Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season is now upon us, which means it’s time to look ahead to what’s to come on Monday Night Football. The first game will feature two playoff teams from 2015 as the Pittsburgh Steelers make the short trip to take on the Washington Redskins at FedExField in Landover, Maryland.
Many NFL experts are down on the Redskins and firmly believe they won a weak NFC East by default last season. It appears as if the swell folks in Las Vegas agree, as Pittsburgh is favored by three-points on the road.
In contrast, the Steelers are being picked by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but they will need to stay healthy for a change in order to do so.
For now, both teams are undefeated, and head into the 2016 season focused on one game at a time. With that said, here’s a look at five bold predictions for what should be an incredibly exciting Monday night showdown.
Antonio Brown Plays Circles Around Josh Norman, Redskins Secondary
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which even one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks, Josh Norman, is able to keep Antonio Brown from running roughshod. Pittsburgh heads into the new campaign shorthanded at wide receiver with Martavis Bryant suspended for the season, and as NFL.com reported early on Saturday, the Steelers will be without Markus Wheaton as well, due to a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice all week.
Considering Pittsburgh will also be sans RB Le’Veon Bell, who is serving a three-game suspension of his own, QB Ben Roethlisberger projects to send an abundance of targets Brown’s way on Monday night. While it may seem like hyperbole, it’s totally feasible to say Antonio will have a chance to finish with over 10 receptions for 100 yards and two TDs in what Vegas expects to be a high-scoring affair.
Redskins Struggle To Run The Ball, Finish With Under 100 Rushing Yards
The Redskins elected to let RB Alfred Morris move on over the offseason in favor of featuring NFL sophomore Matt Jones in 2016. It was a decision that — for better or for worse — will have a huge impact on the new season as Washington simply lacks talent on the depth chart behind Jones.
Despite showcasing a terrible secondary in 2015, the Steelers were stingy against the run and gave up the fifth-fewest rushing yards (1,459) according to ESPN. Thus, Pittsburgh’s stout front-seven projects to give Washington fits and will prevent the Redskins from getting anything going on the ground.
Expect the Redskins to be held under 100 rushing yards.
Don't get in the way of Ryan Kerrigan. https://t.co/myPHRi7e54
— Bryan Van Balen (@bnvanbalen) September 9, 2016
Washington Sacks Ben Roethlisberger Four Times
OLB Ryan Kerrigan believes Washington’s pass rush has improved over the offseason, but admitted to the Washington Times earlier this week that there’s no way to know for sure until the unit sees live action in the regular season.
“I like to think we’re improved based on training camp, but you really don’t know until that first game when you go against live bullets and you’re actually tackling a quarterback,” Kerrigan said on Thursday.
“An underrated part of the pass rush is getting the quarterback on the ground and it’s going to be an even bigger emphasis against Ben Roethlisberger,” Kerrigan said. “Everyone thinks you’ve got to just beat the guy that’s blocking you and then you’re guaranteed a sack, but that’s hardly the case. You’ve got quarterbacks that are real mobile, some are real big and refuse to go down. It’ll be good to see us rushing with live reps.”
Pittsburgh gets center Maurkice Pouncey back in 2016 after he missed the entire 2015 season, but the Steelers’ offensive line needs time to gel and likely won’t be firing on all cylinders in Week 1. As a result, Washington will frustrate Roethlisberger all game and ultimately record four sacks.
Artie Burns Excels In NFL Debut
After fielding an abysmal secondary in 2015, the Steelers made it a priority to draft a cornerback in the first round of the 2016 draft. Pittsburgh settled on Artie Burns out of the University of Miami, and while he may not be starting in his NFL debut, you can expect him to be in on a plethora of snaps against the Redskins’ speedy wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jamison Crowder.
As Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported earlier this month, Burns has been making an impression in Pittsburgh since returning from a quad injury.
“In his NFL debut, first-round pick Artie Burns looked like a player ready to compete for the third cornerback job with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“The No. 25 overall pick shrugged off a few shaky moments early with multiple pass breakups Thursday against the Carolina Panthers, including a diving near-interception in the red zone. Burns failed to close a gap rush on a big Panthers rushing play in the first quarter, but he responded with active hands and the ability to break on routes.”
Expect Burns to make the most of the chances he gets in this one.
Steelers Win By Six Points
The Redskins are a home underdog in this game for a reason, and the reason is they simply aren’t overly impressive in any facet of the game. Meanwhile, even when it isn’t at full strength, Pittsburgh’s offense can take over and absolutely dominate one side of the ball.
This game projects to be close throughout the first three quarters, but the Steelers will put it away early in the fourth quarter and ultimately cement a 30-24 victory.
[Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images]