Week 1 - Pittsburgh Steelers vs Washington Redskins
The Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Washington to take on the Redskins in the year's first Monday night matchup. Both teams made the playoffs last year but had early disappointing losses. The Redskins won 9 games last year en route to making the playoffs despite not beating another playoff team and were easily beaten in the first round 35-18 by the Green Bay Packers. Pittsburgh was right there with the eventual Super Bowl winning Broncos in the second round when a 4th quarter fumble led to the Broncos only touchdown and a 23-16 loss by Pittsburgh. Both teams had eventful off-seasons as Washington signed one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Josh Norman while the Steelers Le'veon Bell and Martavius Bryant are both suspended for the game.
The signing of Josh Norman upgrades Washington's defense as Norman has shown he can stop the opposing teams best receiver and finished 4th in voting for NFL's defensive player of the year last season. Offensively, Kirk Cousins is coming off a career year throwing for over 4,100 yards and 29 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions. He also led the team in rushing touchdowns with 5. Tight End Jordan Reed led the team with 952 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Pierre Garcon was second on the team with 777 yards and 6 touchdowns. Desean Jackson is healthy this year and is a threat for the deep ball as he averaged over 17 yards per reception last season. As a team they didn't run the ball well as they averaged less than 100 rushing yards per game.
The loss of Bell and Bryant on offense for the Steelers is significant because they combined for 10 touchdowns and 1,494 yards of offense with Bell only having played 6 games last year. In his only full season in 2014 Bell had over 2,200 total yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Bryant is suspended for the year for violating the leagues substance abuse policy. Bell is suspended for the first 3 games for missing several drug tests during the offseason. Luckily, they still have Antonio Brown who had a monster season with over 1,800 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Running back DeAngelo Williams played well last season even after Bell went down with an injury racking up 900 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a solid season where he threw for over 3,900 yards and 21 touchdowns, but he did throw 16 interceptions in only 12 games played.
Despite the loss of Bell and Bryant and being on the road, the Steelers are 3 point favorites in this game. Last year, the Steelers were 8-6-2 against the spread while the Redskins went 9-7. Washington made a major upgrade to their defense while the Steelers will be playing at less than full strength. A lot will be made of the Josh Norman Antonio Brown matchup and the Steelers will need a big game from Brown for them to beat Washington by a field goal.