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Week 1 Patriots vs Steelers: Three Key Match-Ups to Watch

The New England Patriots are hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off the 2015 season. Which players will be in the spotlight?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

While New England quarterback Tom Brady will be on center stage against the Steelers, there are a few other match-ups that will be just as important to the Patriots success.

3. Cameron Heyward vs Shaq Mason: The Steelers have lost a lot of their stars on defense, but 3-4 defensive end Heyward has continue to grow into one of the league's best defenders. The 6'5, 300 lbs is one of the best pass rushers from the position and is extremely disruptive in the backfield. He bats down more passes than any comparable player not-named J.J. Watt.

Shaq Mason is a rookie with next to no pass blocking experience. He's fairly undersized at 6'1. If I were the Steelers defensive coordinator, I would try to find a way to isolate the Patriots young left guard and exploit him early to get into the backfield. While Brady has certainly worked on his mobility, interior pressure is still his weakness, and Heyward could make the Patriots offense struggle.

2. Cody Wallace vs Dominique Easley: On the flip side, the Steelers will be without their best starting lineman in center Maurkice Pouncey and the Patriots are primed to take advantage of his replacement. Wallace struggles with the strength of opposing linemen, so it's very possible that Sealver Siliga could have a field day, but Easley is my choice to exploit the interior of the Steelers line.

Bill Belichick highlighted Easley's ability to sack Panthers quarterback Cam Newton with just one arm, and Ben Roethlisberger is one of the toughest quarterbacks to bring down. Hopefully the Patriots uncork their pass rush and force Roethlisberger into some bad passes.

1. Antonio Brown vs Patriots Secondary: No receiver has more targets over the past two seasons than Brown's 347. Of wide receivers with 200+ targets, Julian Edelman is the only one with a catch rate better than Brown's 68.9% (Edelman has caught 69.1%). He's as important to the Steelers offense as Edelman or Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots offense.

There's no real way to stop him, either. He broke the 90 yard mark in all but three of his games last season, and his still picked up 72, 74, and 84 yards in those games. He will likely draw the coverage of Malcolm Butler and will have the assistance of Devin McCourty over the top. If the Patriots play sides, then Tarell Brown or Bradley Fletcher will have to step up.

Whatever the coverage, the Patriots need to find a way to slow Brown.