ESPN's Monday Night Football begins a new era this week when Washington hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first game of a Week 1 doubleheader. With longtime play-by-play man Mike Tirico departing for NBC, Sean McDonough will step into the broadcast booth alongside Jon Gruden. They will call a game that looks to have plenty of offensive fireworks.
On paper, the Steelers have one of the most talented offenses in football, but they'll be shorthanded to start the year. Le'Veon Bell is sitting out the first three games with a drug suspension, while Martavis Bryant is missing the entire season. In addition, presumed starter Markus Wheaton is questionable with a shoulder injury, leaving the Steelers' receiver corps thinner than usual this week.
Of course, the team still has all-world talent Antonio Brown, who should make up for any deficiencies they have in the passing game. Brown had an incredible year in 2015, finishing with 136 catches, 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. Squarely in the middle of his prime at age 28, there's little reason to expect Brown to slow down. He and Ben Roethlisberger make for a lethal duo that Washington's defense will have a hard time stopping.
Is Kirk Cousins the real deal or a one-year wonder? The team itself doesn't seem sure, hedging its bets by putting the franchise tag on Cousins rather than sign him to a long-term deal. Cousins sure looked the part last season, throwing for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. It's an open question as to whether Cousins can repeat his career year, but he doesn't figure to see much resistance from the Steelers' defense.
Pittsburgh ranked 21st in yards allowed last season, and the defense has already lost second-year linebacker Bud Dupree. After a promising rookie year, Dupree tore a muscle in his groin that will require surgery. He's been put on injured reserve and is out for at least the first eight weeks, dealing a blow to a defense still relying on an aging James Harrison. The Steelers did bolster the secondary by drafting cornerback Artie Burns in the first round, but this unit largely remains a work in progress.
Washington has some injury issues of its own. Running back Matt Jones missed most of the preseason with a shoulder injury, and though he's expected to play in this game, Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson could play a bigger role than expected as the team attempts to replace Alfred Morris in the backfield.
In the passing game, first-round rookie Josh Doctson missed all of training camp and preseason with an Achilles injury, so he might not be a factor early in the season. The good news is that DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed are both healthy and remain Cousins' most dangerous weapons, with Pierre Garcon returning as a steady possession receiver.
Washington won the NFC East last year but failed to beat a single team with a winning record, so head coach Jay Gruden has a lot to prove in his third season. The Steelers are just trying to weather the storm until their offense gets back to full strength, but as long as they have Roethlisberger and Brown they're capable of outscoring everybody.
This looks to be an exciting matchup that should get the new MNF season started on a high note.
How to watch
When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: FedExField, Landover, Md.
Announcers: Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters