The NFL season opener gave Prime Time Picks a 1-0 record, as the Chiefs defeated the Texans 34-20, and covered the nine point spread. Monday will offer us two NFL games, and for the second installment of Prime Time Picks, I am going to take a look at the first one: Steelers vs Giants.
Week 1 Prime Time Picks: Steelers (-6) vs. Giants (+210) O/U 46 — All lines via DraftKings
The opening game of Monday Night Football is sure to be a good one, as Big Ben and the Steelers travel to MetLife Stadium to take on Daniel Jones and the Giants.
The Return of Big Ben
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season in which they lost their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early in the year to a major elbow injury. Big Ben is back, and he is hoping to regain the success he had in his last full season in 2018 where he threw for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career. The Steelers offense did look a lot different back then, as wide receiver Antonio Brown (remember him) had 1,297 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Regardless, the return of Big Ben is definitely an upgrade for the Steelers at quarterback from last season, as Mason Rudolph (13 TD’s, 9 INT) and Devlin Hodges (5 TD’s, 8 INT) both struggled. Rudolph had a rating of 82.0 and Hodges had a rating of 71.4, while Roethlisberger has a career rating of 94.0. The Steelers offense as a whole struggled, as they were 27th in points per game (18.1) and 30th in yards per game (276.8). Roethlisberger is going to provide a major boost to the offense, and teaming up again with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is certainly going to help. In 2018, Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster connected for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. Last year without Big Ben, JuJu had only 552 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Both are expecting to bounce back together in 2020.
Daniel Jones vs Steelers Defense
Daniel Jones is entering his second year in the league, and had a decent rookie season last year. He threw for 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and had a rating of 87.7. His primary receivers of Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram are all back this year, and although none of them have eye-popping numbers, they are solid. However, all four of them missed time last season with various injuries. It is going to be a tough matchup for Jones and the Giants receivers against a Steelers defense that had the fourth best pass defense last season. They allowed the fourth lowest passing rating, and sixth lowest completion percentage against the quarterbacks they faced last year. They also gave up the 3rd fewest passing yards per game at 194.6.
Daniel Jones’ Fumbling Problem
In his rookie campaign, Daniel Jones had a fumbling problem. He led the NFL in fumbles with 18, which was also the fifth-highest mark in NFL history—not exactly ideal. His 18 fumbles in 816 offensive snaps resulted in an average of one fumble every 45.3 snaps. Jones will be adamant about correcting this problem in 2020, but will definitely be tested early as he faces a Steelers defense in the season opener that led the league in sacks last year with 54. The league’s best pass rush was led by T.J. Watt (55 tackles, 14.5 sacks), Cameron Heyward (83 tackles, 9 sacks), and Bud Dupree (68 tackles, 11.5 sacks). This three-headed monster of a pass rush will be facing a Giants offensive line that gave up 43 sacks a year ago, which was tied for 19th in the league. A dangerous pass rush against a less-than-stellar offensive line, along with a quarterback prone to fumbles is not a great set-up for the Giants. However, the Giants did select Georgia LT Andrew Thomas with the #4 overall pick in the NFL Draft to help with the offensive line issues. He will have a difficult task before him on Monday in his NFL debut.
Saquon Barkley Looks to Build Upon Early Career Success
Saquon Barkley is one of the best young players in the NFL. He had a fantastic rookie season in 2018 where he rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns, along with 91 catches for 721 yards and four touchdowns. He carried the ball 261 times for an average of 5.0 yards per carry. Last season, Barkley missed three games with an ankle injury, but when he was healthy, he was very effective. He rushed for 1,003 yards (4.6 yards per carry), and six touchdowns, along with 52 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns. He is sure to be a large part of the Giants offense again this season, and he is so talented that even with a below-average offensive line, he can still provide positive productivity each week.
Steelers Tough Rushing Defense
As good as Barkley is, getting a running game going against the Steelers is not easy. Last season, Pittsburgh held opponents to just 3.8 yards per carry (3rd in the league), and 109.6 yards per game (14th in the league). The Steelers also gave up the fewest touchdowns per game to opposing running backs last season. Barkley is talented, but it’s going to take a lot to show out against this tough Steelers defense.
Head Coaching Differences
This Week 1 matchup gives us two teams with very different head coaches. For the Steelers, Mike Tomlin has been at the helm since 2007, and has yet to have a losing season, compiling a record of 133-71-1. He has won six AFC North titles, made the playoffs in eight of his 13 seasons, and won Super Bowl XLIII. He is one of the best coaches in the NFL, and is extremely good at getting the best out of his players. On the Giants sideline is first-year head coach Joe Judge. Monday night will be Judge’s first NFL game as a head coach, and he has a tough matchup going up against Tomlin. Judge has been with the Patriots organization since 2012, where he has been a special teams assistant (2012-14), special teams coordinator (2015-19), and wide receivers coach (2019). Before he was with the Patriots, he coached in the college ranks under Nick Saban at Alabama. He has been a part of five championship teams, as he was on the coaching staffs who won the 2009 and 2011 BCS national championships with Alabama, and then on staff with the Patriots winning Super Bowls XLIX, LI, and LII. He has a winning background, and is hoping to bring that winning experience to New York as a head coach.
The Giants will be eager to show they are moving in the right direction as a franchise. I think they will come out aggressive and try to put up points early. However, that is an extremely tall task for a young quarterback against a top notch defense in Pittsburgh. The Steelers defense has the capacity to give Jones a lot of problems, and the potential for a lot of pressures and sacks. And when they do get to him, Jones is prone to cough it up. I think the Steelers defense will create a lot of problems for Jones and the Giants offense as a whole. Also, with Ben Roethlisberger back, the Steelers offense is bound to be better. One key aspect about this game is the coaches. In a year with no preseason games, there is less preparation for these teams going into the NFL season. In that case, coaching experience matters. Joe Judge will be in his first game ever as a head coach, whereas Mike Tomlin is entering his 14th season, and has yet to have a losing one. Tomlin’s experience and success already give him an advantage, but with a lack of preseason games, it gives him even more of an advantage over a first-year head coach.
Title Photo: Charles LeClaire | Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports