The 2015 National Football League season kicks off Thursday night when the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Google is honoring the NFL and football in general with an animated doodle on the search engine’s home page. It has four of the company’s six letters decked out with football helmets. The “l” and “e” are a cheerleader and coach, respectively.
NFL fans across the country are well aware that the Patriots and their quarterback, Tom Brady, have spent the off season embroiled in controversy, primarily dealing with the proper inflation of footballs in the American Football Conference championship game versus the Indianapolis Colts last January.
After a lengthy and sometimes controversial investigation, the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell ruled the team used under-inflated footballs in the AFC title game, costing them a hefty fine, future draft picks, and a four-game suspension of Brady that was thrown out by a federal court judge last week.
Brady will be in uniform for the Pats’ home opener on offense, along with tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Julian Edelman, and a rebuilt offensive line. On defense, the Patriots will be missing former All-Pro defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who was signed as a free agent by the Houston Texans. Also, defensive back Darrell Revis has moved on, signing with his former team, the New York Jets, after the Super Bowl XLVIIII victory over the Seattle Seahawks in early February. But linemen Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones return, along with linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Pittsburgh is once again led by their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and a potentially explosive offense of their own.
Running back DeAngelo Williams, most recently a member of the Carolina Panthers, will be joined by wide receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller. Bob Labriola of Steelers.com reports the Pittsburgh offense took a hit with the announcement earlier this year of a four-game suspension to wide receiver Martavis Bryant for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Markus Wheaton will take Bryant's spot on Thursday night.
For the Steelers defense, this is a season for change as longtime safety Troy Polumalu has retired and defensive line stalwart Brett Keisel was released. Younger stars, such as defensive end Cameron Heyward and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, are now being asked to step into starring roles.
The Patriots and Steelers will be televised on NBC, beginning at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.