It’s been nearly a quarter century since the Pittsburgh Steelers met the New England Patriots with neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Tom Brady calling plays, and their replacements Sunday may be poor facsimiles.
But in Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin, what they still have are two highly successful coaches who have the longest active tenures with their teams in the NFL, and that matchup itself should make Sunday afternoon’s game in Pittsburgh interesting.
The Steelers won an overtime thriller in Cincinnati in their opener Sunday due to defense and special teams play, while the Patriots looked very un-Belichick-like in blundering their way to a 20-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Yet oddsmakers are giving New England a lot more respect for this second game.
Though it will be the Steelers’ opener at newly named Acrisure Stadium, they were generally listed by online sportsbooks Friday morning as 2-point underdogs. The exception that a Steelers backer would be smart to consider is FanDuel, which was using a 2.5-point spread with a little extra juice at -112 to take Pittsburgh.
Betfred was offering the best moneyline return on the Steelers at +115, with BetRivers not far behind at +114. The over/under was generally set at 40.5, among the lowest for Sunday’s NFL slate, and BetRivers and other Kambi-supplied sites — including Unibet and TwinSpires — dipped even lower than that to 40, with added vig at -114.
Watt out, Harris and Jones in
Both teams had injury concerns from Week 1 action, with the clearest being the Steelers’ loss of 2021 Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt — likely for a month at minimum — with a torn pectoral muscle. He was part of a dominating defense against the Bengals that resulted in seven sacks and five takeaways last Sunday.
“I tore my pec”
Please no. Don’t take TJ Watt from us pic.twitter.com/wbXqSAtDTf
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) September 11, 2022
It initially seemed Najee Harris might have suffered a serious foot injury, which would leave Pittsburgh’s running game dependent on undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren, but Harris has deemed himself ready to play Sunday. Even so, the Steelers continue to have offensive line troubles, a large factor in Harris gaining just 23 yards on 10 carries last Sunday.
The Patriots’ injury concerns centered on second-year quarterback Mac Jones, who suffered back spasms in the loss in Miami. He is expected to play Sunday, though the Pats’ offense was largely ineffective in the opener, amassing just 271 total yards and turning the ball over three times.
Damien Harris led New England in rushing with 48 yards on nine carries, and Jakobi Meyers led it in receiving with four catches for 55 yards. Jones completed 21 of 30 passes for 213 yards with a TD and interception, the kind of blah day not drastically different from Steelers starter Mitch Trubisky (21 of 38 for 194 yards and a TD).
Neither QB is likely to ever have his team’s fans forgetting Brady or Roethlisberger, but they are counted on to manage games and avoid turnovers while letting stellar defenses win games. Trubisky at least managed that much on Sunday, while Jones did not.
If the game somehow comes down to those coaches — one of them probably the best in NFL history and the other one of the most successful in this century (never with a losing season) — Belichick has an all-time record of 12-4 vs. the Steelers while Tomlin is 3-8 against New England. They won’t be making plays on the field, but TV viewers can expect to see a lot of attention focused on them on the sidelines.
Photo: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY