This is a bit weird: The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming to town and there is little, if any, fanfare.
Sure, there have been a few games in this near-two-decade rivalry that felt like this week – blah. But those games were without Tom Brady (2008) and Ben Roethlisberger (2016).
This is the same franchise that, if not for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, might have twice the amount of championships they have (two) over the course of their long, and at times shaky, marriage.
The Patriots are on a run of 16 straight seasons with double digit wins.
The Steelers, over the same exact span, have 12 such seasons.
Not bad. In fact, after the Patriots, they are No. 2 over this dominant two decades.
But this series has always had more juice. Someone of the Steelers’ employ is always saying something.
But not this week. No drama. No trash-talking. No predictions.
Even Coach Mike Tomlin, over his 11 previous years, has jumped in the Pats-Steelers fray, complaining about “crazy things” always happening in Foxborough, referring to possibly audio taping in opposing clubhouses. He also noted Belichick had never beaten him in the playoffs, which was not a smart thing to say.
But this week, thus far, it’s been a quiet, Iron Mike.
The obvious change is Antonio Brown, who was dealt to the Oakland Raiders for a bag of old footballs (a third and fifth-round pick).
Brown, arguably the most productive NFL player the last six seasons, was more of a nuisance than a winner. His “high maintenance” reputation really became evident after the trade, when he not only got into public squabbles with his former team and quarterback, but he battled the NFL over his helmet while nursing blistered feet from some strange cryongenics lab over in Europe.
Yesterday, in an Instragram post, he showed his displeasure with the Raiders for fining him for missing practices by posting a copy of the letter from his general manager.
“We don’t pay attention to the storylines,” Tomlin said to the Patriots media when asked about the “drama free” summer.
“That’s stuff that’s fed from the exterior,” the coach added. “It was a good camp, but shoot, it was a good camp a year ago. But really you measure camps by how you perform over the course of the season, and from that standpoint, stay tuned.”
The “new” Steelers are also without running LeVeon Bell, another generational talent who opted to sign with the New York Jets. On a 1-to-10 scale, his “drama” was about “7.”
Belichick was his typical, complimentary self when it comes to the opposing team.
“I think it’s dress them up, put their players in favorable positions, try to create match-ups against the defense and exploit them,” said Belichick. “It can be anywhere from any personnel group you want and they can line guys up in different spots. They do a good job of that, and it creates hard match-ups for the defense.”
Are the Steelers good? Are they very good? Are they near the end of their long, consistent run?
Or, are they going to be great due to the fact that they still have an offensive juggernaut led by Roethlisger and his go-to wide receiver JuJu Smith Schuster, who hauled in 111 balls for 1,426 yards and 7 TDs?
The Steelers have also added some talent on defense, led by rookie Devin Bush, drafted 10th overall out of Michigan, who appears to be as good as advertised.
A lot of NFL experts feel the Cleveland Browns are the team to beat in the NFC North Division, which has been owned by the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
I don’t think so.
The Steelers are still the team to beat. It just seemed so much more fun when they bragged about that kind of thing.
I’d be very wary of the Steelers on Sunday night.
They’re acting, well, professional. And as we’ve seen around here the last few decades, “professional” wins a lot more than it loses.
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.