Real football is back at Gillette Stadium this Sunday night, as the New England Patriots will raise another Super Bowl banner and kick off their 2019 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While some of the names and faces have changed -- the Steelers lost Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown while the Patriots are now without Rob Gronkowski -- you can expect another heated chapter of what's been the AFC's most consistent rivalry since the start of the Brady-Belichick Era in Foxborough.
Here's how some of the 98.5 The Sports Hub staff sees this one going down after the banner goes up...
After watching the way this defense -- starters, backups, third-stringers, and practice squad alike -- put pressure on quarterbacks throughout the preseason, I think we're going to witness the Patriots transition back to being a defense-first team this season. But I know better to think that the New England offense won't have it rolling against the Steelers on Gillette turf. Especially with a banner-raising getting everybody jacked. The loss of Antonio Brown may have helped the sanity of the Steelers on a day-to-day basis, but it will hurt JuJu in this matchup.
Nobody's ever had a more fitting endorsement than Ben Roethlisberger's deal with Campbell's Chunky Soup.
Patriots 27, Steelers 17.
I'm expecting a relatively low-scoring game that opens up in the fourth quarter as the desperation level rises for both teams. Recency bias will leave this game remembered as a shootout, but for a while it will more closely resemble the Patriots and Rams' struggles to move the chains in Super Bowl LIII. Both defenses come into this season loaded with talent and the right pieces to disrupt what each other can do. The Patriots will have a little trouble containing all the Steelers' pass rushers, while the Pittsburgh receivers will starve for separation against the Pats secondary.
Despite all that, both Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger will find ways to start making plays as the game goes along. And in the end I see the Patriots barely getting their revenge on last season's loss. The Steelers will take a late lead, but give Brady more than enough time to engineer one of his patented game-winning drives. And millions of non-Patriots fans will yet again be left dumbfounded how the "Luckiest Of All Time" pulled a rabbit out of his ass for the 238th time.
Patriots 26, Steelers 23.
New England was held to 10 points in last year's loss in Pittsburgh. The main problem? They abandoned the run too early! The Patriots averaged 5.1 yards per carry, with Sony Michel (13 carries, 59 yards) leading the way. From that game on, the Patriots dedicated themselves to the run, winning their sixth Super Bowl in the process.
My guess is they will be smarter this time around. And with a dinged-up Julian Edelman, an out of shape Josh Gordon and a past his prime Demaryius Thomas -- not to mention a 42-year old quarterback without his All-World tight end -- they will have to be.
Patriots 20, Steelers 17.
Safest bet in this game feels like the under. Pats will raise the banner and drop the Steelers, but it won't be easy given offensive line concerns and Pittsburgh's defensive front.
Patriots 26, Steelers 20.
Matt McCarthy (98.5 The Sports Hub)
It's time for one of the great traditions in all of sports: Dropping a Super Bowl banner and beating the Steelers into submission. I expect this game to be lower scoring than some previous banner nights, but that plays right into the Patriots' hands.
Patriots 26, Steelers 13.
The Patriots have struggled to cover against the spread the last two season openers; A loss straight up to Kansas City and a push last season vs Houston. The line opened at -7 and has gone down to -5.5 at most places. I personally think the Steelers are down this year, especially with less offensive weapons. The Steelers snapped a five-game losing skid last season with a 17-10 win over the Patriots in Pittsburgh.
Some betting trends to consider with the Patriots at -5.5 and the over/under at 49.5...
- Brady is 5-0 vs Pittsburgh at Gillette, and three of those wins are by at least seven points.
- The Patriots have won 12 of their last 13 regular-season home games by at least seven points.
- The Steelers only won four games on the road last season.
- The Steelers are 1-4 against the spread in their last five games in September.
- The UNDER is 5-1 for both teams against the AFC and on field turf in the last six games.
Patriots 27, Steelers 13.
Mike 'Sarge' Riley (98.5 The Sports Hub)
No more Gronk. And no more Antonio Brown for the Steelers. So I think we’ll have a tight game here and the Patriots defense will come up big under the new addition of Michael Bennett (he was one of 14 different players to record a sack in what finished as a 17-sack preseason for the Patriots). Could this be Tom Brady’s final regular season opener at Gillette Stadium? If it is he’s going to get his 16th win in the home opener as a Patriots starter (15-2 all time).
I expect a confidence booster for Stephen Gostowski, too, as he’ll have a game-winning field goal late in the contest.
(From your defending champion with picks last year, by the way, so you’re welcome!)
Patriots 24, Steelers 21.