Pittsburgh (11-5) at New England (12-4), 8:30 p.m. NBC. For now, Deflategate is over. Fans in Foxboro can exhale. Their leader will suit up and be allowed to play. Tom Brady is back. The Lombardi is back in New England.

For the Patriots, it’s the hunter now becoming the hunted again.

Thursday’s matchup features two of the NFL’s three winningest teams over past 10 seasons (2005-14). New England (122-38, .763) has the best regular-season winning percentage during that span, while Pittsburgh ranks third (101-59, .631). The Patriots and Steelers combined for 15 playoff berths, six AFC Championship wins and three Super Bowl titles over the past decade. It’s football in prime time as the Steelers travel to Foxboro to face the Pats.

The Patriots have a 15-1 regular-season record at Gillette Stadium over the past two seasons. New England quarterback Tom Brady has an 11-2 career record (.846) in season openers, the highest winning percentage among Super Bowl-era quarterbacks (minimum 10 starts).

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is 13-7 (.650)on Kickoff Weekend and his 13 wins are the most among active head coaches. Belichick is one of only three active head coaches who have won at least 10 Kickoff Weekend games and own an opening weekend winning percentage above .500.

“We have to move on pretty quickly to get to Pittsburgh,” Belichick told the Boston Globe and the Christian Scientist Monitor. “We feel like we have improved over the course of the preseason but we will find out for sure during Kickoff Weekend.”

Entering his 21st season as an NFL head coach, Belichick has amassed 233 wins, the fourth-most total victories by a head coach in league history.

The head coaches with the most total wins in NFL history:

HEAD COACH – TEAM(S) (WINS-LOSSES-TIES)
Don Shula – Baltimore Colts, Miami Dolphins (347-173-6)
George Halas – Chicago Bears (324-151-31)
Tom Landry – Dallas Cowboys (270-178-6)
Bill Belichick – Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots (233-118-0)*
Curly Lambeau  Green Bay Packers, Chicago Cardinals, Washington Redskins (229-134-22)
*Active

The 2014 AFC North champion Steelers travel to New England with the most wins (41) among AFC teams on Kickoff Weekend while the Patriots rank fifth in the AFC with 30.

“We are excited about the quick transition and for our opener on Thursday night,” Pittsburghhead coach Mike Tomlin told KDKA-TV. “We are ready to play ball Thursday night and to get this season going.”

Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown enters 2015after leading the league with 129 receptions last year, the second-most in a season in NFL history. It marked the first time a Steeler has led the league in receptions in a season.

Brown, who ranked second in the league in 2013 with 110 catches, is one of four players in NFL history with back-to-back 110-catch seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (1994-95) and Cris Carter (1994-95) and Wes Welker (2007-09, 2011-12).

The four players in NFL history with consecutive 110-reception seasons:
PLAYER (CONSECUTIVE 110-CATCH SEASONS)
Wes Welker (2007-09, 2011-12)
Jerry Rice (1994-95)
Cris Carter (1994-95)
Antonio Brown (2013-14)*
*Active streak

A rundown of the NFL primetime kickoff games since 2002:
DATE – SITE / RESULT (HOME TEAM IN CAPS)
September 5, 2002 – Giants Stadium / San Francisco 16, NEW YORK GIANTS 13
September 4, 2003 – FedExField / WASHINGTON 16, New York Jets 13
September 9, 2004 – Gillette Stadium/ NEW ENGLAND 27, Indianapolis 24
September 8, 2005 – Gillette Stadium / NEW ENGLAND 30, Oakland 20
September 7, 2006 – Heinz Field / PITTSBURGH 28, Miami 17
September 6, 2007 – RCA Dome / INDIANAPOLIS 41, New Orleans 10
September 4, 2008 – Giants Stadium / NEW YORK GIANTS 16, Washington 7
September 10, 2009 – Heinz Field / PITTSBURGH 13, Tennessee 10 (OT)
September 9, 2010 – Louisiana Superdome / NEW ORLEANS 14, Minnesota 9
September 8, 2011 – Lambeau Field / GREEN BAY 42, New Orleans 34
September 5, 2012 – MetLife Stadium / Dallas 24, NEW YORK GIANTS 17
September 5, 2013 – Sports Authority Field at Mile High / DENVER 49, Baltimore 27
September 4, 2014 – CenturyLink Field / SEATTLE 36, Green Bay 16

As far as Thursdays are concerned? Pittsburgh is 10-14 on Thursday night, while the Pats are 8-5.

