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New England Patriots host Steelers to kick off season

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The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers have represented the AFC in nine of the last 14 Super Bowls. It only makes sense that this year's battle for AFC supremacy will kick off the 2015 season.

The NFL announced Tuesday that Ben Roethlisberger and friends will head to Foxborough for the traditional Thursday night kickoff on Sept. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Patriots could see the announcement as a bit of good fortune. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, perhaps the best running back in the league, is facing a three-game suspension, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The Patriots, meanwhile, will be without running back LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended one game for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Roethlisberger has to be excited about the opening matchup. The Patriots won't be the same in the secondary without Darrelle Revis, and Big Ben is coming off a season with a league-leading 4,952 passing yards. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton form one of the most explosive receiving trios in the league.

The Patriots, who won their third title in Roethlisberger's rookie season, are 5-3 against Pittsburgh since 2004. That was also famed defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's first season back with the Steelers, and his departure this offseason represents a huge change for the Pittsburgh defensive tradition.

These teams are plenty different than the ones that finished last season. But with Tom Brady and Roethlisberger leading the way, the Patriots and Steelers will likely be right in the mix to decide the AFC champion again in January.

After the kickoff game excitement, we always look next to the rest of the Week 1 prime-time matchups. The New York Giants head to Dallas to face the Cowboys in a game that practically lives on Sunday nights. It looks like a wide open NFC East again.

The ESPN Monday night doubleheader for Week 1 includes four teams in transition. Sam Bradford leads a new-look Philadelphia squad against the Falcons under new coach Dan Quinn. Teddy Bridgewater then gets some national television love with a trip to San Francisco, where the 49ers will try to prove there is life after Harbaugh.

It's my contention that Week 1 is the best week of the NFL season, and thus the best week on the sports calendar. Everything seems possible. Teams challenge long-held assumptions. And we have the entire season stretching out in front of us. Now we know what the best week of the season will look like.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast delves into the 2015 NFL schedule, grading the primetime games and highlighting the Week 1 matchups. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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