For the 12th straight season, the defending Super Bowl champions get to open the new year with a Thursday night home game that kicks off the season. This time its 2014 AFC North victor Pittsburgh paying a visit to New England.
The defending world titlists have gone 9-2 (6-3-2 ATS) in that span. And for the most part, the openers haven’t pitted champs vs. chumps.
Thursday’s game marks the third season in a row the defending Super Bowl winner will open against a division champ and the seventh time since 2004.
Super Bowl champs have gone 2-2-2 ATS in those games, but 5-1 straight up. The only loss came two years ago when the Ravens weren’t able host the game and lost at AFC West winner Denver, 49-27, as an 8.5-point underdog.
In 2002, Pittsburgh opened the season at New England on MNF after the first of the Patriots’ four titles. Pittsburgh entered as a 2.5-point choice but fell 30-14.
Now for a closer look at Thursday’s game. The odds are provided by Westgate Las Vegas.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Line: Patriots by 7 (52 o/u)
Facts: In their last meeting, a 55-31 Patriots home win in 2013, QB Tom Brady threw for 432 yards and four TDs. It was the most points vs. Pittsburgh in its 81-year history. For fans waking from a lengthy nap, Brady will indeed start after his four-game Deflategate suspension was overturned. Pittsburgh, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger, exceeded 500 yards four times last year. No other team did it more than twice. NE is 10-1 in openers since 2004, but 5-5-1 ATS. That loss came last year when the Pats blew a 20-10 lead in a 33-20 loss at Miami. It was the biggest edge they squandered all season. Pittsburgh will start ex-Carolina standout DeAngelo Williams at RB. NE reportedly will go with Brandon Bolden.
Analysis: This game is as much about who’s playing as who isn’t, not to mention two suspended ball boys. Both teams will be minus their top RBs – Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and NE’s LeGarrette Blount have been suspended by the league. Last season as Steelers teammates, the doobie brothers were arrested together for marijuana possession. Also, Steelers WR Martavis Bryant will begin a four-game PED penalty, and star center Maurkice Pouncey is on IR (ankle). NE also might be without its center, Bryan Stork, who's doubtful (concussion). And top-notch WR Brandon LaFell is out (foot). Given that NE’s secondary has been depleted by the losses of CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, Pittsburgh and WR Antonio Brown (129 catches, 13 TDs in 2014) should be able to stick close to a club that’s gone 44-4 at home the past six years and usually finds a way to win.
Forecast: Patriots 34, Steelers 31
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Email: [email protected].