NFL 2019 (Week 1): Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
By Jesse Pierson
Special to Pro Football Guru
Thursday night proved to be a bit of a dud, save for those rabid fans who enjoy smothering defense. In that case, the Packers' 10-3 victory over the Bears was a shining beacon amid the sea of touchdowns that is modern football. Super Bowl LIII was similarly defensive in nature, which saw Bill Belichick capture his sixth championship ring as the head coach of the New England Patriots. Belichick's Pats held the Los Angeles Rams to a mere field goal, and now they begin their title defense against Mike Tomlin's Pittsburgh Steelers, who are no strangers to dominant defense, themselves.
Steelers: All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown has had a busy offseason, to put it mildly. Brown's relationship with the organization soured and he demanded a trade. Pittsburgh obliged, sending arguably their best player to Oakland for draft picks. Much of this week's news cycle has been dominated by Brown – whose tenure in Silver and Black was as short-lived as it was dramatic – capped by his demand to be released. Oakland agreed to cut him loose, Pittsburgh has come out of this endeavor smelling like a rose and now Brown is a member of the Patriots. As for current Steelers’ players, Ben Roethlisberger is back under center for his 16th season. He will be flanked by JuJu Smith-Schuster in lieu of Brown, while James Conner resumes his second season as the starting running back in place of the now-departed Le'Veon Bell (who signed with the New York Jets in March). A return to normalcy would certainly be welcome in the Steel City, and first-round pick Devin Bush seems like the best way to get there. Bush allows “Blitzburgh” to be multiple, aggressive and unpredictable on defense with his speed and versatility.
Patriots: Never one to shy away from fast and versatile defenses, Tom Brady enters his astounding 20th season in New England, and he brings a career regular-season record of 8-3 all-time against the Steelers. In those 11 games, Brady has thrown 26 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions. Needless to say, the Patriots do not fear the “Steel Curtain” the way that some teams might. Star tight end Rob Gronkowski retired at the top of the proverbial mountain and his is the most significant loss the team suffered this offseason. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores also departed to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, but Belichick is famously involved in defensive game plans, so don't expect much of a drop in performance on this side of the ball. What may affect New England's performance, however, is the injury bug. Eight players have already been added to the injured reserve, three more have been ruled out, and three others are listed as questionable. To add insult to injury, tight ends Benjamin Watson and Lance Kendricks will be serving suspensions. The Patriots could struggle to find 46 players to dress for this game.
Prediction: As long as Brady and Belichick are employed by the Patriots, they are unlikely to lose many games. Beginning a title defense at home against a team with championship aspirations of their own is not likely to change that. New England jumps out to a fast start with a non-offensive score, Pittsburgh battles back in the second and third quarters, but Roethlisberger is harassed all night and is never able to close the gap.
New England Patriots 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 13
Jesse Pierson (@jessetpierson) is a former teacher and high school football coach who has written about the Colts for over a decade. He loves football, dogs, food, and comedy, and you can follow his work on his Facebook page, Jesse Pierson, Mediocre Writer.