Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
When: 8:20 PM ET, Sunday, September 8, 2019
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Massachusetts
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
FOXBORO – No team closes a season better than the New England Patriots and few can match the success at home of the defending Super Bowl champions. The Patriots, winners of six world championships over the past 18 seasons behind future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, begin their bid for a fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
Brady has never lost to the Steelers at Gillette Stadium — where New England was a perfect 8-0 in 2018 — but coach Bill Belichick pointed to the last matchup between the teams, when Pittsburgh ended a five-game skid in the series with a 17-10 victory in Week 15 last season. “We couldn’t score on them last year, so obviously it’s a big challenge for us,” said Belichick, who, like Steelers counterpart Mike Tomlin, must replace his best offensive weapon in retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Pittsburgh also must fill a gaping hole in its offense after trading away star wide receiver Antonio Brown, but the players know the opportunity that awaits them Sunday after missing the playoffs last season with a 9-6-1 record. “It’s a big game. It’s the first game of the year. They are the world champs,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We’re just trying to get to where they have been. It will be exciting for all of us.”
Newly acquired New England WR Antonio Brown will not be active and will be eligible to play in Week 2 of the NFL regular season.
TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Patriots -5.5. O/U: 49.5
ABOUT THE STEELERS (2018: 9-6-1, 2ND IN AFC NORTH): Pittsburgh must replace the massive production of Brown, who surpassed 100 receptions and 1,200 yards in each of the past six seasons. Third-year wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster showed he is capable of a No. 1 role by hauling in 111 passes and scoring seven times in 2018. Roethlisberger threw for 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns last season but also has the luxury of handing off to James Conner, who stepped in for Pro Bowl back Le’Veon Bell and rushed for 973 yards and 12 scores while gathering in 55 receptions and a TD. The Steelers tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, led by T.J. Watt with 13.0, and added another first-round pick in linebacker Devin Bush to the unit.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (2018: 11-5-0, 1st in AFC EAST): The 42-year-old Brady showed little signs of slowing down in 2018, throwing for 4,355 yards and 29 touchdowns despite playing with a patchwork crew of wide receivers. Gronkowski is a huge loss for an offense that has featured the tight end prominently, but Julian Edelman returns after capturing Most Valuable Player honors in Super Bowl LIII with 10 receptions for 141 yards. Running back Sony Michel rushed for 930 yards and six scores as a rookie while backfield mate James White led the team with 87 catches. A defense that held the Rams to three points in the Super Bowl added pass-rushing help in end Michael Bennett and linebackers Jamie Collins and rookie Chase Winovich
- Brady needs one TD pass to suprass Peyton Manning (34) for the second-highest total in season openers.
- Roethlisberger is three wins shy of tying Dan Marino (147) for sixth on the all-time list.
- The Patriots have won at least 10 games in 16 straight seasons, tying San Francisco for the most in league history.