With the deactivation of WR Hines Ward, the Steelers will give Emmanuel Sanders his first career start at Ward's flanker position when the Steelers tee off against New England. Sanders has 13 catches and 173 yards to go with two touchdowns this season.
Sylvester will get his first start at the buck linebacker position. Veteran LB Larry Foote will move to the mack LB spot (the signal caller) in the absence of veteran and captain James Farrior.
Many have been calling for Sylvester's playing time to increase, and it could be a good day for a more physical presence. The Patriots have a strong all-around offense, and could be tempted to use the power of RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis frequently in spread formations.
One option considered was moving Lawrence Timmons back inside, but with the absence of James Harrison and Jason Worlids, the Steelers are just as thin outside as they are inside. Sylvester inside makes more sense, particularly since Timmons has served as the team's ROLB for the last few games, and Foote's experience can help Sylvester, should the second-year 'backer need it.
Farrior has been criticized this season for a perception of poor pass coverage, but Foote's coverage hasn't been much better.
The Patriots are in a very similar position, but with their secondary. The release of Leigh Bodden Friday came one day before New England placed rookie CB Ras-I Dowling on Injured-Reserve with a hip injury. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington will start at cornerback, and Antwaun Molden will serve as the nickelback.