The NFL’s Regular Season kicks off on Thursday night when the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers get it on at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
For several months we thought that the big suspension in this game would be to Patriots QB Tom Brady for his alleged part in the Deflategate scandal, but the real Suspensions that will affect this game are actually Steelers’ RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Martavis Bryant and Patriots’ RB LeGarrette Blount, all for Drug policy violations. So with the Point Spread in this game now at -7, is taking New England a good NFL pick?
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots [Friday 01:30] (NBC, 8:30 p.m. EDT/5:30 p.m. PDT): The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (12-4, 468 PF-313 PA) welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5, 436 PF-368 PA) to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro in the first game of the NFL Regular Season as Week 1 and the new season get underway.
Right now (Wednesday afternoon), the Patriots are solid 7-point favorites here in Las Vegas (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) and pretty much everywhere else Offshore and Online. When this game was released in late April, the SuperBook opened the Patriots up as 6-point favorites, and then the supposed 4-game suspension to New England QB was announced, sending the line plummeting down to as low as -2½ with perception Tom Terrific might be serving the first of his four-game Suspension here against Pittsburgh in the opener. Wrong. After the news last Friday that Judge Richard Berman overturned the 4-game Suspension to Brady levied by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the line opened back up at -7 NFL odds and here we are. The Total in this high-profile game now ranges from 51 to 52 while on the Money Line, the favored Patriots are now priced at -300 with the Steelers lined at +264 on the takeback (Pinnacle).
The New England Patriots Team Total has been set at 29½ (Ladbrokes) for this game while the Pittsburgh Steelers Total has been set at 22½ at Ladbrokes and at 22 at Stan James. These numbers hint at a high-scoring game, but a sluggish First Half could cripple Over bettors as without Blount, Bell, and Bryant, there will be backups trying to carry workloads of these normally reliable players.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4 Preseason, 73 PF-122 PA) are hoping the Regular Season isn’t going to be as bad as the Preseason was where the Black and Gold only registered one win and saw starting Center Maurkice Pouncey (Left Fibula/Ankle) suffer a serious injury in a Preseason game against the Tennessee Titans on a freak play where he was actually hit by his own man. The Steelers are hoping to have Pouncey back in Week 12. Pittsburgh’s Defense also looked porous in the Preseason, and the loss of Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau (Titans) may hurt as much than the recent retirements of Defensive players like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith and Ike Taylor.
What was once a proud part of this team—solid Defense—is now just a distant memory and maybe betting the Overs in Steelers games is worth watching? We’ll see soon enough. Pittsburgh (28/1 to win Super Bowl, Sky Bet)—up from 18/1 just a week ago—comes into this game down for a number of reasons and the Steelers may even be a little worn out from having played one more Preseason game than everyone else except the Minnesota Vikings, whom they played in the Hall of Fame Game.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin (68-67-2 ATS) and the Steelers will also be without the services of their best RB (Le’Veon Bell) and second-best WR (Martavis Bryant) who are both serving Suspensions for violating the NFL’s Drug Policy (smoking marijuana) so Free Agent-signee DeAngelo Williams (Panthers) and star WR Antonio Brown will probably be Pittsburgh’s heavily used skill position players on Thursday. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (41-42 ATS Away) will look to also reliable TE Heath Miller and WR Markus Wheaton, but this Offense just won’t be the same without Bell and Bryant in the lineup.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots (2-2 Preseason, 63 PF-74 PA, 0-2 Home) will be without the services of starting RB LeGarrette Blount (Violation of league’s substance abuse policy) and after letting go of backup RB Jonas Gray earlier this week, New England will be looking to Dion Lewis, James White and Brandon Bolden for carries here against the not-so Steel Curtain. And expect Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick (151-113-5 ATS) to rally the troops and try to use the Deflategate fiasco not only to his team’s advantage in this game, but for the entire Regular and likely Postseason.
The last time this team was embroiled in a cheating controversy, they came within one play of a Super Bowl championship and an undefeated season, so, being “pissed off” in sports can never be rated enough by oddsmakers. We all saw how things worked out when NBA foes pissed Michael Jordan off. Anger is sometimes good and Anger can be your best friend if you channel him rightly. (Yes, Anger’s obviously a “he”.) And expect the site (Gillette Stadium) here and rowdy New England fans to really help the hosts here. And with receiving targets like WRs Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots will probably throw 2 out 3 Offensive plays with Blount suspended although WR Brandon LaFell (Foot) is still nursing an injury and starts the new season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.
New England (8/1 to win Super Bowl, bet365) did lose an awful lot of starts at the CB position over the Offseason and losing a stud CB like Darrelle Revis (Signed as Free Agent with New York Jets) as well as NT Vince Wilfork (Signed as Free Agent with Houston Texans) can never be a good thing for a Defense (Patriots Defense allowed 20 ppg in 2014), although New England (3/1 to win AFC, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) did select Texas DL Malcom Brown with the 32nd Pick in Round 1 of the NFL Draft and the club and pundits are expecting wonderful things from him. Like last year’s championship season, this team may have to simply try to outscore opponents.
Series Numbers, Recent Relevant Trends and Game Expectations
The New England Patriots are 9-14 SU Lifetime against the Pittsburgh Steelers (492 PF-543 PA), but the Patriots have W8 of L11 meetings in this series in these Brady and Belichick years, including the last meeting two years ago (2013) here in New England where the Patriots defeated the Steelers, 55-31 here at Gillette Stadium as 5½-point favorites in Week 9. Trend-wise, the Patriots are an impressive 9-3 ATS L12 vs. Steelers and New England is 5-2 ATS L7 against Pittsburgh here at Home at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
With the Patriots losing their Week 1 game last season at Miami (Dolphins 33-20), don’t expect New England (7-1 SU at Home in 2014) to be caught off-guard and with all of the emotion of the Deflategate crap finally ending, a healthy and deep Roster, the dreaded Preseason behind them and the game at Home, almost everything favors the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots here—even all of the problems with the Steelers (lousy Preseason, Defensive retirements, DC Dick LeBeau leaving for Tennessee, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant Suspensions, Maurkice Pouncey’s Injury).
Pittsburgh (9-3 SU vs. AFC in 2014) may have some trouble scoring here on Thursday night while Brady will try to get new guys like backup TEs Michael Hoomanawanui and Scott Chandler and WRs Aaron Dobson, Brian Tyms and Kevin Dorsey into the flow. But Brady’s main targets—as always—will be his buddy and big TE Rob Gronkowski and his productive and reliable water-bug receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. The able hands of those three guys specifically are where NFL championships are won. Always remember that, especially if you’re a Patriots Hater—like so many NFL fans and sports bettors end up being. (This is irrational, but very Human.)
Expect the New England Offense (30 ppg in 2014) to put up some points in whatever way it can while Pittsburgh should be giving the ball to new Free Agent-signee RB Williams (Panthers) often and throwing it to superstar WR Brown and TE Miller as much as possible. The Steelers should near the 20-point mark in this game, but the way Pittsburgh’s Defense looked in the Preseason, the departure of all those great Defensive players as well as solid Defensive Coordinator LeBeau may really end up being the big story when all is finally said and done.
Predicted Final Score: New England Patriots 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 19
NFL Pick: Patriots -7 (-104) at Pinnacle