There promises to be a festive atmosphere at Gillette Stadium when the New England Patriots open defense of their Super Bowl championship by hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night in the kickoff to the NFL season. Not only will the Patriots celebrate their Super Bowl victory during a pregame ceremony, but fans of the team are still rejoicing after a federal judge overturned quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
The Deflategate saga and the possibility of three-time Super Bowl MVP Brady missing the first four games of the season had cast a pall over New England before Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension was thrown out in court last week. The Patriots own a 15-1 record at home over the past two seasons, but they face a tough test against the reigning AFC North champion Steelers, whose 41 wins on Kickoff Weekend rank No. 1 among AFC teams. “We are excited about the quick transition and for our opener on Thursday night,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “We are ready to play ball Thursday night and to get this season going.” The Steelers will be missing an integral part of their offense as star running back Le’Veon Bell serves the first of a two-game suspension.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.
LINE HISTORY: The Pats opened -2.5 before that moved to -7 after Tom Brady’s suspension was overturned. The total opened at 48.5 and now sits at 52.
WEATHER: Forecasts are calling for a 75 percent chance of thunderstorms with temperatures in the high-60s.
INJURY REPORT: Steelers – DE Stephon Tuitt (Questionable, ankle), WR Martavis Bryant (Eligible Week 5), RB Le’Veon Bell (Eligible Week 3). Patriots – C Bryan Stork (Out, concussion), LB Dont’a Hightower (Questionable, shoulder), RB LaGarrette Blount (Eligible Week 2).
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “The Patriots have won the AFC East title six straight years and in eleven of the last twelve years overall. New England’s defense was solid last season, but shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis left for the Jets in free agency, and his loss will have a big impact on the Patriots’ defense. Fortunately for New England, QB Tom Brady’s suspension was overturned, and he will play in this game. Pittsburgh squeezed into a playoff spot last season, but they’ll be hard-pressed to return to the post-season in 2015. The Steelers are an old and aging team with a defense that needs a major makeover. Pittsburgh somehow went 6-1 versus winning teams despite a mediocre defense that allowed 368 points during the season. Pittsburgh snapped a 2-year playoff drought last season, but they’ll likely revert back to a non-playoff season in 2015.” Covers Expert Steve Merril.
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “When we put this game back on the board we made the Patriots 7-point chalk. After taking a wiseguy wager on Pittsburgh we moved to -6.5. That number lasted a few days and has bounced around between it and a touchdown since. We’re split on the side as far as handle but certainly we’ve taken more bets on the Pats as the public is getting geared up for Week 1. The total has crept up from our open of 50.5, which is expected with a pair of high-profile offenses on national TV. We haven’t had much interest in the total outside of mainstream players.” John Lester, BookMaker.eu.
The Steelers are one of a handful of teams that don’t have cheerleaders, so here’s a pic of a hot fan instead.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (2014: 11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS, 9-7 O/U): Pittsburgh featured the NFL’s second-ranked offense last season and a big reason was the talents of Bell, who ranked second in the league with 1,361 rushing yards and added 83 receptions for 854 yards. With former Carolina back D’Angelo Williams set to spell Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will likely take to the air as he looks to build upon a stellar campaign in which he established a career best in passing yardage (4,952) while throwing for 32 touchdowns versus only nine interceptions. Roethlisberger has the league’s most productive wideout in Antonio Brown, who topped the league in receptions (129) and yards (1,698) while becoming only the fourth player in league history to post consecutive seasons with at least 110 catches. Longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau resigned in the offseason and was replaced by Keith Butler, who must shore up a unit that ranked among bottom fourth of the league in sacks, interceptions and passing yards surrendered.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (2014: 12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS, 9-7 O/U): New England will also be without its top running back due to the one-game suspension for LeGarrette Blount who, ironically, was a member of the Steelers and a passenger in Bell’s car when the duo was arrested on marijuana charges during the 2014 preseason. Brandon Bolden is expected to get the start while James White, Dion Lewis and Travaris Cadet may also see time in the backfield, but the focus for the Steelers will be shutting down Brady and behemoth tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady threw for 33 TDs against only nine interceptions last season and more than a third of those scoring passes (12) went to Gronkowski, who had 82 receptions for 1,124 yards while reaching double digits in touchdowns for the fourth time in five seasons. The Patriots suffered a huge blow in the secondary with the loss of both of their starting cornerbacks in the offseason, including all-world Darrelle Revis, leaving Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler atop the depth chart at that position.
* Over is 8-2 in the last 10 meetings.
* Steelers are 1-4 ATS in their last five meetings in New England.
* Over is 6-1 in Patriots last seven Thursday games.
* Steelers are 1-8 ATS in their last nine games in September.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Fifty-three percent of Covers users are backing the Patriots.