Patriots

What experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game

The Patriots are slight favorites to win Sunday's game as they look to win their first game of the season.

Mac Jones and the Patriots look to win their first game of the 2022 season on Sunday against the Steelers. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Hopefully Bill Belichick is able to recognize old pal Brian Flores on the opposite sideline on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

You’d have to imagine the Patriots head coach paused briefly before sending any congratulatory text to new Giants head coach Brian Daboll for his gutsy decision to go for two — and the win — against the Tennessee Titans last weekend. Which Brian in my contacts should I send this to? D before F, except after…

Belichick’s muddled texting history placed him at the center of Flores’ discriminatory lawsuit against the National Football League earlier this year. A texting exchange with the former Patriots defensive coordinator and Miami Dolphins head coach and Belichick, during which Belichick confused Flores for Daboll, is at the heart of Flores’ claim that his job interview with the New York Giants was a sham.

So, did Belichick, in fact, prepare his team to face a Pittsburgh Steelers defense with Flores on staff (linebackers coach)? Or is he heading in having prepared to face a Daboll offense?

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You can understand all the confusion. Two Brians and all.

However, the more concerning factor to Sunday’s game happens to be how well Flores knows Belichick and the Patriots’ offense. Even if The Coach might not be able to recognize his former staff member. Remember, Flores had his way with New England while in Miami, 4-2 against his former boss during his three years there at the helm. How much of that was bad Miami mojo, and how much was Flores’ influence might come to light on Sunday?

Somebody just make sure Bill knows which Brian he’ll be facing this weekend. It might help. 

This week’s predictions

Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Steelers 20, Patriots 16. “The Steelers won’t have T.J. Watt, but they might have a way of compensating for his absence against the Patriots. Linebackers coach and former Patriots assistant Brian Flores was 4-1 in the last five meetings against his former team when he was head coach in Miami.”

Globe staff: Four of six pick the Steelers (+2)

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 21, Steelers 20. “The Patriots are playing consecutive road games after a terrible showing in Miami. The Steelers are playing their home opener after upsetting the Bengals. But the Steelers will be without T.J. Watt, which matters in a big way. The defensive dynamic changes. The Patriots will hang around in this one as the offense finally shows some life. They will then win it late.”

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ESPN staff: Seven of 10 pick Pittsburgh.

USA Today staff: Five of seven like the Steelers (+2.5).

Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots (-2). “Feels like a bad pick but some picks have to be bad in order to be good. If you know, you know.”

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Steelers (+2.5). “Mac Jones and the Patri*ts offense were frustrated all day last Sunday against the Dolphins’ defense. I expect more of the same, even with T.J. Watt out.”

Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: Patriots (-2). “Does it concern me that the Steelers were plus-five in turnover differential and needed a blocked extra point and missed 29-yard field goal, when the Bengals had an emergency long snapper, to win? Absolutely. And T.J. Watt’s injury is one of the rare non-QB injuries that should change the line. Mac Jones should be good to go after some back spasms. Maybe I’m being stubborn on the Patriots but I think they can win an absolutely ugly game.”

MMQB staff: Three of five like New England.

Sheil Kapadia, The Ringer: Patriots (-2.5). “On one hand, it’s Belichick coming off a loss going up against Mitchell Trubisky. On the other, it’s Mike Tomlin as an underdog going up against Patricia.”

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Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 20, Steelers 17. “Neither New England nor Pittsburgh’s offense inspired in Week 1. The Patriots couldn’t run the ball to support Mac Jones and Jones, now dealing with a back injury, had mixed results throwing downfield. Mitchell Trubisky flashed a little but the Steelers couldn’t run well and may not have Najee Harris for this game. The Patriots’ pass defense has sudden issues while the Steelers are down T.J. Watt. This feels like a battle of attrition where situational scheming pays off. That lines up with Bill Belichick besting Mike Tomlin again.”

Bill Bender, Sporting News: Steelers 21, Patriots 20. “There are some key injuries to sort out here, including Mac Jones (back) and Najee Harris (foot). The Steelers will be without T.J. Watt (pectoral muscle), so it’s about generating a consistent pass rush without their star player. The Patriots are the road favorite, but Pittsburgh pulls off another upset at the newly-minted Acrisure Stadium.”

Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Steelers 20, Patriots 13. “Maybe Bill Belichick will accidentally text Brian Daboll congratulations after the Steelers, Mike Tomlin, and Brian Flores shut down the Patriots.”

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Steelers 19, Patriots 16. “The Patriots’ Matt Patricia/Joe Judge-led offense looks terrible, and the Steelers’ defense looks great. T.J. Watt‘s injury hurts, but I still see the Steelers pulling off a home upset.”

FiveThirtyEight: Steelers, 58 percent.

Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Steelers 20, Patriots 17. “The Dolphins’ defense, led by former Patriots assistant Josh Boyer, was a terrible Week 1 opponent for New England’s offense to unveil a new scheme against. Miami blitzed a confused New England offensive line into submission — and now another former Patriots assistant, Brian Flores, gets to take his turn. It’s a confusing time when the Pats have a bad offensive line, bad secondary and can expect to get out-coached when they have the ball. Points figure to be at a premium, but the Steelers’ defense has enough juice to win, even without T.J. Watt.”

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NFL Pickwatch: Sixty-eight percent Steelers (+110).

It says here: Steelers 21, Patriots 13. One lucky fan will get to call the plays for the Gillette opener next weekend against the Ravens. Enter now.

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