ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!???!!?!
After the long and sometimes painful offseason, we say “Goodbye” to summer and welcome Fall with the return of the NFL. While optimism fills football fans coast to coast this opening weekend, each subsequent week will bring the murky NFL landscape into clarity and fill the hearts of so many with doom and despair – Yes I am talk to you Dolphins’ fans.
For the AFC East, all we can say is that things seem to be business as usual: The Patriots are defending Super Bowl Champs while the rest of the division continue building their teams looking forward to the day that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady finally walk away from the NFL and give their teams’ some hope. Again: Business as usual.
The Patriots spent this off season celebrating their 6thSuper Bowl Championship as they let a slew of free agents and coaches walk away. Due to the 100thAnniversary of the NFL, instead of hosting the first game of the year, the Defending Super Bowl Champions kick things off by hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night in what could be an early season playoff positioning game.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they enter this season at a bit of crossroads having dumped both RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown this off season. While both of these departures were surrounded by a lot of finger pointing and drama, clearly the Steelers’ and Mike Tomlin let another Championship window close with nothing to show for it.
This will be the 33rdtime these teams have met with all-time series being tied at 16-16. However, since the start of the Belichick/Brady era, this will be the 15thtime these two teams have met with the Patriots holding a 11-4 lead. This does include the game last December when New England lost 17-10 to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. While that win certainly made Steelers fans fluff their chubs to no end, Pittsburgh would go on to miss the playoffs while the Patriots would not lose again and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Both teams are looking for strong starts to the 2019 season so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams are broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – PATRIOTS: Even though it’s no secret that Father Time is slowly catching up with the Patriots’ Tom Brady, he still has the desire to play for a few more seasons and doesn’t seem to be falling off the cliff as fast as expected. While the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was able to put up big numbers during the regular season, it’s clear that even with video game like stats, he can’t solely get this team to the playoffs.
Running Backs – PATRIOTS: Last season, in the absence of Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh’s James Conner did an admirable job taking over as the teams’ #1 option and scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2018. However, the collection of running backs that that Patriots utilize, led by Sony Michel and James White provide more depth and versatility than what the Steelers have to offer.
Wide Receivers – PUSH: While the Steelers have the bigger name recognition led by third year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Patriots have quietly put together a formidable WR group led by Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman and recently reinstated Josh Gordon.
Tight Ends – STEELERS: While neither Tight End group really is all that impressive, the Steelers get the nod for Vance McDonald having been productive piece of their offense.
Offensive Line – PUSH: Both lines historically have played well protecting their respective passers. New England would easily get the nod if Center David Andrews was available.
Defensive Front Seven – STEELERS: In 2018, The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive front was one of the top units in the NFL at stopping the run and getting to the passer. While there has been some improvement with New England’s front with the addition of Michael Bennett, Jamie Collins, and the return of Ja’Whaun Bentley, they need to carry the level of play that they showed in Preseason into the Regular season.
Secondary – PATRIOTS: Led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the McCourty Twins, the Patriots have put together a deep and talented secondary.
Special Teams – PUSH: In 2018, both teams’ special teams units were similar in efficiency and kicking consistency. Historically, however, the Patriots have had the has had the knack of coming up with game changing plays when they play the Steelers.
Coaching – PATRIOTS: While Mike Tomlin is perceived as one of the better head coaches in the NFL, the reality of the situation is that he has had one of the better quarterbacks in the league along with some of the best skilled talent available but has not been able to win a championship. Whether this is a lack of coaching ability or shear incompetence, Tomlin’s only championship came with a team he inherited from Bill Cowher and 13 seasons have passed with very little or nothing to show for it in the post season. It’s not even fair to compare him to Bill Belichick who finds ways to win even with flawed personnel or thin rosters.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Betting Line: Patriots -5.5
Key’s to Victory:
1) Lean on the Running Backs: While the Patriots start their early season roster evaluation for the WRs and TEs, they can certainly help bridge that gap by utilizing all the available running backs. The various options available in the backfield should help take the pressure off the passing game and reduce hits on Tom Brady.
2) Aggressive Front Seven Play: With several new and returning pieces in the front seven, the Patriots need to continue the aggressive play calling that they deployed during the late 2018 regular season and into the Post season.
3) Develop Passing Chemistry: While it’s obvious that the Brady to Edelman connection is one of, if not the, best passing combinations in the league, the Patriots need to find reliable pass catchers to fill the hole left by Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. While Josh Gordon seems to be the best option, the lack of time that he has spent with New England during the off season may take some time to get back into rhythm.
This is a unique game between the only two franchises that are trying to get their 7thSuper Bowl Ring. While on paper it seems that the Patriots have the leg up in the race to the next Lombardi Trophy, the Steelers should not be discounted and should provide a very formidable opponent to open the season.
Expect a very defense dominated game early on with the offenses coming to life in the second half.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 23 – Steelers 17
Hooded’d annual Predictions sheet is up and ready: Click here