Lolley’s Kickoff: Matchups, data, staff picks ☕


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T.J. Watt, this week at Rooney Complex. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Steelers will open their 2019 season against the same team that pretty much ended their 2018 season.

Don't misunderstand. The Patriots didn't literally end the Steelers' season in 2018. In fact, a 17-10 win against the Patriots on Dec. 16 just might have been the season's highlight. But it also marked the end of the road. They would lose in New Orleans the following week to fall behind the Ravens for first place in the AFC North, and even a victory against the Bengals in Week 17 couldn't get the Steelers back into the playoff picture.

That game also happened to be the last loss for the Patriots, who went on a five-game winning streak following the defeat at Heinz Field to win the Super Bowl. That allowed them to match the Steelers atop the list for Super Bowl wins with six.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

The Steelers, meanwhile, became the talk of the league, as Antonio Brown forced his way out of town, dragging the franchise -- and more notably, Ben Roethlisberger -- through the mud on his way out the door.

The Steelers finally get a chance to start writing a different narrative Sunday when they visit Gillette Stadium to start a new season, turning the page on what was a troubling chapter in the history of the storied franchise.

And what better place to do that than opening up against the defending Super Bowl champions, a team that has been your personal bogeyman?

"We get to start the season right going against a good team that’s a measuring stick for kind of where you are," cornerback Joe Haden said. "You’re going against a team that’s expected to have a great record at the end of the season, so to start off with them, it’s a chance to start off on the right foot."

At least that's the hope for the Steelers.

Making that happen against Tom Brady and company on opening night might be a different matter. The Patriots are 4-1 in openers after winning the Super Bowl. They've also won their past 14 games at Gillette Stadium. And since the league began having the defending Super Bowl champion host a prime time game to open the season, the champs have gone 12-3 in those openers.

The Patriots, however, were one of those defending Super Bowl losers on kickoff weekend, having been beaten by the Chiefs, 42-27, to open the 2017 season.

But Gillette Stadium also has been something of a nightmare for the Steelers, as well. They're 1-5 in the regular season against the Patriots there since it opened in 2002, including 0-5 against Brady.

Brady has thrown 18 touchdown passes with no interceptions in those five regular season wins against the Steelers at Gillette Stadium.

"It’s Tom Brady, so you’ve got to be on all your Ps and Qs. You’ve got to be on top of everything," said new Steelers linebacker Mark Barron, who played against the Patriots as a member of the Rams in the Super Bowl. "It’s all a matter of discipline, knowing where you’re supposed to be and making the plays. You have to be aware of what they like to do."

What the Patriots like to do is win. And they've done it a lot, especially at home. The Patriots are 115-21 at Gillette Stadium since it opened in 2002.

"We are going up there, I’m sure they are dropping a banner, doing whatever they are going to do," Roethlisberger said. "What an exciting and awesome opportunity for us all."

It's a chance to renew what has become one of the AFC's most anticipated rivalries between two of the best teams in the AFC year in and year out.

"I’ve been hearing about it since I got here. It’s a big rivalry game," Barron said. "They seem to play each other every year. Going back and forth with this team, that battle, I can feel the energy of it. I know it’s a big game."

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