The 2019 NFL season is officially upon us (although many in the league offices likely wish last night's Packers-Bears snooze-fest was a continuation of the preseason). The Patriots will kick off their campaign Sunday night when the Steelers come to town for what figures to be a much more entertaining NBC prime time affair.
As usual the Patriots are among the favorites to once again go deep into the playoffs and most believe they will have every opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title. That will mean navigating the AFC and at least making it to an unprecedented ninth straight conference title game.
If that happens, there are a handful of teams most believe will have a chance to take them on. For our opening Samsonite Make Your Case of the regular season we ask: Which team is the Patriots biggest threat in the AFC?
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault says ...
The Patriots escaped with two last-possession wins over the Chiefs in 2018 and there's little question Kansas City will once again be New England's biggest challenger to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It took 43 and 37 points, respectively, to beat the Chiefs last year, is this Gronk-less Patriots offense capable of putting up those kind of totals again?
Kansas City also added some notable names like LeSean McCoy, Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu to get them over the hump, though New England's defense looks more equipped now to deal with their explosive offense.
The two teams don't face off until early December and it's a good bet both look a lot different than they do now at the season's start, but unless Patrick Mahomes severely regresses, expect the Chiefs to be the Patriots biggest challenger to AFC supremacy once again in 2019.
Patriots.com's Paul Perillo says ...
Regardless of what happens Sunday night the Steelers will be much better off without the headaches that came with the talents of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The addition-by-subtraction axiom is in full effect, and I feel Ben Roethlisberger will benefit greatly from it.
The Steelers have been very competitive with the Patriots when playing at home over the years, but generally Mike Tomlin's crew can't compete with Tom Brady when the games are played in New England. One reason for that is I feel the team lacks the character to go on the road and take on a tough team – and Brown and Bell are big reasons for that.
With them gone Tomlin has full control of the locker room and Roethlisberger no longer has to worry about keeping his divas happy. Pittsburgh can focus on winning and I feel in the end they will be much better off for it. Look for the Steelers to surprise in the AFC North this season.