After the conclusion to the Deflategate, the matchup for the opening game of the NFL is now what every football fan wanted. Tom Brady vs Ben Roethlisberger. These two quarterbacks have been the top two QB’s of the past decade (arguably). The reigning Super Bowl champs facing off against what could be the most exciting offense in 2015 starts this season off with a bang. Between these two future Hall of Famers, they combine to have six Super Bowl wins (four for Brady, two for Roethlisberger) with nine appearances (six for Brady, three for Roethlisberger). The focus is going to be on which quarterback can lead his team to victory tonight but let’s not forget that this is still a team game. Let’s take a look at these two teams heading into the opening game of the 2015 NFL season.
An 11-5 season and an AFC North title seemed satisfying but the Steelers season was cut short with a loss in the Wild Card round to the division rival Baltimore Ravens. The Steel City has quickly turned to the next chapter in their book and is out to prove they are even more electric than they were last season. The Big Ben to Antonio Brown connection produced the most receptions (129) and yards (1,698) in 2015 and expectations remain high this year.
Who’s up next?
Martavis Bryant (left) & Le’Veon Bell (right)
With the suspensions of Le’Veon Bell (two games) and Martavis Bryant (four games), players such as DeAngelo Williams and Markus Wheaton have the spotlight. After an injury plagued season in 2014 and recording zero touchdowns, DeAngelo (32 years old) is out to prove he’s still got it and this could be his make or break game. Wheaton is entering his third season and is looking to get in the end zone early and often this year after scoring just twice last season. Another key piece to the offense, Maurkice Pouncey, broke his leg during a preseason game a couple weeks ago and is out for tonight.
The Steelers defense has only improved with the addition of linebacker Bud Dupree. The line backing core of the Steelers is now loaded and will not disappoint this year with third year linebacker Jarvis Jones, and second year linebacker Ryan Shazier. Let us not forget veterans James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons are still in the mix.
So…What’s the problem?
Ike Taylor (left) & Troy Polamalu (right)
The lingering question remains, How is the secondary going to perform? This past offseason Pitt waved goodbye to “Swaggin” and the “Tasmanian Devil”. With the departures of Ike Taylor and soon to be Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu it leaves open leadership roles that desperately need to be filled. In 2014, Pittsburgh’s defense ranked 23rd in total takeaways with 21. Maybe the likes of safety Mike Mitchell and/or cornerback Cortez Allen could bring back some of that old “Steel Curtain” attitude.
After sucking the air out of the Seattle Seahawks en route to another Super Bowl win, Tom Brady and Patriots remained the NFL’s focus all summer long. At least SportsCenter and ESPN were covering something other than Lebron James! Since Tom Brady became the starter in 2001 he has missed only 15 games (torn ACL first game of the 2008 season) and he was not expecting that to change. Since the suspension was lifted entirely, it makes the Patriots an even heavier favorite in Thursday night’s opener. All eyes will be on Tom and company but Brady seems to play better when the pressures on, as we all know.
No Islands Present
Jason McCourty (left), Darrelle Revis (middle) and Vince Wilfork (right)
The New England Patriots are not famous for signing big name free agents nor do they make crazy trades. However, a few key losses did come on the defensive side of the ball. A major contributor to the Patriots Super Bowl run was Darrelle Revis. After obtaining his ring, Revis took his island back to New Jersey and rejoined the New York Jets. Another key contributor and long time Patriot, Vince Wilfork, joined J.J. Watt in Houston. No one can replace Revis Island. Also finding someone the size of an island to be that defensive plug is close to impossible nowadays.
Same Ol’ Bill
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick is known for finding NFL caliber talent that is not so obvious to the naked eye. Whether it’s the Patriots way of coaching or him being the smartest coach the NFL has ever seen, his system doesn’t fail. After Malcolm Butler put the finishing touch on the Pats Super Bowl win, he is now the starting corner and has looked solid enough to keep his starting position. New England got lucky when Malcom Brown fell to the 32nd pick in the past draft. He is not the size Wilfork is, but Brown is a versatile big man and has the potential to be starting somewhere along that 3-4 defensive line.
On the other side of the ball, Brady’s weapons have not changed at all. Keep an eye out for a wide receiver named Chris Harper who is undrafted free agent. Starting wide out Brandon LaFell is on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP).
Head Coaches Mike Tomlin (left) & Bill Belichick (right)
Tune in Tonight @ 8pm ET on NBC!
The all time series between Brady and Ben is 5-2 in favor of Tom Terrific. Ben and the killer B’s are looking to head into Foxboro and calm those New Englanders down a bit after this Deflategate nonsense. Both defenses will have their work cut out for them, while both offenses will thrive. Picking against Brady when he’s at Gillette Stadium is asking for trouble. A game one win by Brady and the Pats will make Roger Goodell’s week that much better.
New England Patriots 38
Pittsburgh Steelers 24
Spark Sports NFL Analyst