The Sunday GPS: Steelers stress free? Not with Brady, New England up next

Photo courtesy of USA Today
Clark Judge

GOLD JACKET FEATURE PRESENTATION

PITTSBURGH @ NEW ENGLAND, 8:25 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Patriots by 5-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 76

The story: The Patriots lose Rob Gronkowski. The Steelers lose Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. So who’s hurting most? Answer: Maybe neither. The Pats are better defensively than a year ago, the Steelers are a virtual Happy Valley without the angst and both are among the AFC’s elite. Two problems for the Steelers here: The opponent and the opponent’s QB. The Patriots won five of their last six vs. Pittsburgh, and Tom Brady is 11-3 against them (including the playoffs), with 31 TDs and five interceptions.

Something to consider: The Patriots are 4-1 in season openers following Super Bowl victories, including 2-0 vs. Pittsburgh (2002 and 2015). They’ve also won nine of their past 10 home openers.

THREE MORE SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING

ATLANTA @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Vikings by 4
The weather: Showers, high of 65 (retractable roof)

The story: This may be a Make-or-Break year for quarterback Kirk Cousins, the $84-million-dollar man who was 8-7-1 a year ago and is 34-37-2 for his career. It may be a Make-or-Break year for his head coach, Mike Zimmer, and/or his GM, Rick Spielman, too … which is why Gary Kubiak is on this staff. The last time we saw him he led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win … and he did it by not relying on his quarterbacks (a fading Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler) but on his backs and defense. The same formula may apply here.

Something to consider: The Vikings not only are 4-1 in season openers under Zimmer but scored four defensive touchdowns in those games (three by interceptions and one via fumble return).

TENNESSEE @ CLEVELAND, 1 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Browns by 5-1/2
The weather: Mostly cloudy, high of 70

The story: Cleveland’s the trendy preseason pick in the AFC North, and look no farther than its roster for an explanation. There’s talent galore. But this just in: They’re the Browns, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007 (10-6) and finished last in their division 10 of the past 12 years. Basically, they’re Murphy’s Lawyers. If something can go wrong, it will … and consider OBJ''s hip injury and those horrid Color Rush uniforms early warning signs. Nevertheless, Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett predicted that "it's going to be a bloodbath." Not sure if he was talking about the Browns' defensive line or a response to another Browns' belly flop.

Something to consider: Marcus Mariota’s five TD passes vs. Cleveland are his most vs. a non-division opponent. Mariota won his last four starts.

N.Y. GIANTS @ DALLAS, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Cowboys by 7
The weather: Sunny, high of 100

The story: The Cowboys believe they’re legit Super Bowl threats, and they expect to demonstrate why here. But beating the Giants is not a big deal. Answering two burning questions is: When does Zeke play and when does Eli sit? Elliott said he stayed in shape during his holdout by working out in Mexico, which tells you something about the value of today’s training camps, and Manning is insistent he … not rookie Daniel Jones … is the quarterback the Giants can trust. Both might be wrong.

Something to consider: In his last four starts vs. the Giants, Dak Prescott has nine TD passes, 0 interceptions and a passer rating of 111.0.

BEATING THE ODDS

(Picks are made vs. the spread)

RICK GOSSELIN – Baltimore (--6-1/2). The Ravens had the NFL’s best defense in 2018, and the Dolphins have a quarterback with a penchant for turning the ball over**.**

CLARK JUDGE – Baltimore (--6-1/2). Tanking for Tua officially begins.

RON BORGES -- Kansas City (--3-1/2) -- Unless the Jacksonville secondary is on motorbikes it can keep up with all the speed the Chiefs will put on the field.

BEST OPENERS

What are the best opening-game performances in NFL history? Let the roll call begin:

MOST YARDS RUSHING – O.J. Simpson, Buffalo, 250 on 29 attempts in 1973.

MOST YARDS PASSING – Norm Van Brocklin, L.A. Rams, 554 on 27 completions in 1951.

MOST YARDS RECEIVING – Frank Clarke, Dallas, 241 on 10 receptions in 1962

FIVE GUYS TO WATCH

NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY – He has 34 touchdown passes in 16 Week One starts. With one more TD he surpasses Peyton Manning (also 34) for the second-most in league history. Only Drew Brees, with 37 TD passes in 17 Week One starts, has more.

NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES – He’s the only player in league history to have three 400-yard passing games in Week One starts, including 439 last year.

WASHINGTON RB ADRIAN PETERSON – OK, we know: He may not be active Sunday. But if he is ... gotta watch. Reason: He needs one yard rushing to become the fifth back in NFL history to run for 1,000 yards in Week One contests. Peterson has 999. Moreover, with one rushing TD he becomes only the fourth back ever to score 10 or more times rushing in Week One.

PHILADELPHIA WR DESEAN JACKSON -- He has five career games with 100 or more yards receiving in season-opening games. Only Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin (6) has more.

MINNESOTA WR STEFON DIGGS – He has three TD catches in his last two season openers. That ties him with Tyreek Hill for the most.

THE WEEKEND OMG

Since entering the NFL in 2016, Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing yards (4,046), carries (865), 100-yard games (19), touches (1,003), runs of 10 or more yards (110) and runs of 20 or more yards (30). Now you know why Jerry Jones made him the league's highest-paid running back.

TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER

  1. The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champs. So what? So the 53 defending Super Bowl champs are 43-9-1 in season openers of title seasons.

  2. Over the past two regular seasons, New England limited opponents to seven or fewer fourth-quarter points in 28 of 32 games.

  3. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 (excluding the strike-truncated 1982 season), teams that win season openers are twice as likely to go to the playoffs as losers … and you can look it up. Of the 602 teams that won openers, 311 went to the playoffs. Of the 601 teams that lost, 147 went.

  4. Seattle has won 10 consecutive home openers, the longest active streak in the NFL.

  5. In 2018, Baltimore and Pittsburgh were the only teams to rank in the Top 10 in total defense and offense. The Ravens ranked in the Top 10 in total defense in eight of the 10 years under John Harbaugh and were No. 1 in 2018 and No. 2 in points allowed.

  6. Philadelphia has allowed the fewest points per game (15.8) at home since 2016. Baltimore and Minnesota are tied for second (17.0).

  7. The 12th Man resides in Seattle, but he’s been spending an awful lot of time in Arizona. The only problem is: Nobody notices. Since 2006, the most accepted false-start penalties (170) are at the Cards’ State Farm Stadium … not in Seattle. Honest.

  8. Kyle Murray’s start in Arizona makes it 12 consecutive years that a rookie has opened the year as a starting quarterback – the longest streak since at least 1950.

  9. The Chargers were 4-0 without Melvin Gordon last season.

  10. In 15 of the past 16 years, at least one club has gone from last in its division to first – including the 2018 Chicago Bears and Houston Texans. The only season it didn’t happen was 2014.

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