steelers will start two rookies upfront and just finalized their starting five a little over a week ago. Fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. is protecting Big Ben's blindside while Chuks Okorafor is back on the right.
"Like anything, there are going to be growing pains," Roethlisberger said on his rookie linemen. "We're all going to experience them, even someone in their 18th season is going to experience growing pain. The key is: Do we learn from those growing pains? How often do those growing pains come? Do we learn from the one time? I'm excited for them."
Those growing pains need to be minimized quickly if the Steelers' offense wants to get anything done in Buffalo.
T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram
Without Watt on the field this summer, all eyes have been on Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram at outside linebacker. Truthfully, it was hard to tell which one was better during training camp.
Ingram brings experience and a second wind after some injuries held him back the last few seasons. He's shown every bit of his Pro Bowl-caliber play with the Steelers and will be the first man off the bench for this group.
Highsmith has made the biggest jump from year one to year two out of all the Steelers' sophomores. Replacing Bud Dupree isn't even a concern anymore. It's more like, how much better can this group be with him as a starter?
Watt signed a $112 million deal and made sure to let everyone know that it's only going to make him hungrier.
"I truly believe that nothing monetary will change me as a person," Watt said during his contract press conference." The work that I put in will not change, it will only grow. Like I said in the beginning of this press conference, it's my job to prove to all these people that have put this amount of money to me and stood on the table for me to say they want me here that they're right. And I know I can do it. I know exactly what it takes. I've been doing it my whole life. It's about just continuing to do it and staying hungry, and I guarantee everybody here right now and everybody in this building, I am still hungry."
If you haven't put your money on someone to win Defensive Player of the Year this season, he's a good bet.
Matt Canada's New Offense
The Steelers kept things vanilla in the preseason, but this is Week 1. Matt Canada has been sculpting a new and improved offense throughout the entire summer and this is the first time this team will bring it to life in an actual game.
Expect plenty of 12 personnel two-tight end sets, Derek Watt being involved here and there and Najee Harris being used in creative ways.
Canada knows this team has their go-toes, and Roethlisberger will likely still be drawing plays in the dirt. However, they're going to look to give this new OC the reigns in Week 1. It'll be excited to watch.
James Pierre vs. Stefon Diggs
The Steelers don't bounce their cornerbacks around from side to side. Joe Haden will be lined up on the left side while James Pierre will play the right. For Cam Sutton, it's just as likely he plays the entire game in the slot as it is he bounces inside and outside, so that's a wait-and-see scenario.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said the team has a plan for Diggs, but he won't give it away. That's respectable. Diggs is an All-Pro wideout who torched Steven Nelson and company last season. Letting that happen again could be detrimental to this game.
Pierre will need to step up in a big way during his first NFL start. If he can slow Diggs down, the Steelers found a diamond in the rough. If he can't, Sutton will be on the outside sooner rather than later.
This game can easily be a shoot-out between Josh Allen and Roethlisberger. But in that same sentence, it's easy to see the final score being under 40 points combined.
The Steelers have always held themselves to the standard that anything less than 20 points allowed should lead to a victory. That's no easy task against the Bills, but with this defense, it's certainly a possibility.
Pittsburgh has a real opportunity to walk out of Buffalo with a win if the defense can give the offense a chance to outscore the Bills. To do so, they're going to have to keep Allen under that 20-point line.
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