New England Patriots

By Ty Anderson,

It feels almost likely that the New England Patriots are going to at some point this season have Matthew Slater on the field as their No. 2 wide receiver and still make the American Football Conference Championship Game look easy.

That’s because the Patriots — y’know, the franchise that’s supposedly crumbling from within — are indeed surrounded by actual dummies. And will continue to be surrounded by those real life dummies that apparently aren’t sick of the 41-year-old Tom Brady and the Patriots getting a 20-week bye to the Super Bowl, based on the latest developments out of Pittsburgh.

In the Steelers’ latest installment of “Let’s Not Pay Our Best Player,” Le’Veon Bell was a no-show for all of Pittsburgh’s offseason, training camp, and preseason grind. Oh, before I forget: He still hasn’t even reported to the Steelers, leaving them down one elite running back for Week 1 against the Browns. (Luckily for the Steelers, the U.S. Constitution states that the Browns automatically start every game down by at least 16 points.) And though Bell is rumored to sign and return for Week 2, it’s all been enough for some of the veteran Steelers to finally break their silence and voice their frustrations with the situation.

“He’s making seven times what I make, twice as much as Al [Villanueva] is making, and we’re the guys who do it for him,” Steelers guard Ramon Foster said (with a working recorder right in front of his mouth all the while, mind you) Wednesday. “What do you do? Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, I guess so we’ll just treat it as such. I just hate that it came to this.”

This is concerning, as the Pittsburgh offensive line is the group that prevents Bell from taking a Stone Cold Stunner every week. Real life pro wrestling villain and Bengal linebacker Vontaze Burfict is already ripping up the turf looking for a steel chair.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when we’re talking about the Steelers, really.

In addition to their trouble with Bell, they have a quarterback that appears determined to eat himself to death but also somehow got mad at the Steelers for trading up to draft a quarterback before he could go full Zachary Taylor on them. And their head coach gets so jacked up to play the Patriots that he completely forgets to gameplan for the Patriots, who have outscored Pittsburgh 229-160 and won all but one of their last seven head-to-head meetings.

The next time the Steelers do not go out of their way to find the banana peel to slip on and hand a game to the Patriots will be the first time since Kevin Faulk was New England’s No. 1 running back and everybody’s hope for Chad Johnson still existed.

And you might think I’m done here, but I’m not.

Here’s a brief refresher on the recent playoff ‘triumphs’ of the Steelers: They only won a playoff game in the 2015 season because the Cincinnati Bengals are hoping the league’s concussion lawsuit will finally give them some spotlight. In 2016, they were gifted a road to Foxboro that included the Dolphins and Chiefs (find two happier to be there teams than those two, I dare you) before the Patriots predictably more than doubled them up in a 36-17 final for the AFC title. The Steelers found a way to top even themselves last year, as they surrendered 45 points to a Jaguar offense led by a quarterback that completed 14 passes.

Yet, this is the team everybody consistently tries to bill as the team that’s gonna dethrone the Patriots.

That’ll continue, too, especially with everybody still obsessing over the Patriots’ problems and alleged internal strife some eight months later. And if it’s not the Steelers, it will be the Jaguars, a team Jalen Ramsey is singlehandedly trying to will into frame as a legitimate threat as if we don’t already know how things go for Jacksonville in their sequels to a double-digit win season or can all forget that Blake Bortles has probably been throwing with the wrong hand for his entire life. Maybe the Chargers get some hype until we all ask Phillip Rivers to not pass the ball to the other team during a fourth-quarter comeback attempt.

And listen, while the previous 500-plus words are obvious whataboutisms, the point of this isn’t to suggest that the Patriots are a team without issues; New England’s roster is still a little too thin at wideout for legitimate comfort, especially for the first four games of the regular season thanks to Julian Edelman’s PED suspension. Their defense lost a significant (elite, even) contributor in Malcolm Butler and is absolutely banking on a return to 100 percent from Dont’a Hightower after what appeared to be a shaky, Gronkowski-esque preseason showing from their defensive leader. Those are their very legitimate problems.

Their other problems — Brady and Bill Belichick not getting along after almost two decades of working side by side, Rob Gronkowski showing up in a dirtbiking outfit, the ‘whodunnit’ of trading Jimmy Garoppolo, etc. — are either now outdated or still held together by nameless reports and anonymous sources. That latter point is the big one, too, as we now know the Steelers have internal issues thanks to those comments from Bell’s teammates, while we merely think the Patriots have issues.

But with added financial security for the ‘unappreciated’ Brady and Gronkowski on their restructured contracts (something ultimately signed off on by Belichick) and following an offseason and preseason that came without the power struggle clash people were craving, the Patriots are entering the season seemingly drama-free. Even with a surprise ‘Tom vs Time’ epilogue dropped earlier this week. And unlike Bell’s current situation with the Steelers, New England’s drama will come to a forced end with everybody within the Patriot Empire returning to the thing they do better than almost everybody else: Football.

That’s a problem alright. But for everybody ‘cept the Patriots.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.