The New England Patriots typically end the season just fine, but they don’t always start fast.
It has become accepted that New England takes the early part of the season to figure things out. They started 1-2 in 2018. They lost the opener at home in 2017 and started 2-2. In 2014, they were 2-2 after four games. The Patriots then got much better and made the Super Bowl each of those seasons.
The problem for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots’ opponent on Sunday night, is they have a habit of starting slow too.
According to OddsShark, the Steelers are 1-6-1 against the spread in Week 1 over the last eight years. Some trends are more important than others, but that one seems worthwhile. Of course, the Steelers look a little different this year.
While the Antonio Brown story continues to churn, it must be said that the Steelers look a lot smarter now for trading him at what appeared to be far less than what he was worth. Addition by subtraction might be blissful for the Steelers. We’ve heard a lot less drama from their locker room this year.
The Patriots had a good August, getting Josh Gordon back and seeing 2018 first-round picks Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel look healthy. Though, center David Andrews’ bout with blood clots is scary and might be a problem for New England’s offense.
I’ll take the Steelers to keep it close, covering the 5.5-point spread. Pittsburgh still has a lot of talent. There’s a lot to like about New England, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots take some time to get adjusted to a new roster. They should win, but in a competitive game.
Here are the rest of the picks for Week 1 (as usual, the lines used are from the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em):
Ravens (-6.5) over Dolphins: Back for another year competing in the famous Westgate SuperContest out of Las Vegas, and here’s hoping this year is better than last. This Ravens pick is square and chalky and that’s OK. I can’t imagine the Dolphins are too fired up for the season to start. Players are smart and they know they’re getting the “Major League” treatment with this stripped down roster. When coach Brian Flores says the Dolphins have a starting offensive line in mind “for the most part,” I don’t even think he’s kidding. They might not really know for sure. This will be a mess of a season and the Ravens roll. (The line is Ravens minus-7 on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Panthers (+2.5) over Rams: I was excited to make this a SuperContest play for weeks when the line was 3 points or more ... then the Westgate released the line at 2.5 points, under that key number of 3. Sigh. I’ll still go with the Panthers, hoping that Cam Newton is healthy. They’ll be good this season, and the Rams could have some “sit all preseason” Week 1 malaise. Also it’s a long trip and an early start for them.
Jets (-3) over Bills: It seems the football world has taken sides: You must like one of these teams to have a breakout this season. If you read enough preview material, you’ll see plenty of people picking one or the other as a surprise playoff team. Including me. I can see all the arguments for the Bills being that team, but I prefer the Jets because I think Sam Darnold will take a big step this season. The Jets’ long Week 1 injury list is a little worrisome though.
Texans (+7) over Saints: I’m not the biggest fan of the Texans’ recent moves, but I still like Deshaun Watson a lot and this seems like too many points to give him.
Broncos (pick ’em) over Raiders: As of Friday morning there was nothing official about Antonio Brown’s status, but I’m assuming he doesn’t play. If he does play, I’m assuming the rest of the Raiders will be less than thrilled. Either way, Denver’s defense looked better than I figured in the preseason, from the little we saw of it. Maybe it should have been expected, because Vic Fangio is really good. I don’t think Oakland will be able to protect Derek Carr. (The line is Broncos minus-1 on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
And the rest of the picks ...
Packers (+3) over Bears (picked Thursday): Not exactly the way I envisioned it playing out, but I’ve been excited about the Packers all offseason and a big reason is the work they did on the defense. This is going to be a quality team all season.
Titans (+5.5) over Browns: This is probably the pick I struggled with most. I’d like to fade the Browns because the entire world seems to love them coming into the season, but the Titans are a tough team to back. Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan’s suspension is especially rough in this game against a talented Browns defensive line. I’ll take the points and not feel great about it.
Vikings (-4) over Falcons: The Julio Jones story got a little weird this week. Last week the Falcons’ own site was proclaiming an extension was close, and it dragged on to the point of Jones making confusing comments about whether he’d play and talking about an injury. Even without that I might prefer the Vikings, who seem like a good bounce-back candidate after a nice dose of regression in 2018.
Redskins (+9.5) over Eagles: I can’t say I feel good about Washington here, but that’s a lot of points for Week 1, and in general I’ll probably fade the teams that play nobody in preseason for the opening week (though I think blowing off the preseason is the smart way to go).
Jaguars (+3.5) over Chiefs: One of the more interesting games on the board. I don’t love picking against the Chiefs because they can put 40 points on anyone, even this Jaguars defense. But I do think Jacksonville’s defense will feel reborn because the Jacksonville offense shouldn’t be such an anchor with Nick Foles at quarterback. A really fun Week 1 game.
Colts (+6.5) over Chargers: The Colts can still win the AFC South. Who else do you really like in that division? Jacoby Brissett isn’t Andrew Luck, but he’s not bad and has a really good team around him. I think the Colts rally around him. With the Chargers’ various issues and their tendency to screw things up, it wouldn’t even shock me if the Colts won this game. Don’t give up on Indianapolis yet.
Bengals (+9.5) over Seahawks: I don’t love Cincinnati in this spot, but Seattle likes to run the ball and that keeps games close. Besides, two-thirds of survivor pool players will be on Seattle this week, and you know what that usually means.
Giants (+7) over Cowboys: The Giants actually weren’t that bad in the second half of last season. I don’t love the rash of receiver injuries and suspensions, but it’s a team I thought might be a touch underrated coming into the season.
Lions (-2.5) over Cardinals: I understand that we didn’t see the Cardinals’ full playbook in preseason, or anything close. But that also doesn’t mean they’ll be functioning at full throttle in Week 1 either. The Lions aren’t that bad, Matt Patricia is a smart defensive coach, and I want to see the Cardinals function at a high level with coach Kliff Kingsbury’s new offense before backing them.
49ers (pick ’em) over Buccaneers: Tough game to call. The 49ers didn’t inspire a ton of confidence in the preseason, but it also looked like the Buccaneers might not be able to block anyone. Jameis Winston probably throws for 330 yards in a loss, which is a theme we’ll see repeat itself many times this season.
Season to date: 1-0
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