Great way to kick off the NFL season on Thursday night, and I'm expecting mammoth ratings and betting action as we finally put "Deflategate" past us -- smartly, Commissioner Roger Goodell won't be in attendance on Thursday -- and get to some real football as the Super Bowl champion Patriots host Pittsburgh on NBC. It's two of the best quarterbacks of this era in four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady of the Patriots and two-time champ Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers.
The home team has won 11 of the 13 NFL Kickoff Classics. The two that didn't: San Francisco won at the Giants in the first such game in 2002 and then Dallas at the Giants in 2012.
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Steelers at Patriots Betting Story Lines
Of course you know by now that Brady's four-game suspension was overturned by a federal judge in Manhattan last week. I touched on that last Thursday when it happened, and the line shot up because of it. Ditto the total. Brady had a typically excellent year in 2014, throwing for 4,109 yards and 33 touchdowns. I just worry how reliant he is on Rob Gronkowski, who did manage to stay healthy last year. Brady has season totals of 4,300 yards and 30 TDs at Bovada. I'm surprised WR Reggie Wayne didn't stick with the Patriots. He and the team mutually agreed to part ways this past weekend. The Patriots also are without wide receiver Brandon LaFell for the first part of the season. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list.
There are three important player suspensions to be reminded of here. For Pittsburgh, it's to 2014 team MVP and running back Le'Veon Bell and No. 3 receiver Martavis Bryant. Bell was an absolute monster last season with 290 carries for 1,361 yards and eight scores while catching 83 passes for 854 yards and three TDs. When he missed last season's playoff game against Baltimore, the Steelers' offense wasn't the same. With Bell out, new addition DeAngelo Williams should be the featured back, but I expect plenty of passing. Big Ben had his best season in 2014, setting career highs in completion percentage (67.1), yards (4,952, tying Drew Brees for the league lead) and touchdowns (32). He has totals of 4,400 yards and 29 TDs this year.
Bryant had eight TD catches last year. Also out for Pittsburgh due to injury is Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pounce. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons expects to play through a turf toe injury. Suspended for New England is starting running back LeGarrette Blount. Keep an eye on the status of Patriots center Bryan Stork as well. He's been dealing with a concussion and didn't practice on Monday. Ryan Wendell would start in his place.
The last time these teams met was Week 9 of the 2013 season, also in Foxboro. The Patriots won 55-31. That was the most points ever against the Steelers, and the Patriots' 610 yards of offense were also the most allowed by Pittsburgh. Brady threw for 432 yards and four scores. Gronkowski caught nine balls for 143 yards and a touchdown. Stevan Ridley carries 26 times for 115 yards and two scores. He's now with the Jets. Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards and four scores but also had two picks. Bell carried 16 times for 74 yards. Jerricho Cotchery (now with Carolina) caught three of those Big Ben TD passes.
Steelers at Patriots Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Patriots are 7.5-point favorites (+115) with a total of 52. The Pats are -300 on the moneyline. There are alternate lines currently of 7 (Steelers -115) and 6.5 (Patriots -125). New England was 5-3 against the spread at home last regular season and 5-3 "over/under." Pittsburgh was 4-4 ATS on the road and 3-5 O/U.
The Steelers are 1-8 ATS in their past nine September games. They are 0-4 ATS in their past four season openers. The Patriots are 13-5 ATS in their past 18 at home. The over is 5-1 in Pittsburgh's past six in September. The over is 6-1 in New England's past seven on Thursday. It is 11-5 in its past 16 games overall. The over is 8-2 in the past 10 meetings. Pittsburgh is 3-10 ATS in the past 13 vs. New England.
Free Week 1 NFL Betting Picks: Steelers at Patriots Expert Predictions
Brady holds a 5-2 advantage over Roethlisberger in their previous meetings, which date to 2004. I have major concerns about the Pittsburgh defense. Long-time coordinator Dick LeBeau has moved on with former linebackers coach Keith Butler replacing him. I obviously don't read too much into the preseason, but the Steelers' defense looked pretty bad at times. Four different Bills quarterbacks torched that group. The team drafted outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the first round of this year's draft and cornerback Senquez Golson in the second, but Golson is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Cornerback Brandon Boykin was acquired in an Aug. 1 trade with the Eagles. Remember, too, that potential Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu retired this offseason.
If Brady had remained out, I would have taken Pittsburgh. Not now. Plus the Steelers have never beaten Brady at Foxboro during his career, losing three times by an average of 20 points. I don't think it will be that big of a rout, but I'd give the 6.5 points. Go over the total. I'd go over both of Roethlisberger's season totals but under Brady's.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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