The home team has won 11 of the last 13 Kickoff Games in the NFL. So you know my moneyline pick Thursday night. But let's examine some Patriots-specific game props from various sportsbooks.
Tom Brady O/U 24 Completions, 280.5 Yards, 2.5 TD Passes, .5 Interceptions
Clearly all eyes and TV cameras will be focusing on Brady in this game off his somewhat surprising victory in federal court over the NFL to get Brady's four-game suspension overturned for his supposed role in "Deflategate." This is New England's first home game (that matters) since that all came to light. Obviously Patriots fans think the NFL was just out to get their Golden Boy and they are going to go bonkers for Brady. I am shocked no sportsbook -- Bovada often has unusual ones -- has an "over/under" of mentions of the word "Deflategate" during the game, although I'm sure the NBC guys are just as tired of this as we are.
I have a feeling that Brady will bring playoff-like focus to this one after seeing his reputation dragged through the mud all offseason. And he's facing a Steelers defense that is nowhere near as good as it used to be and breaks in a new coordinator in former linebackers coach Keith Butler. He replaces Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. Three key long-time defenders, Troy Polamalu, Ike Tayler and Brett Keisel, also are gone. Pittsburgh was just 27th against the past last season and allowed 30 TD passes while picking off only 11. This definitely isn't the Steel Curtain. Brady is 3-0 at home all-time vs. the Steelers winning by an average of 20 points or so. Last time the teams met, Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-31 win on Nov. 3, 2013. The Patriots are missing their No. 1 running back, LeGarrette Blount, due to suspension. So Brady might be throwing often. And the Pittsburgh secondary is a major weakness. Two players who were being counted on in 2015, cornerback Cortez Allen and safety Shamarko Thomas, are not expected to be in the starting lineup.
NFL Free Picks: 'OVER' completions, yards and picks & 'UNDER' TD passes as Brady will finish with two.
Rob Gronkowski O/U 6.5 Receptions, 75.5 Yards
Julian Edelman O/U 6.5 Receptions, 72.5 Yards
Danny Amendola O/U 50.5 Yards
If I have one worry about New England this season, other than its secondary, it's a rather thin group of receivers. Gronkowski is of course a tight end and the best in the NFL. He's practically not guardable because he's so big, although the Steelers are claiming they are going to jam him at the line of scrimmage all night. "He has success when people don't put their hands on him," Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said. Easier said than done. Edelman is pretty good, but after that the only other receivers on the active roster are Amendola, Aaron Dobson and undrafted free agent Chris Harper. The Patriots' top receiver from a playing-time perspective in 2014, Brandon LaFell (left foot), opened the year on the physically unable to perform list. When I did Steelers props, I expected Bill Belichick to force anyone but Antonio Brown to beat the Patriots. I'm sure the Steelers would like to eliminate Gronk and force guys like Edelman and Amendola to beat them.
NFL Free Picks: 'OVER' on all but Amendola.
First Touchdown Scorer Overall
It's interesting that none of the sportsbooks, at least as of this writing, have posted Brandon Bolden rushing props for New England. He's presumably the No. 1 running back with Blount suspended. Of course you never know what Belichick might do in the backfield. Remember that 200-yard, four-TD game last season for out-of-nowhere Jonas Gray? He didn't even make the team this season. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen gone, the other running backs on the roster behind Bolden are Dion Lewis, Travaris Cadet and James White -- not exactly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Bolden is +1000 in the NFL odds market to score the first TD of the game. Pittsburgh's favorite is Brown at +600.
NFL Free Pick: Gronkowski at +400.
Successful 2-Point Conversion: No -900, Yes -275
This is the first regular-season game with the new PAT rule, which will be kicked from the 15-yard line and thus is about a 33-yard field goal. They were made about 96 percent of the time in the preseason. The 2-point conversion is still snapped from the 2, but the PAT and 2-pointer are both “live” plays in which the defense can return a fumble or blocked kick to the other end zone for a 2-point play. Two-point conversion attempts were way up in the preseason, but I think that was just coaches trying to get a feel for them; they will get conservative now that the regular season is here. The Patriots were one of the very vocal teams to change the PAT rules.
NFL Free Pick: No. Both teams are missing their top running backs, remember. That could play a role in each head coach deciding to not go for 2.