The Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 season officially starts today at 1pm, as they host the Atlanta Falcons, an upstart team many analysts have picked to upset the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints for the NFC South crown.
Here's what I had to say about the matchup back in early July, when I broke down the Steelers' regular season hopes, game by game:
The Falcons are a scary team. Young quarterback Matt Ryan could make strides after a middling sophomore campaign, and the rest of the offense certainly has no shortage of firepower, with wide receiver Roddy White, tight end Tony Gonzalez, and running back Michael Turner. Many writers expect the Steelers to rely on the running game during Roethlisberger's absence, but don't be surprised if they come out passing in the season opener. Despite Atlanta's offseason acquisition of former Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson, its pass defense (ranked 28th in the league last year) is still quite vulnerable. And besides defensive end John Abraham, who at 32 could be losing a step, there's no pass rusher who should scare the Steelers.
Despite the unit's mostly lukewarm performance this preseason, I fully expect the Steelers offense to move the ball at will against a Falcons unit that will be without defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, last year's team leader in sacks, due to a one-game substance abuse suspension. Granted, the Atlanta defense will feature five new starters, but beyond Robinson, there's no one lining up against the Steelers offense this afternoon that should really scare anyone. Look for Dennis Dixon to have a sterling regular season debut in front of the home crowd.
Admittedly Imperfect Prediction: The Steelers defensive keeps Matt Ryan and company mostly in check, while the Dixon-led offense looks better than it ever did this preseason. Steelers win a close one, 20 - 16.