New England Patriots begin Super Bowl defence against Pittsburgh Steelers
Watch live on Sky Sports Action or Main Event from 1.10am on Monday; kick-off is at 1.20am
Last Updated: 07/09/19 10:32am
The New England Patriots will unveil their Super Bowl LIII banner when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football, exclusively live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event. Here is what to expect...
Form guide and team news
Pittsburgh (9-6-1 last season) are considered a stable franchise. They stick with their coaches (Mike Tomlin is entering his 13th season), draft well and don’t generally make huge splashes in free agency and the trade market.
So when Le’Veon Bell decided to sit out a season for more money, and Antonio Brown argued with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, skipped practices and was benched in Week 17 last year, the Steelers gladly moved on - even though each player is regarded as one of the best at their positions.
What comes next for Pittsburgh after they barely missed the playoffs last season?
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s Patriots (11-5) won the Super Bowl, but future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, they are without center David Andrews indefinitely after he was diagnosed with blood clots, and they had to place first-round wide receiver N’Keal Harry on Injured Reserve.
However, it is the Patriots. Brady and Belichick got their first of six Super Bowl wins as a duo in 2001, and have been playing with much-changed rosters every season. They have to be considered favourites for yet another year.
Ones to watch
After the departures of Bell and Brown, expect huge seasons from James Conner - who already stepped in and managed 973 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in his first season as starter - and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is in line for a huge bump.
Already with Brown around, Smith-Schuster managed 111 catches, 1,426 yards and seven TDs on 166 targets. All of those numbers could go up. Or conversely, we might see just how important Brown was in taking attention away from him.
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With Gronkowski gone and projected starter Matt LaCosse limited in practice, could Ryan Izzo be New England’s top tight end in Week One? He didn’t see the field (he was on IR) after being drafted in the seventh round last season, but Brady might be forced to look his way.
Then there's the much-maligned Josh Gordon, who has missed the majority of his career due to drug-related suspensions. It has been a long time since he had one of the greatest receiving seasons in history in 2013 (87-1,646-9 in just 14 games for Cleveland).
After missing more time last season, he is back, reinstated and good to go. At 28, he should be entering his athletic prime as a receiver, but can he step up and become a reliable top target for Brady?
Where will the game be won and lost?
When the Patriots lost two of their first three games last season, they looked rusty. In those games, they gave up 894 yards and only managed 511 of their own. How fast can Pittsburgh start?
The Steelers were the last team to beat New England (a 17-10 win at Heinz Field in Week 15) so they are definitely built to challenge the champs, but they will need to get themselves on top right from the opening kickoff.
In that game, Pittsburgh starting running back Jaylen Samuels managed 142 yards, while Sony Michel was limited to just 59. If the Steelers can control the ball and generate long drives to keep the ball out of Brady's hands, it will work in their favour.
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- Roethlisberger and Brady have combined to throw 126,708 pass yards in their careers, or just shy of 72 miles.
- The two QBs have combined for the most games played (485) and wins (351) among opposing QBs entering a game in NFL history.
- Brady is 4-0 vs Roethlisberger at home.
- Smith-Schuster needs 384 receiving yards to surpass Hall of Famer Randy Moss (2,726) for most receiving yards prior to a player's 23rd birthday. He won't turn 23 until November 22, ten games into the 2019 season.
- The Patriots have won 10+ games in 16 consecutive seasons (2003-2018). Ten this season would break a record held by 49ers (1983-98).
- The Patriots are the only team to rank in the top 10 in PPG and PPG allowed in each of the last seven seasons.