Thursday Night Football: Steelers at Patriots

Thursday Night Football: Steelers at Patriots

The 2015 NFL season kicks off tonight when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Gillette Stadium to face the defending Super Bowl cheaters champions, aka the starved-for-headlines New England Patriots. Since the Thursday night season opener debuted in 2002, the home team has come out on top in 11 of 13 matchups. That includes two victories each for the Steelers and Patriots. Both teams enter the fray as AFC favorites to advance to the playoffs. However, both suffered key free-agent departures, retirements, and suspensions during the offseason, making them weaker than the teams that ended 2014. New England will be without starting running back LeGarrette Blount, while Pittsburgh is missing Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant. Which AFC power has the edge? Here’s a look.

Pittsburgh at New England -7

In addition to the Bell and Bryant absences, the Steelers offense won’t have center Maurkice Pouncey. Establishing a running game would be ideal, but the odds Big Ben and Co. will be playing from behind are fairly decent, meaning DeAngelo Williams and Dri Archer might be non-factors. The Black and Gold defense is patchwork on the back end and unproven in the front seven. Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, and Stephon Tuitt must be disciplined and disruptive. Getting pressure on Tom Brady is easier said than done, but forcing him out of his comfort zone will be a priority. Of course limiting Rob Gronkowski will also be a determining factor. Without two of their most explosive playmakers, who combined for 19 touchdowns last year, keeping pace will be a challenge. Pittsburgh is 7-6 ATS in its last 13 conference tilts, and 2-4 ATS on the road.

In addition to Blount, the Pats won’t have the services of wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who is on the PUP list. Plus, Julian Edelman was MIA the entire preseason with a bum ankle; he’s not on the injury report, so he should be good to go, but it’s something to monitor as the game unfolds. The backfield is a mess, although Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to care who’s toting the ball as long as they aren’t fumbling or showing up late to practice. The defense waved goodbye to Darrelle Revis and Vince Wilfork in the spring, and not having either shouldn’t be overlooked. Revis allowed the defense to play an ultra aggressive style without fear of being shredded by elite wideouts. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler takes over Revis’s vacated spot and will have his hands full with Antonio Brown. The Patriots are 7-7 ATS in their last 14 conference battles, and 4-4 ATS at home.

New England is 7-3 straight up and 7-3 ATS in the last ten meetings in the series. If Bell, Bryant, and Pouncey were playing, this one would be much closer. A suspect Steelers D will struggle to contain an ornery Tom Brady.

Bet the Patriots -7