When we last saw the Patriots, they had just stopped Seattle short of the goal line in Glendale, Arizona to win Super Bowl 49. During the offseason (for those that had been living in caves), there was some question as to the quality of footballs that Brady had used during the championship game with the Indianapolis Colts. The Pats won the contest but the Colts lodged a protest about it and accusations went back and forth, as if one was watching a bad episode of “Jerry Springer.” It was later found that some footballs were tampered with and that tampering was done by a couple of New England equipment workers. Later, the Pats were found guilty of tampering with the footballs and were eventually fined and lost a couple of draft picks in 2016. Brady drew the ire of the NFL and was given a four-game suspension and fined.

Was that the end?

Not by a long shot.

The feuding went back and forth and eventually Brady escaped the wrath of the NFL last Thursday when a judge ruled that he was not given due process. This made Pats fans happy… no, make that giddy with joy. Their favorite son would not have to sit in time out while the rest of the class got recess.

So with that, it’s time to start another season. Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger. It doesn’t get any better than this for a season opener, especially when the hardware (Super Bowl rings) will be passed out.

Thursday’s contest starts the 2015 NFL season. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Lombardi Trophy and there’s gold on that there football field as well as some gold in all 32 teams uniforms.

Foxboro on Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champions getting their rings. Hollywood could not have written a better script.

Meanwhile, the Steelers were on the short end of a 30-17 loss to Baltimore in the AFC Wild Card game that saw their season come to an end at home at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh trailed 10-9 at the half before the Ravens, who would lose to New England the following weekend, pulled away to take the win. Roethlisberger was sacked five times and picked off twice, even though he did outpass Joe Flacco 334-259. The rushing game in that contest was nothing to write home about, although the Steelers outrushed the Ravens 68-49. Pittsburgh was 5 of 16 and 2 of 3 on third and fourth down tries and kept the ball for 35:17, while the Ravens were 4 of 11 on third down (1 of 1 on fourth down tries) and nested the ball for 24:43.

As for the Pats…

They found themselves tied with Seattle at the half in Super Bowl 49 and trailed the Seahawks 24-14 after 45 minutes of play before they scored 14 points in the fourth quarter unchallenged to win their fourth Lombardi 28-24 and deny the Seahawks their second title. New England was outrushed by Seattle 162-57 (Marshawn Lynch led all rushers with 102 yards) but Brady outpaced Russell Wilson in passing 328-247 (Brady had four TDs and a pair of interceptions in the contest). The key play in the contest came late in the game as Seattle was marching toward a score before Wilson was picked off by Malcom Butler to seal the win. New England was 8 of 14 on third down to Seattle’s 3 of 10 and held the ball for 33:46, while the Seahawks kept it for 26:14.

The Steelers lead the series with the defending Super Bowl champions 14-9 and have outscored the Pats 543-492. The two teams have not met since 2013, when New England came away with a 55-31 win in Foxboro. In that week 9 matchup at Gillete Stadium, the Pats took a 24-10 lead with them to the lockroom and held off Pittsburgh in the second half by outscoring them 31-21. Roethlisberger was outpaced by Brady in passing 432-404, with both men throwing four TD passes (Roethlisberger was sacked five times and picked off twice). On third down tries, New England was 7-12 on third down (0-1 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 28:48, while Pittsburgh won the ball-control battle, keeping the pigskin for 31:12, while going 5-13 and 1-3 on third and fourth down.

The defending Super Bowl champs at home in Foxboro are favored by 7 with the over/under coming at 52. It’s possible that the over/under could be reached by halftime. The 7? Sounds a bit low, considering that it’s Pittsburgh and New England. We’re taking the Pats in this one but it’ll be closer than the 7.

BROADCAST INFORMATION: NBC at 8:30 p.m. Eastern with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (Field reporter). Westwood One: Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, Ross Tucker (Field reporter). SIRIUS: 88 (WestWood1), 83 (Pittsburgh), 93 (New England). XM: 88 (WestWood1), 225 (Pittsburgh), 226 (New England).

Pittsburgh-New England Injury Report

Pittsburgh
OUT: QB Landry Jones (concussion)

New England
OUT: C Bryan Stork (concussion)

QUESTIONABLE: RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring), DE Trey Flowers (knee), S Tavon Wilson (quadricep)

Weather Outlook: Cloudy with a 90 percent chance of rain and possible thunderstorms and a high of 62 degrees.

(Broadcast information and injury report courtesy the National Football League; odds courtesy Don Best; Weather information courtesy The Weather Channel)

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