The Patriots open “Sunday Night Football” in a rare position. It is not often that you have the team that won the Super Bowl in a revenge spot in Week 1.
The Steelers were the last team to beat the champs last season, 17-10 in Week 15 as two-point home underdogs. Pittsburgh did so largely behind what was technically their third-string running back, Jaylen Samuels (19 carries, 142 yards), who was starting due to Le’Veon Bell’s holdout and an injury to James Conner.
New England is currently a 5 ¹/₂-point or 6-point favorite, depending on your shop of choice. The total opened at 51 ¹/₂ and has been bet downward to 49. Four of the past five between these clubs have gone under the total, and when you combine that with the slow offensive starts we saw in the Thursday night opener, it’s not a surprise to see sharper bettors coming in on the under.
Both teams will look different than what we saw last season. For the Pats, Rob Gronkowski is retired, which is probably a good thing for the Steelers considering they had a tough time covering him. Gronkowski had eight touchdowns and averaged 97.9 yards per game against the black and yellow over seven regular-season contests. On the Steelers’ side, Bell and Antonio Brown are now elsewhere.
There are favorable trends for both teams. The Patriots are 62 percent ATS since 2003, by far the best in the NFL, and they are 5-0 SU and ATS at home against the Steelers since Tom Brady has been running the show.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, however, has a pretty solid ATS history in his own right, especially as an underdog — he is 34-18-3 against the number in his career. Pittsburgh is also 6-0 ATS in their past six opportunities as an away underdog.
But the Patriots are a different team in September than they are in December, and I believe this will ring true here. In the past couple of seasons, the Pats have been slow starters (2017: 2-2 SU/1-3 ATS; 2018: 1-2 SU/1-2 ATS). They also have their starting center David Andrews on IR, so there is a reshuffling on the offensive line, which often takes a couple of games to get right. Pittsburgh’s pass rush also looks to have picked up where it left off last season. The Steelers led the NFL with 52 sacks last season and had 20 sacks in four preseason games.
The play: Pittsburgh plus the points.
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