Cleat Geeks

Pittsburgh Steelers vs New England Patriots: Preview, Fantasy, and Prediction

2015-Steelers-Patriots-jpgOn Thursday night, Patriots fans will finally be able to exhale as Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady starts the title-defending season for them under center. Unless you have just been awoken from your seven month slumber, you are plenty aware of the dark cloud that has been hovering over Foxboro this whole offseason. The cloud was so large that it in fact seemed to shadow their tremendous Super Bowl title. All of this drama will soon be whisked away as the Pats raise their fourth banner in just 14 years.

The championship-defending Patriots have no easy tasks as they kick off against the reigning AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams’ defense will be looking differently than they did just a season ago.JH

The Steeler’s long-time Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau decided to depart after 13 seasons with the team to join the Titans. Veteran defensive backs Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor also left, but decided to hang it up and retire in “black and yellow”. The Steelers now have a younger, more athletic defense led by veteran James Harrison. They look to players like Ryan Shazier, Arthur Moats, and Cortez Allen to improve and step up if they want a chance at winning the division. Although there are plenty of questions to ask about the Steelers on this side of the ball, I tend to view them as more of an uncertainty than a weakness at this point.

The Patriots have had a lot of turnover on the defensive side this offseason as they allowed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to join other teams in free agency. There is also a physically large hole left vacant as DT Vince Wilfork decided to break out the overalls and go down to Houston to find some good BBQ. The champs managed to resign Devin McCourty, the heavily-coveted FS, and they return a strong linebacking core. This defense’s obvious weakness is their secondary. Malcolm Butler will have to build off of his Super Bowl performance and become a solid starter if they want to return to the big game.

Both of these teams return the majority of their offensive starters this season. The is great news considering both teams were solid offensively last season. Unfortunately there will be a number of starters in street clothes on the sideline. Pittsburgh will be missing some of their most important starters: RB Le’Veon Bell (Suspended), WR Martavis Bryant (Suspended), and C Maurkice Pouncey (Injured). DeAngelo Williams looks to fill in at RB and turn back the clock to find some explosiveness out of the backfield. Ben Rothlisberger will look to throw often against the Pats’ defense. His favorite target, WR Antonio Brown, will likely have a great night against the inexperienced corners. Big Ben gronkwill also not be afraid to look to his TE Heath Miller as they look to get him more involved.

The Patriots will also be missing three key offensive starters: RB LeGarrette Blount (Suspended), WR Brandon LaFell (Injured), and C Bryan Stork (Injured). The question everyone always has is about the Patriot’s RB situation. Who’s getting the carries this week? Coach Belichick has his little tricks and finds somebody new for each week it seems. Although it should be a committee on Thursday, Brandon Bolden will be the one with value as he is getting the start with James White and Dion Lewis also getting some touches. WR Julian Edelman (who is finally healthy) and Rob Gronkowski (who miraculously starts the season healthy) will give Tom Brady some easy targets as he comes into this game slightly irritated from the offseason fiasco. WRs Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson will also look to take the targets that LaFell would normally get.

Predictions:

I predict that both teams will initially come out and attempt to establish the running game, but fail. This will end up being a pass-happy game where the defenses will show a glimmer of promise at times, but will ultimately come up short. Both QBs will hit the 300 yard mark, but Brady’s weapons will prove to be just slightly more reliable than Big Ben’s. I think the reigning champs will start the season 1-0 as they top the Steelers 31-27.

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