Photo credit: Keith Allison
Author: Joey Carr
For nearly 6 months, the fans of the NFL have waited desperately for the talks of Deflategate and free agency to come to a halt. We’ve endured numerous preseason injuries, holdouts, and arrests and now all we’re looking for is some real, genuine, exhilarating football to be played. And now, at long last, that wait has come to an end. The Patriots play host to the Steelers tomorrow night on the biggest stage since the Super Bowl, and the energy is going to be like nothing we’ve seen before.
Tomorrow, in most people’s minds, is going to be more than a game. It’s going to be a celebration for Patriots Nation, who gets to see their team raise its 4th Super Bowl banner in 15 years. The New England faithful also get to see their quarterback, Tom Brady, play with more fire and anger than ever before. Fresh off a win in court against Roger Goodell and the NFL, expect to see an entirely different Tom Terrific. However, this game isn’t just about Brady. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the more consistent teams in the league since the early 2000’s, and plan to keep that persona alive with a stacked offense led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’veon Bell. Bell is suspended for tomorrow’s game unfortunately for Pittsburgh, making newly acquired running back DeAngelo Williams the prime starter for the Steelers. The Terrible Towel’s also don’t have the services of their starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, which is a fairly significant loss up front since the last time the team lost him they went 8-8. Also, the Pittsburgh defense is something to keep a close eye on tomorrow night. Long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau left for Tennessee, leaving the Steelers D with a big question mark on it. It’ll be interesting to see how Belichick and the Pats take advantage of the weaknesses of Pittsburgh’s defense and which part of it they will target the most. However, Steel City isn’t the only defense with questions surrounding it. New England lost some key members on defense this past offseason-Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner- and even though people within the Patriots organization feel like they’ve gained enough pieces to help minimize those losses, it’ll be fascinating to see if New England did indeed get their defense to where it was last year. Malcolm Brown, drafted 32nd overall, will try to fill the enormous shoes of longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork, which won’t be an easy task by any means. Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown will attempt to keep the Pats secondary a strong point, also not an easy task with Antonio Brown on the field. But an extremely strong linebacker corps could help overcome some of the defense’s weaknesses.
A key matchup that many people are going to be looking forward to watching is Antonio Brown vs. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. Brown is debatably the best receiver in the NFL, boasting lightning quick speed and terrific hands. Butler is a somewhat proven player who is being thrust into the Patriots number one cornerback spot, previously filled by Darrelle Revis. Last year, Butler proved himself to be a reliable defensive back but can he be the player the Pats need him to be? Antonio Brown will determine that when they line up across from each other tomorrow at Gillette Stadium. Brown is definitely one of the hardest players in the
league to cover, and Butler’s skills will be pushed to the absolute max tomorrow night when he tries to defend him.
All in all, tomorrow could turn out to be one of the best games of the season. Two AFC powerhouses battling it out under the lights on Primetime television promise a hard fought and intense game. Big Ben and Antonio Brown are not an easy tandem to stop, but it seems like the Patriots D is up for the challenge. Tom Brady takes the field as the starter for New England for the 14th straight time and never has he had a bigger chip on his shoulder. With versatile weapons Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and a trio of pass-catching running backs, the Steelers D should expect to have their hands full. This game should go down to the wire with both teams matching up nicely, making for an epic and memorable season opener.
Prediction: New England 27 Pittsburgh 20
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