September 10th. If you haven’t already, mark the date. That’s when the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots begin the defense of their title at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’ll be quite an intriguing matchup right off the bat for the revamped Pats, one which should give a good sense of how the team’s altered secondary will fare in the upcoming season.
That unit, of course, will be without departed corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Revis turned the secondary into one of the Pats’ strengths last season, and while they added quantity with the signings of Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain to compete with incumbents Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, they clearly lack the quality.
According to the current NFL betting line on the game against the Steelers, the Pats are still a healthy touchdown favorite over Pittsburgh at home. But the fact that Revis won’t be there to shut down (or at least slow down) a top receiver like Antonio Brown, who led the NFL with 1,698 receiving yards last season, makes the Steelers a dangerous road underdog.
The Steelers were a playoff team last year, in large part because of a prolific passing attack that averaged 302 yards per game, second only to the Indianapolis Colts. Ben Roethlisberger set new career-highs in completion percentage (67 percent) passing yards (4,952) and touchdowns (32) thanks to explosive receiving weapons like Brown, Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell.
But the Pats are pretty good on offense themselves, even with a couple of question marks left with the offensive line and the void left by the departure of Shane Vereen. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are still around, and the Steelers’ defense – particularly its secondary – is in significantly worse shape than the Pats’.
Whatever happens in Week 1 against the Steelers, though, it’s important to learn last year’s main lesson, which is to not overreact. Everyone was quick to call the end of an era after the Pats’ O-line got demolished by the Chiefs; they eventually came together and helped win the Super Bowl.