Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
Foxborough High: 78°F | Low: 63°F
Thursday 8:30Pm (ET) | Get Tickets
Spread: Patriots -6.5 | O/U 52.0
“Deflategate” is dead.
The nonsense is over, the season is here. Let’s go!
Tom Brady boasts a 30-13 record in the month of September, and a 5-2 regular season record against the Steelers with a 18-3 touchdown to interception ratio and a 331 passing yard average.
The Steelers allowed the 6th most fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2014, and that was with Dick LeBeau calling a defense containing Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Jason Worilds. All four have gone, leaving new defensive coordinator Keith Butler no doubt sharing Hayward’s enthusiasm that Brady is back (!).
Despite these factors, this could actually be a good time for the Steelers Defense to face the defending champions. Outside of Brady, (our 6th ranked quarterback) and the consensus number one tight end in fantasy football Rob Gronkowski , the Patriots find themselves short of healthy offensive weapons.
LeGarrette Blount is suspended for week one, denying the Patriots a running back who has scored ten rushing touchdowns in his 21 regular season appearances for the team, leaving Dion Lewis, the owner of 36 regular season carries (for 171 yards) the lead cab off the rank in terms of Patriots running backs. The Steelers were not a generous option for opposition runners in 2014, making Lewis one to ignore this week. The options at wide receiver are not much more appealing. Brandon LaFell has made his way onto the PUP list, and the reliable Julian Edelman is day to day with an ankle injury. This leaves Danny Amendola as the healthiest receiver on the Patriots roster, and his appeal is limited due to the matchup he is likely to face in the slot. Brandon Boykin, late of the Philadelphia Eagles, saw 374 snaps at slot corner for the Birds in 2014, and gave up 41 receptions on 64 targets without allowing a touchdown. If Brady is to come close to his average yardage in this game, it would seem he’ll be relying on Gronk to be the main focus and the other mid-card level surrounding talent to pick up some of the slack.
The Steelers allowed the 13th most fantasy points to tight ends last year, and in Gronk they are facing a man who picked up nearly 0.25 fantasy points per snap in 2014. He has never recorded a touchdown catch on a Thursday night in his career to date, but I’d expect that to change.
Traditionally, the visitors to the Super Bowl champions on Opening Night have resembled lambs to the slaughter, and history suggests this could continue. Big Ben Roethlisberger has a losing record in September, 15-17, and a 3-4 record against the Patriots. His numbers in these games isn’t too shabby, with 16 touchdown passes to five interceptions and an average of nearly 276 yards passing. In his last outing, he threw for 400 yards. Like Brady, he finds himself without many of his first choice supporting cast. Le’Veon Bell, one of the first two players going off the board in redraft leagues, is suspended as a punishment for the same incident that has seen Blount sidelined, and the lead rushing responsibilities seem likely to be given to DeAngelo Williams after he joined the team from the Carolina Panthers this offseason.
The Pats were middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2014, and with defensive anchor Vince Wilfork now in Houston Williams is not a bad RB3/flex play in this outing. Receiver Martavis Bryant is also banned after a series of failed drugs test, leaving Markus Wheaton to partner Antonio Brown. Brown is virtually matchup proof in fantasy football, recording at least ten receptions in all but three games last season (never fewer than six) and posting eight 100 yard receiving games along with his 13 touchdown receptions. Eight of his 28 career scores have come in the month of September. The Patriots defense allowed the 4th fewest fantasy points to wide receivers in 2014, but that defense had Darrelle Revis, Kyle Arrington and Brandon Browner in the defensive backfield. This incarnation has Bradley Fletcher, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Wheaton has little of the big play upside of Bryant, who recorded eight touchdown catches from his 26 receptions last year, but he does offer a steady (if unspectacular) target for Big Ben. He, like Williams, is a flex option at best. An intriguing play could be that of wily veteran tight end Heath Miller. Outside of his regular AFC North opponents and the Titans, the Patriots have been Millers most generous opponents, allowing him to haul in 25 catches in his six matches. They’ve not yet allowed him to enter the end zone, mind.
The Patriots were tenth in terms of points allowed to tight ends last season, and without Bryant or Bell to look for in the red zone, Big Ben could look for his second most proficient target in terms of touchdown passes (Only Hines Ward with 49 touchdowns from Ben has more than Miller’s 39). Miller is available in nearly 75% of NFL.com leagues, and is not a terrible streaming option at fantasy’s most frustrating position.
Fantasy: In My Opinion
In fantasy terms, this isn’t the “grab any option you can” matchup most would have envisioned when the schedule computer spat it out back in April. Of the two QBs on offer, I’d give the edge to Roethlisberger from a sheer volume standpoint. The Steelers may find themselves having to abandon the run and rely on the passing attack early in this contest.
Brady to Gronk is the ultimate stack option, depending on your other QB’s on roster I’d find it hard not to be pumped about this combo.
- Must Starts: Brady, Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Gronk, Julian Edelman
Game Prediction: Patriots 28-20
Check out all Gridiron Experts staff Pigskin Picks for Week One here