SNF: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots Pick ATS
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1 SU, 8-7-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (14-5 SU, 12-7 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday, September 8th, 8:20 PM
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
Point Spread: PITT +6 / NE -6
Over/Under Total: 51
In the opening week matchup on Sunday Night Football, the Patriots host the Steelers in Foxboro in their first game since winning the Super Bowl last season. The teams are an even 16-16 against each other in their series history. That said, it is New England who has the clear upper hand of late going 12-4 over their last sixteen matchups.
SECOND HALF MELTDOWN
Pittsburgh will be looking to start the season off strong and get rid of the bad taste in their mouth from how 2018 ended. After beginning their year with a 7-2 record, the team went into the tank over the second half of the season, eventually finishing with a 9-6-1 record and missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2013. This year there will be a new-look offense with both LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown having moved on from the team, and with Bell and Brown both gone Steelers fans are hoping head coach Mike Tomlin can finally get some sort of control over the locker room, something that has evaded him for years and shines a light on just how average of a coach he really is.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
After Bell sat out last season backfield duties went to James Connor, and he exceeded most expectations, rushing for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns while also contributing 55 receptions for 497 yards and another score. Jaylen Samuels ended up filling in for Connor over the last three weeks of the season and did well in his place, so it is reasonable to expect that both will have a great chance to help improve on a rushing offense that finished 31st in the NFL last year.
There will be plenty of targets available amongst the receiving corps with Antonio Brown having moved on after last year putting up 104 receptions on 168 targets and 1,297 yards with 15 touchdown receptions. JuJu Smith-Schuster is easily the best of Ben Roethlisberger’s options after leading the team in receiving yards with 1426 last season. Free-agent signee Donte Moncrief and second-year wideout James Washington are expected to start opposite Smith-Schuster and Washington will be hoping to form a better rapport with his quarterback after catching just 16 of 38 targets in his rookie year.Ben Roethlisberger enters his 16th season in the league and with Brown gone he’ll be relied upon to help spread the ball around and restart their new-look offense. Last year Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards with 5129 but also threw a league-leading 16 interceptions while continuing to lead all AFC quarterbacks in sexual assault allegations with two. The team will hope to provide some relief with a better rushing attack, which should alleviate the pressure on the passing game and help ease players like James Washington into a bigger role.
While the Steelers season ended with underachievement, the Patriots, on the other hand, closed out theirs by winning their third Super Bowl in the past five years. The offseason saw the expected retirement (for now) of Rob Gronkowski, but a majority of their key pieces are back including the best coach and quarterback in league history, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. With those two, a well-rounded roster including a rapidly improving defense and an opportune schedule, New England finds themselves in their now yearly position of being a near lock to at least make the conference championship game.
Some thought the Patriots would suffer after the departure of former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, but they have only gotten better since he left for the Lions and this season appears to be on track to be one of the top units in the league. The defensive backfield led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, considered by many to be the now best at his position in the league. Joining Gilmore are the McCourty brothers Devin and Jason, who along with Duron Harmon and possibly Patrick Chung round out the rest of the group. Upfront they lost Trey Flowers and Malcolm Brown, but free-agent signee Michael Bennett and third-round pick Chase Winovich should help offset their departure alongside stalwart Deatrich Wise. Dont’a Hightower remains the linebacker leader in the middle, and the team also returns Jamie Collins after a three-year stint in Cleveland.
A CHANGE IN FOCUS
While Tom Brady may be the first thing people think of when it comes to the Patriots, it is their rushing attack that looks like it could be a further focus after the teams’ success on the ground after losing Rob Gronkowski to injury last season. The ended up finishing the year ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards per game and with a grouping of Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, and Rex Burkhead, they certainly have the ability to match that success again.
With Rob Gronkowski gone there are plenty of targets available, and as of now, it appears that talented Josh Gordon will be ready to go to start the season and join the always reliable Julian Edelman as the main options for Brady in the passing game. The team drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round, and he will be amongst the other targets alongside Phillip Dorsett and UDFA rookie Jakobi Meyers.
THE FINAL DECISION
For a non-divisional matchup, the Patriots and Steelers bring a high amount of dislike into nearly every one of their games, which only adds to the atmosphere in front of what should be a fired-up Foxboro crowd to start the Sunday Night Football season. New England has won five of the last six games at home against Pittsburgh, with their only loss going back to 2008 when Tom Brady was injured for the season, and Matt Cassell was the starting quarterback. With a better roster, a significant edge in the coaching category and a distinct home-field advantage, I can not imagine the Patriots losing this game and believe strongly that they will get the week one win and cover against the Steelers.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -6 at the majority of the sportsbooks or save point and wager at -5 at 5Dimes.
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