7:10 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Steelers -1.5, Over/Under: 49
A wildly competitive opening weekend comes to a close tonight with a marquee matchup in the Nation’s Capital, as the Washington Redskins host the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEx Field. 2015 was a season of “What Could Have Been” for Pittsburgh, who despite advancing to the Postseason for the second consecutive year, rarely got to enjoy a truly healthy complement of players, as many of thier top playmakers missed multiple games due to injury, and therefore rarely got there opportunity to share he field at the same time. And for the denizens of Steel City, that nauseating feeling permeating in Western Pennsylvania must be deja vu. It’s been an Offseason of attrition for the Steelers, who despite boating one of the most explosive offenses in the league these days, must start the campaign without a number of key contributors. Simply put, injuries and suspensions have devastated this playmaking corps; Pro Bowl Tailback Le’Veon Bell (692 total yards and 3 TD in six games last year) is due to miss the first three games of the season courtesy of yet again running afoul of the league’s Substance Policy, while Wideout Martavis Bryant (50 catches, 765 yards, 6 TD in 2015) has been lost for the entirety of 2016 due to similar reasons. However, Mike Tomlin and his Staff knew they were going to be without those two players from the onset, but what the tenured skipper didn’t expect was to be without the next guy on the totem pole, Markus Wheaton (44 catches, 749 yards, 5 TD in 2015), who has been pronounced out for tonight’s tilt with an ailing shoulder. Furthermore, Left Tackle Marcus Gilbert continues to be hampered by the ill-effects of an elbow injury suffered in the Preseason, and is labeled as Questionable. Entering his thirteenth season, Roethlisberger is coming off a tremendous campaign, in which he accumulated career-highs in Yards per Game (328.2), Quarterback Rating (76.86), and Net Yards per Attempt (7.76), despite missing four games due to an assortment of injuries. In fact, last season marked the second consecutive term in which Big Ben led the NFL in average passing yards, while the Offense in general ranked fourth overall in scoring (26.4) and third overall in total yards (409.2). Of course, it doesn’t hurt having the talents of one Antonio Brown at their disposal, as the prolific Receiver continues his assault on the league. For the second straight season, Brown led the league in catches hauling in 136 passes for 1,834 yards and ten touchdowns, posting a staggering nine 100-yard games. To give you an idea on just how productive the seventh-year veteran has been, over the last three seasons he has totaled 375 receptions, 5,031 yards, and thirty-one touchdowns. Indeed, he and Roethlisberger have become one of the most lethal passing combinations in the game today. Keep an eye on these two against Washington’s revamped Secondary, in what is sure to a matchup tailor-made for the bright lights of Monday Night.
Meanwhile, it’s been a good minute since there was reasonably this much anticipation revolving around the Redskins, who are fresh off of winning their first division title since 2012. Now, understandably, there is trepidation within the fan base considering how the team performed the following season, devolving into the RG3/Mike Shanahan Soap Opera. With that said, this year feels different, as Washington legitimately feels like they can build off thier previously successful campaign. A big reason for that is the return of Kirk Cousins under Center, who after posting career-highs in a wealth of categories, signed his Franchise Tender and will attempt to prove his worth once more in 2016. It was a very intelligent bit of business from a Front Office that hasn’t been associated with such behavior in the past; while Cousins played very well last year, the Redskins want to see more before making a lengthy investment in the fifth-year pro. Going 9-7 as the starter, Cousins led the league in Completion Percentage (69.8%), while totaling 4,166 passing yards, with twenty-nine touchdowns opposed to eleven interceptions, and posting a solid 70.05 Quarterback Rating, validating Head Coach Jay Gruden’s decision to install him as the permanent starter, which finally signaled the end of the RG3 Era. Furthermore, he proved to be a far more effective Quarterback at the friendly confines of FedEx Field, where he went 6-2 as the starter, throwing sixteen touchdowns to just two interceptions, while connecting on 74.7% of his attempts. Now it’s up to the confident gun-slinger to prove that last year was no fluke, and with an improved Offensive Line protecting him along with a bevy of explosive talent in the passing game to utilize (Tight End Jordan Reed and his 952 yards and eleven touchdowns in particular), his prospects have never been this favorable. But that’s not he only reason for optimism in Washington, as the arrival of All-Pro Cornerback Josh Norman has the defense trending upward. Indeed, it was a miraculous acquisition for a player that nobody planned on being available in the first place; Norman refused to play under the Franchise Tag that Carolina hit him with in the Offseason, causing the reigning NFC Champions to pull the offer altogether and make him a Free Agent in the process. Ultimately, the brash defender chose to take his considerable talents to the Nation’s Captial, where he at least on paper vastly improves a Secondary that was full of holes last season. The Redskins yielded an average of 258.0 yards through the air (25th Overall) on 6.8 net yards per attempt (26th Overall), along with thirty passing touchdowns (22nd Overall) compared to registering eleven interceptions (21st Overall). Norman’s arrival will likely move veteran Corner DeAngelo Hall to Safety, and afford up and comer Beshaud Breeland (2 INT, 16 PD, 3 FF) the luxury of covering more No. 2 Receivers. It’s not outrageous to think that this guy will have such an impact on this unit given his track record; only years of age, Norman is just entering the prime of career, after putting together a memorable season logging four interceptions, eighteen deflected passes, and scoring two touchdowns. Think of the impact that great Cornerbacks have had on the teams they transition to; Deion Sanders won Super Bowls in each of his first seasons with San Francisco and Dallas, while Darrelle Revis played a huge role in New England’s Super Bowl two years ago. Now we’re not predicting the Redskins to hoist the Lombardi Trophy or anything, but stranger things have happened…
Predicted Outcome: Redskins 27, Steelers 21