After more than seven months without an NFL game that counts, the league is back with the first game of the 2015 regular season. The Pittsburgh Steelers visit the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots for the now-traditional Kickoff game.
The Steelers head to Foxborough, Mass., missing a couple key pieces of their offense — RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Martavis Bryant are both going to be serving the first game of their respective suspensions. That’ll leave veteran RB DeAngelo Williams with the responsibility of leading the running game. QB Ben Roethlisberger will be there to lead the offense, of course, and he will need to be at the top of his game because it is expected to be a shootout against the offensive powerhouse that is the Patriots.
On the Pats’ side of the ball, they will also be missing starting RB LeGarrette Blount, who is serving a one-game suspension of his own. They do have QB Tom Brady, though, after his four-game Deflategate suspension was overturned, and that is going to be the key to this game. If QB Jimmy Garoppolo was starting, I would question the Pats’ potential to win the game.
I’m expecting a lot of passing in this game with the starting running backs out of the game. With the rushers who are playing, the Steelers have the advantage with the veteran Williams. The Patriots will be using a bunch of young running backs without much NFL experience. In the passing game, though, it’s hard to go against Brady when he has TE Rob Gronkowski — by far the best player at his position — on the field. And WR Julian Edelman provides Brady with a more-than-capable No. 1 wide receiver and No. 2 target behind Gronk. Roethlisberger has one of the game’s best pass-catchers in WR Antonio Brown, but his No. 2, WR Markus Wheaton, isn’t as good as Gronk or Edelman. As far as the defenses go, neither team has an elite squad, but I give the advantage to the Pats there.
The over/under on the game is 52. I think it’s going to be a shootout and go over that number. I’m picking the Patriots to win the game, 34-24 to begin their Super Bowl defense 1-0.
Stay tuned this weekend for my season preview, playoff predictions and Week 1 picks.