The Week 1 Thursday Night Football' season opener is a matchup that both the Steelers and Patriots have circled on their calenders. It's shaping up to be an exciting matchup between two AFC juggernauts, filled with many questions that can only be addressed once these teams hit the field. Will the Steelers dynamic offense hold up without Le'Veon Bell? Can the Patriots pass defense recover from all of the offseason losses? The Steelers dwindling defense, can they return to their previous glory?
While there are many questions surrounding the two teams, one thing is for sure. It won't be the same without Tom Brady commandeering the Patriots.
And the Steelers agree.
Suprisingly, yet admirably, many Steelers players have come out in support of Brady, stating how they would much rather prefer to play Brady than receive a so-called 'free pass' against a Brady-less Patriot squad.
I for one, support this notion.
If Brady can navigate his way through the suspension by taking it to court, then he could possibly be available for the season opener. This would be very interesting indeed, because the game will serve as a celebration of the Patriots' Super Bowl win, and the NFL is branding it as the 'Kickoff Classic. It's most likely that Goodell will be in attendance for the game too. Rabid and angry Patriot fans + angry Brady + Goodell in attendance = one hell of a game, plus some loud expletives likely thrown the Commissioner's way.
But Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward isn't in it for the potential media goldmine this would be. He just wants a challenge.
"The competitor in you wants to see the best team out there and why not beat Tom Brady in Gillette Stadium on a Thursday night game?’
A challenge is something that the Steelers defense certainly needs. The unit needs to see where they stand, and a matchup against an elite QB like Brady would be perfect for just that. The team is without both longtime safety Troy Polamalu and Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau for the first time, both of whom were major cornerstones for the team. Even while they were in town, the defensive unit still forced the least takeaways in the league since 2011. The team has attempted to rebuild with the last several draft classes, but we won't see their first action until Week 1. So it will certainly be interesting to see how this Steelers D performs against Brady.
Heyward is also well aware that the matchup would be much easier without Brady.
"We might have a better chance [without Brady], but when you look at playing these teams and seeing them in the playoffs you want your guys to be ready to go into that situation,’’ Heyward said. "So if guys can prepare against playing against the best early, it’s going to help us later down the road."
Cornerback Antwon Blake added to this sentiment, saying "that's Steelers football". "We want to play against the best so we want the best out there. It’s definitely a challenge. We’ll stand up and be ready for it."
The Steelers and Patriots recent record doesn't exactly favor the Steelers, which is perhaps why they're hungry to play and exact revenge on Brady. The previous time they played, The Steelers lost to Brady and the Patriots, 55-31. Brady has beat the Steelers seven times, including in two AFC championships at Heinz Field. While the Steelers have only brought him down twice, both times at home.
Yet the Steelers are still adamant about playing him, even the offensive players too.
"I want to," "I mean, it’s Tom Brady and the opening game of the NFL! I hope he wins his appeal, it would be great for the NFL. It would be great for both of the [teams’] fans. We’ll get their best and they will see our best." - RT Marcus Gilbert
Nose tackle Steve McLendon also quickly became my favorite Steeler after this quote.
"I always want to sack the quarterback and his name is a good one to have. If the best is there, play the best."
If there's one thing the Baltimore's fanbase and the Steelers players can agree on, it's this. Baltimore definitely wants to see Pittsburgh face the stiffest competition possible. And for what it's worth, even the NFL's own site says Brady and Big Ben will face off in September. Stock up on the popcorn folks, as this could be a matchup for the ages.