After several months of contention over the playing status of Tom Brady and his role in Deflategate, the New England Patriots quarterback will be under center on Thursday night when the defending Super Bowl champions kick off the NFL season at Gillette Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, who snaps to the 10-time Pro Bowler remains in doubt after starting center Bryan Stork was placed on the injured reserve list with a concussion. Stork, who started 11 and appeared in 13 games last season and provided some stability after the line’s shaky start, could return by Week 8. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who remains mum over who will get the nod, may turn to either seven-year veteran Ryan Wendell or rookie David Andrews.
The Patriots will also miss his starting running back LeGarrette Blount for his violation of the league's drug policy, with Brandon Bolden expected to start. New Patriots rusher Travaris Cadet is listed as questionable on the team’s injury report due to a hamstring injury, though he did fully participate in all three practices this week.
Playing as part of a wide-ranging platoon, Bolden totaled only 89 rushing yards and one touchdown off 28 carries in 16 games last season, but he’s likely to share the workload with James White.
Patriots strong safety Tavon Wilson (quad) was limited all week and is questionable, and so is rookie defensive end Trey Flowers (knee).
On the opposite sideline, the Steelers enter the season as a dark horse to win the AFC title. Mike Tomlin's squad won 11 games in 2014, but fell to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card game, 30-17. Addressing depth concerns, Pittsburgh bolstered their defense in the offseason, and are expected to make a serious push at another division title.
The Steelers enter the season relatively healthy, with only reserve quarterback Landry Jones (head) listed on their injury report. But Tomlin will still be without some key contributors.
Pittsburgh’s top running back Le’Veon Bell is serving the first game of a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, ironically with Blount when he was with the Steelers last season. Receiver Martavius Bryant also starts his four-game ban for violating the drug policy, limiting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s options to All-Pro Antonio Brown, as well as Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Veteran rusher and former Panther DeAngelo Williams is expected to start for Bell, with second-year back Dri Archer backing him up.
Kickoff Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online: NBC SNF All Access