On the 222nd day since the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots will be in action again, this time to kick off the 2015-16 NFL season as they welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to Gillette Stadium (8.30pm ET, Thursday).
This will mark the first opening home game for the Patriots since they took on the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010, a game New England won 38-24. The Patriots finished the season 14-2 that year and won the AFC East before losing a shocker to the New York Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh hasn’t opened on the road since 2012 when they lost to the Denver Broncos 31-19. The Steelers went just 8-8 that year, finished third in the AFC North and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. Their non-winning record was also the team’s first since 2006.
In 2014, the Steelers finished with the record of 11-5 and were among the best teams in the NFL as far as offensive production. Pittsburgh was second behind the New Orleans Saints for total yards per game (411.1), second in passing yards per game (301.6), seventh in points per game (28.6) and seventh in total points (436).
The Patriots were one of the top scoring teams in the NFL, finishing the regular season with the fourth most total points (468) and fourth highest points per game (29.2).
Entering the season New England are 8/1 and the Steelers 22/1 on BetOnline Sportsbook’s futures betting line to win the Super Bowl. At this stage, if forced to choose between the two our long-term betting pick would likely be the Patriots at those betting odds.
Pittsburgh opens with a huge disadvantage. Not only will they be without RB Le’Veon Bell, last year’s breakout star, but they will also be missing WR Martavius Bryant as both players are suspended to start the year. New England will also be without one of their players, RB LeGarrette Blount, but they will have the services of QB Tom Brady, who avoided suspension for his involvement in the “Deflategate” scandal during last year’s postseason.
Our preview of the season’s opening game takes a look at some of the biggest match-ups:
The QB Battle: (PIT) Ben Roethlisberger vs (NE) Tom Brady
One of the best things to watch in the NFL is when two gunslingers, bolstered by two top of the line offenses, face off. In the match-up of Pittsburgh and New England, aka Roethlisberger vs Brady, this offensive caliber will be on display and we very well could see a shoot-out.
Last year, the 33-year-old Roethlisberger, now in his 12th season, all with the Steelers, is coming off the best season of his entire NFL career. Armed with a cast of characters that any team would have died to have, Roethlisberger finished the season with a career best 4,952 passing yards, tied for a career high with 32 touchdowns and a career high completion percentage of 67.1. It was in large part because of Roethlisberger’s success that the Steelers reached the playoffs, even if they did not advance past their first round game.
The 38-year-old Brady, a 16-year NFL veteran, also had a bit of a career resurgence. Brady’s completion percentage of 64.1 was the highest since 2011 and his 33 touchdowns the highest since 2012. Brady’s QBR and rating were also the highest since the 2012 season. His performance in the playoffs was historic, with his 921 yards and 10 touchdowns the best of his 12 postseasons.
Both Brady and Roethlisberger were fantastic on offense last year and there’s no reason to see that won’t continue. Brady especially, might look to have something to prove given the controversy involving him even being allowed to play in this game. Either way, it will be very difficult for Brady and Roethlisberger not to put up great numbers given two guys they have to throw the ball to.
Battle of Weapons: (NE) Rob Gronkowski vs (PIT) Antonio Brown
One is a 5’10 receiver who led the NFL last year in receptions (129), receiving yards (1,698) and a tie for second with 13 touchdowns and 182 targets. The other is a 6’6 tight end who has been the best at his position for years and who last season finished tied for third in touchdowns (12), with the most receiving yards (1,124) and targets (82) among tight ends. Both were incredible weapons for two quarterbacks who ranked among the best at this position last year.
Antonio Brown had a breakout year and he is primed to build on that with Roethlisberger in 2015-16. He will be the top weapon for the Steelers all season and with Bryant suspended for up to four games, he will be looked to even more. Brown’s importance to Pittsburgh cannot be overstated.
And then there’s Gronk, who like Brown, should build off of last year’s strong campaign. Rob Gronkowski (pictured) is coming off of his first healthy season since 2011 and is unequivocally Brady’s best weapon. In fact, with a piecemeal wide receiver corps that turned Julian Edelman (92 REC, 972 YDS, 4 TD) into the team’s top route-runner, it is easy to see why Brady needs Gronkowski to continue to be at the caliber he was last year.
Overall, these two should see a fair share of balls coming their way Thursday and it is very likely whichever guy gets the better of his match-up, will lead his team to victory, since defensively, neither the Steelers or Patriots are really top-level squads.
Our Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots Preview’s Betting Picks
The sportsbooks’ spread favors the home team by a touchdown’s margin (-7). This isn’t surprising. The Patriots are one of the better home teams in the NFL and have proven they can have success as champions. In fact, New England is the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowl crowns, a feat they accomplished in 2003-04 and 2004-05. The journey to do that again begins with the Steelers here. Here are our betting picks for this game:
- Take New England Patriots -7pts to cover that spread @ -105 betting odds with BetOnline, 5Dimes or Intertops sportsbooks.
- This Steelers at Patriots preview anticipates a high-scoring affair, so bet on the over 52 total points for the game @ -110 odds, again this is available with any of BetOnline, 5Dimes or Intertops.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.