Steelers, Giants open their season on MNF
It's an intriguing AFC vs. NFC matchup in the first game of the season-opening "Monday Night Football" doubleheader as the New York Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers. New York went 0-2 on MNF in 2019, losing to the Cowboys and Eagles. Meanwhile, the Steelers went 2-0 in their primetime contests although the victories came against the Bengals and Dolphins. Eli Manning was the starting quarterback opposite Ben Roethlisberger the last time these two teams played back in 2016 with Le'Veon Bell and Odell Beckham Jr. being the other offensive stars.
The Steelers will go as their long-time QB goes. We saw a really good Pittsburgh squad neutered by awful play from backups Mason Rudolph and Develin "Duck" Hodges after Roethlisberger went down in the second game with a season-ending elbow injury. Rudolph is back, but so is Roethlisberger's former backup, Joshua Dobbs, who was traded to Jacksonville last September and then claimed on waivers a year later. There's no denying that there's star power on this defense, but if the offense is consistently going three and out, it's just not going to help. It'll be interesting to see what second-round pick Chase Claypool adds to the receiving corps room. Tight end Eric Ebron is another intriguing new piece.
For the Giants, year two of the Daniel Jones era starts off with a tough matchup. We'll see what new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has cooked up for the quarterback who is behind a mediocre to poor offensive line and has mediocre wide receivers to throw to. Thank goodness for Saquon Barkley in the backfield and Evan Engram at tight end. The offense will have to put up some points because the defense has plenty of holes. There are some building blocks with Dexter Lawrence up front and James Bradberry at corner. It'll be interesting to see what rookie head coach Joe Judge does with this roster.
Pittsburgh at New York
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 14 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -6
Three Things to Watch
The biggest intangible in this one is the uncertainty of what to expect from Joe Judge, the Giants' 38-year-old rookie head coach. You can look at what Jason Garrett did in Dallas to get some sort of idea as to how the offense will go. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is in just his second season in that role and Pittsburgh has some familiarity with him, facing Graham's Miami unit last season, a game the Steelers won 27-14. Week 1 may be soon to tell what kind of influence Judge will have on either side of the ball. With no preseason games, neither team has any film to digest, so there will probably be a feeling out sort of period. The continuity of Pittsburgh's coaching staff under Mike Tomlin would seemingly be a benefit for the Steelers but at the same time, they really don't know what to prepare for with all of the changes for the Giants.
2. Hold onto the ball
Daniel Jones had a roller-coaster rookie season, flashing his dual-threat potential at times, but he threw too many interceptions and had way too many fumbles. There's very little margin for error with this team especially if their defense has to be on the field after turnovers. To me, the Giants need to run the ball as much as possible with Saquon Barkley and free-agent pickup Dion Lewis with Jones throwing between 20-25 times. For Pittsburgh, acquiring safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami last September was huge as he paid dividends right away as a game-changer. In 14 games with the Steelers, Fitzpatrick recorded five interceptions, a forced fumble, recovered two, and scored two defensive touchdowns on his way to being named an All-Pro. I'm not the biggest fan of Pittsburgh's cornerbacks but Joe Haden flashed his old form at times in 2019. Keep the game close and keep your quarterback upright.
3. Big Ben... big spotlight
Roethlisberger actually admitted this week that he'll be nervous and "shaking like a leaf" during early portions of Monday's contest. He only played in two games in 2019 before needing season-ending elbow surgery and I'm sure he noticed how quickly the team fell off in his absence. Pittsburgh should make the playoffs in the AFC, but that only happens if the signal-caller returns to his 2018 form. Right guard David DeCastro, a two-time All-Pro, will most likely miss this game because of a knee injury. Rookie Kevin Dotson, a fourth-round pick who played at Louisiana, could get the start in his first NFL game. Fortunately, the Giants' pass rush shouldn't scare anyone so DeCastro's absence may not be that big of a deal.
I really want to take the Giants. I think they will be better than last year with the new coaching staff, but I just don't think the improvement comes yet. The veteran Steelers come to New York and take care of business in this one. I actually think New York covers the spread but loses the game.
Prediction: Steelers 21, Giants 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.