The nuclear winter that is the NFL offseason ends Thursday night as New England begins defense of its title against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are some Steelers prop picks from various sportsbooks.
DeAngelo Williams 'Over/Under' 60.5 Rushing Yards
Williams To Score A TD And Steelers Win: +600
Why am I starting this story about Pittsburgh's backup running back, a past-his-prime Williams, instead of superstars like Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell or receiver Antonio Brown? Because, unless you have been living in a cave, you should know that Bell, the team MVP last season, is suspended the first two games of the season. His loss can't be overstated -- just look how that Pittsburgh offense fared in the home playoff loss last season to Baltimore when Bell was out injured, and how the odds favor New England Thursday Night. The Steelers didn't have a good backup to Bell then so that's why they inked the career Carolina Panther Williams this offseason. He looks done at age 32, however. Williams played in only six games last season due to injuries and averaged 3.5 yards per carry on his 62 touches. He's not much of a threat as a receiver. But the Steelers are going to have to run the ball somewhat to keep the Patriots honest. The Pats ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 104.3 yards per game in 2014.
NFL Free Picks: 'UNDER' yards and no on that yes-only prop. Williams might score, but I don't see Steelers winning.
Ben Roethlisberger O/U 24.5 Completions, 290.5 Yards, 1.5 Passing TDs
Roethlisberger Will He Throw A Pick: Yes -200, No +165
Roethlisberger 'Over' 350 Passing Yards: +200
You will see a variety of passing yardage totals for Big Ben -- I took the lowest once I saw, which was at William Hill. Roethlisberger will be missing a target in No. 3 receiver Martavis Bryant, who had eight touchdown catches (only 26 total receptions after getting a late start) in 2014. He is suspended the first four games of the season. I said above that the Steelers will try to run to keep the Patriots honest. And I'm sure they will try, but I don't see it working; also keep in mind that Pittsburgh Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is out at least half the season due to injury. So Roethlisberger will be throwing. A lot. He set a career high with 608 attempts and 408 completions last year. Big Ben still has two fine receivers in Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton, plus tight end Heath Miller. The Patriots were 17th in pass defense last year, but their secondary lost a few key guys, most notably Darrelle Revis. No way it's as good now.
NFL Free Picks: 'OVER' completions, yards and TDs, yes on picks. Take a shot on 350 yards.
Antonio Brown O/U 7.5 Receptions, 104.5 Yards
Markus Wheaton O/U 4.5 Receptions, 54 Yards
Heath Miller O/U 4.5 Receptions, 40.5 Yards
Brown almost won the receiving Triple Crown last year, topping the NFL with 129 catches and 1,698 yards and finishing tied for second with 13 TD catches (all were Steelers records). He also holds a current NFL record for consecutive regular-season games with at least five receptions and 70 receiving yards at 18 in a row. He's a stud. But with Bell (a huge threat as a pass-catcher out of the backfield) and Bryant out, I am double-teaming this guy all night if I'm the Patriots. The Steelers will move Brown across the formation to keep him perhaps away from the opponent's top cornerback. That's Malcolm Butler, the Super Bowl hero, now on the Patriots. During the preseason, the Pats just kept Butler on the left side. So if Brown isn't lined up there, some combo of Bradley Fletcher, Tarell Brown and Logan Ryan would have to deal with Brown. I think Bill Belichick, a pretty good defensive mind, takes Brown away. That could mean a big night for Wheaton (53 catches, 644 yards, two TDs last year), Miller and former first-round Raiders bust Darrius Heyward-Bey.
NFL Free Picks: 'UNDER' both for Brown, 'OVER' both for Wheaton and Miller.