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Ben Volin | On Football

Patriots’ likeliest opponent for opener is the Steelers

The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (7) is by far the best quarterback matchup for Tom Brady in the Patriots’ opener.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A trio of Patriots items as we celebrate the return of spring to Boston and wait two more weeks for the NFL Draft:

1. Likeliest opponent for the opening kickoff game: Pittsburgh.

In Sunday’s Globe, I wrote that the team I want coming to Gillette Stadium for the NFL’s opening Thursday kickoff game is the Eagles. I deal in story lines, and Patriots-Eagles would provide some fascinating ones. You have two powerhouse franchises with massive fan bases, two cult-of-personality head coaches in Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly, and an Eagles team that is in the midst of a controversial roster purge that could cement Kelly as a genius or a flop.


But the sense I get now from speaking with people around the NFL is that the suits at the NFL and NBC have another Pennsylvania team in mind.

The NFL’s kickoff game is, most importantly, about having a quality game. And only one team on the Patriots’ 2015 home schedule can pretty much promise an entertaining game on Thursday, Sept. 10:

The Pittsburgh Steelers.

We’ll know the opponent in the next 10 days or so; the NFL should announce its schedule between April 21-23. The Patriots’ eight home opponents this year will be: Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Steelers, Titans, Jaguars, Eagles, and Redskins.

I want the Eagles for Week 1, but I get why the Steelers are the heavy favorite over the Eagles or any other team. And the sense I get is that it’s Pennsylvania-or-bust for Week 1. None of the AFC East teams has enough offense to warrant the league’s prime-time debut.

The Steelers certainly have the edge in the “powerhouse franchise” category, and have a decided advantage under “star quarterback.” And that, of course, is what the NFL is all about. Tom Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger is by far the best available quarterback matchup. Sorry, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Cassel, Geno Smith/Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Sam Bradford/Mark Sanchez.


From a national perspective, the Darrelle Revis defection back to the Jets is mildly interesting, the Eagles and Dolphins are intriguing teams, and everyone loves a good Rex Ryan sound bite. But bad quarterbacks mean the potential for bad football. Patriots-Steelers, and Brady/Roethlisberger, would draw the most casual eyeballs and has the best chance of producing the most entertaining game. The last time the Patriots faced the Steelers, in 2013, the Patriots won, 55-31, with Brady and Roethlisberger combining for 832 passing yards and eight touchdowns. Hello, fantasy points.

The NFL has also made the opening kickoff an intra-conference contest 11 out of 13 times, giving the Steelers another edge over the Eagles. Every kickoff matchup since 2008 has been AFC vs. AFC or NFC vs. NFC.

If the Steelers do come to Foxborough, both teams will be similarly handicapped. Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount is suspended for the first game of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and Steelers Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell is currently appealing a three-game suspension. Both were pulled over with marijuana in their car last August, while Bell was also charged with DUI.

2. Revis speaks out – or does he?

A wise copy editor at the Globe told me a great saying about engaging in arguments with internet trolls via social media: “You fight with a skunk, you’re always going to come out smelling rotten.”


Revis may or may not have engaged in a crass back-and-forth on Instagram with a Patriots fan still salty about Revis leaving the Patriots for the Jets.

We say “may or may not,” because Revis quickly took to Twitter to announce to the world that his Instagram account was hacked. (This would of course presume that the hacker logged onto Revis’s account only to trade three barbs with one user, and would ignore the fact that Revis does kind of have a history of getting back at fans on social media.)

Either way, the comments weren’t that big of a deal. They do make Revis look a bit petty, but I certainly know that ignoring the trolls isn’t always so easy. The comment from Revis that he “did Bill & Tom a favor not the other way around” is a nice display of egotism, but 1) He might be right, and 2) There were no pretenses about the Patriots-Revis relationship from the moment it consummated last March. This was strictly a business deal with no emotional strings attached, and everyone got what they wanted – a big, fat Super Bowl ring.

Revis perhaps revealed some of his true colors Sunday, and needs to remember to stay above the fray on social media. But Patriots fans should still appreciate Revis bringing a fourth title to New England, even if he is now a Jet.

3. Patriots lining up draft visits.

The Patriots will start welcoming NFL Draft prospects to Gillette this week for their 30 official visits in advance of the draft on April 30. And some big names are coming to town.


Florida State offensive tackle Tre’ Jackson said on NFL Network he is scheduled to visit the Patriots, while Sports Illustrated reports that Louisville star receiver DeVante Parker will be visiting the Patriots soon. The National Football Post reported that Southern California tight end Randall Telfer will be visiting, as well.

But there are plenty of prospects the Patriots are interested in who might not make it to Foxborough this spring, particularly ones who could be drafted in the mid or late rounds.

The Patriots have been heavy on the linebacker trail, meeting with veterans and draft prospects because of Jerod Mayo’s advancing age and Donta Hightower’s shoulder injury, and one player to consider is USC’s J.R. Tavai, who met extensively with Bill Belichick at the Combine in February.

Tavai played defensive tackle, defensive end, and outside linebacker at USC, but the Patriots are considering him at middle linebacker.

The Patriots also are looking hard at interior offensive linemen, and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo gave a private workout on campus for Utah guard Junior Salt, a 27-year-old rookie whose career was delayed by a Mormon mission.

The Patriots also have shown interest in BYU safety Skye PoVey, a former walk-on who tore the plantar fascia tissue in his foot three times in 2012 yet persevered to become a two-year starter.

Ben Volin can be reached at