Finally after what seemed like too long of a wait, we’re back at it for the 2015 NFL regular season opener right here at The Sports Geek. It’s been an off-season filled with intriguing storylines, and fittingly the NFL has pitted two teams mired in them to square off Thursday evening in Foxboro. Of course, everyone knows the entire background on the cheating Patriots and the Tom Brady/DeflateGate fiasco. From a fan’s viewpoint it will be fascinating to watch Terrific Tom try and deliver in his first game since ridding himself of that drama. But it should also be noted that Mike Tomlin’s Steelers also have been involved in a web of controversy and suspensions. Key receiver Martavis Bryant will miss the first four games of this season, while one of the league’s most dynamic talents in running back Le’Veon Bell will also be forced to sit out the first two contests for the black and yellow as he serves a suspension as well.
Admittedly, there is an aura of uncertainty featuring the curtain raiser for this season. How will Brady fare in his first game after a summer of worrying about deflated footballs? Has the future Hall of Famer had enough time to properly prepare for meaningful games after a lacklustre pre-season? Meanwhile for the Steelers, it remains to be seen how their prolific offense will fare without Bryant and Bell to start the season. For all of those answers, and a more detailed game breakdown and official prediction, read on below.
Steelers vs. Patriots Betting Odds:
Pittsburgh Steelers +7 (-110)
@ New England Patriots -7 (-110)
Over 52.5 (-105)
Under 52.5 (-115)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Steelers vs. Patriots Pick:
Well, it’s opening night and the countless storylines surrounding the NFL’s opening match-up have fans and sports bettors in a frenzy. It’s not often you need to consider things like player distractions and feelings in the lead-up to a sporting event, but you really have to wonder about Tom Brady entering Thursday’s opening game. With the entire DeflateGate fiasco just coming to a close, and rumours surrounding a tumultuous marriage, are we going to be treated to elite, second-half of last season Tom Brady, or the Brady of early 2014 that had many thinking the future Hall of Famer was simply ‘done’?
Whatever the case may be, we’ll find out quickly on Thursday night. With Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount out for opening night, it’s expected that Bill Belechick will rely on a heavy passing offense to take on Pittsburgh. The Pats don’t have much depth at the running back position, and regardless of Brady’s current status, the way you beat the Steelers is throw on them. The Steelers have a simply porous secondary, that’s no secret, and they struggle at getting to the passer. If you give a guy like Tom Brady time and space in the pocket, no matter his current situation, he is talented and experienced enough to burn you. Look for the aerial assault to be in full gear in Foxboro for the hometown Patriots on opening night.
It should also be pointed out that the Steelers are now without heart and soul Hall of Famer in Troy Polamalu and their legendary defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau. Even though it can be argued that both were in decline, this is a transitionary period for the Steelers’ stop unit and early returns haven’t been favourable. Pittsburgh looked awful on defense this pre-season and struggled stopping back-ups like E.J. Manuel. If you’re going to let Manuel go up and down the field on you, how will a motivated Tom Brady fare with the eyes of the nation planted squarely on him? We’ve all seen this story before.
A silver lining for the Steelers is that they too possess a pretty explosive offense, although maybe not for this week. With Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell both suspended, it seems unlikely for a huge Pittsburgh explosion against an improved and now healthy defensive front. I expect their front seven to completely shut down fill-in DeAngelo Williams and firmly focus on taking away the Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown combination. Bell’s absence in this game will be massive as the former Michigan State product is an excellent receiver and pass protector. Without Maurkice Pouncey at center, Roethlisberger could get exposed in the pocket and look for heavy pressure to be applied to Big Ben on Thursday evening.
Even though I preferred the early value with the Patriots at around -3 as it was when Brady was still tentatively suspended, I still favour the Pats pretty heavily in this contest. The Steelers have a swiss cheese defense in a transitionary stage, while their offense is simply too decimated to both protect and produce. Look for a motivated Tom Brady to make a statement on Thursday night, shredding that secondary at every instance. Laying a touchdown with a heavy, public favourite is undoubtedly a ‘square’ approach, but it seems like the right angle to take for opening night. Expect some fireworks in a highly offensive affair, and look for Brady and Co. to win by a touchdown or more.
PICK = Patriots -7 (-110)