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Statschecker highlights five important factors to consider as the Steelers go to New England to face the defending Super Bowl champs
ANALYSIS

Sunday night represents the first time the Steelers will take the field without Antonio Brown on their roster in quite some time. Everyone in Pittsburgh is selling us the idea that the controversial wide receiver’s departure will yield addition by subtraction. Forgive me if I’m not totally buying that notion.

To make things more complicated for Mike Tomlin, his team opens the season with a difficult trip to Foxborough. In some ways it’s better to play New England early in the season. Bill Belichick doesn’t want to tip his hand so far ahead of the postseason. It’s still not going to be a picnic to try to stop Tom Brady and company.

Before you make your wager on Sunday Night Football, you need to consult our new statistics site for the match-up. Read on to discover X pieces of information you should know before you lay down your bet.

1. The Patriots are outstanding at home

I told you that playing at New England was tough, but I didn’t tell you just how difficult going to Foxbourough and winning really is. The Patriots have won their last 16 games at Gillette Stadium. That clearly presents a massive challenge for the Steelers.

New England’s ability to dominate opponents at home makes it easy to understand why Pittsburgh is a 5.5 point underdog in this game. The Steelers will need to take the crowd out of this one early to have any chance of springing an upset.

2. The Steelers like to cover as road underdogs

With all due respect to the Patriots’ sterling win/loss record at home, that doesn’t mean they’re the proper bet to play in this match-up. Since 2016, Pittsburgh is 6-1 against the spread when they are road underdogs.

Of course, that was with the likes of Brown and Le’Veon Bell in the fold. It will be more challenging for Tomlin’s team to cover while relying on James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Still, having Ben Roethlisberger under center gives the Steelers a fighting chance of keeping this one close. Don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh finds a way to move the ball consistently against the New England defense.

3. New England dominated against the spread last season

The Patriots didn’t just squeak by the opposition last year. The vast majority of the time they emerged with decisive victories. To that point, you should know New England went 12-7 against the spread last season. That was good for third in the NFL.

That fact really shouldn’t surprise you given all of the firepower Brady and company sport on offense. Josh Gordon’s return to the lineup should only make them more dangerous in 2019. The Steelers have serious question marks in the secondary heading into this season. Brady might see an opportunity to feast against this inconsistent group.

4. Don’t underestimate the Patriots’ defense

One of the more interesting nuggets found on our stats page for this game is New England’s shoddy record in terms of hitting the over. They went under 12 out of their 19 games last year. That was good for 30th in the league.

Some of that is due to Belichick’s preference to control the ball and bleed out games when he has a lead. The rest of it can be chalked up to his brilliant defensive game plans.

Remember though, he’s not going to show Pittsburgh his postseason game plan in the opening week of the season. Belichick’s preference to keep things simple early in the year gives this game a real opportunity to buck this trend.

5. Watch Sony Michel early

Brady and the passing game may take this game over late, but the Patriots will try to establish the run early. That means Sony Michel is going to get plenty of chances to hurt the Steelers defense. That’s particularly interesting since Michel has scored the first touchdown in four of his last five games.

If the Patriots are able to get their ground game going early they will be impossible to stop. Tomlin and his defensive staff must focus on taking Michel away in the first quarter. That runs counter to what you think you need to do against Brady, but history shows that Michel is the guy to key on early.

There’s a ton of information out there for you to consider before making your wager on this game, but make sure our stats site is on your list of places to go before risking your hard-earned cash. There’s too much valuable information here to ignore.

By Rucker Haringey

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