Twistity NFL Exclusive: Patriot Games

Patriots vs. Steelers The New England Patriots will raise their championship banner and Tom Brady will start at quarterback. For at least this evening, the Patriots’ concern is the...

Patriots vs. Steelers

The New England Patriots will raise their championship banner and Tom Brady will start at quarterback. For at least this evening, the Patriots’ concern is the Pittsburgh Steelers and not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The NFL season begins in earnest on Thursday night in Foxborough, Mass. Whether or not the Pats are fully out from under a nine-month cloud is open to discussion – and there will be plenty of that from the television broadcasters – but of this you can be sure: It’s time to talk about football, not the ideal gas law, not courtrooms and commissioner discipline, but football.

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The Patriots are a different team than the one that slipped past the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Most of the secondary is gone. So is big Vince Wilfork from the middle of the defensive line. The Patriots will find much tougher competition in a changed AFC East, where the Buffalo Bills have a new coach (Rex Ryan), the New York Jets have a new coach (Todd Bowles) and the Miami Dolphins sport a beefed-up defense featuring Ndamukong Suh.

Patriots fans – and the franchise itself – have been under siege since the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January and the allegations about deflated footballs and cheating. The fans will be in full throat. And the Steelers will try to let the air out of them quickly.

“You have to start fast on all sides,” says Steelers receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. “We need to go out there and score on offense, stop them on defense and make something happen on special teams.”

Many have tried. Many have failed. Hello, NFL season.
 
 
Post By: Larry Weisman, a longtime sportswriter for USA TODAY, blogs for Twistity.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrLarryWeisman .

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