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Don't be surprised if Steelers' 2015 season opens at New England

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The Patriots' 2015 home schedule doesn't appear to have any big name teams among AFC-based competitors. While they do face two teams from the league's highest-drawing division, the NFC East, it's a solid bet the Steelers will open at New England to start the season.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Two playoff teams from the previous season? Check.

Both in the same conference? Yep.

Will the Steelers open the 2015 season at the defending champion New England Patriots? Mark it down as a big "maybe."

The NFL typically puts a team from the same conference at the house of the defending champion on the Thursday  night of Week 1 to kick off the season. The visiting team generally takes the brunt of the kicking - unless you're the Baltimore Ravens, and MLB's Baltimore Orioles have a home game scheduled already. The Ravens are the only defending champions in a decade to not open their season at home.

Baltimore went on the road to start the 2013 season and proceeded to get stomped by the host Broncos 49-27.

The Patriots and Steelers are scheduled to play at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., in the 2015 season, and it would seem the league would have quite the draw with a Steelers at Patriots season-opener. New England scored a big upset over the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship game, en route to their first Super Bowl championship. The Patriots smacked the Steelers 30-14 on Monday Night Football in Week 1.

Technically, the NFL Kickoff game was San Francisco at the New York Giants that season, and Washington hosted the Jets in the 2003 Kickoff game, since then, the defending champions have hosted a team in their conference for the season-opener.

The defending champion is 9-2 in that game, and 9-1 at home. Baltimore and the Giants in 2012 are the only defending champions to lose, the Giants being the only one who lost at home.

The Colts drubbed the Saints 41-10 in the opener in 2007, the only time during the Kickoff era the defending champions played a team outside their conference. The Patriots beat the Colts and Raiders in that game in 2004 and 2005. The Steelers defeated Miami in 2006 and Tennessee in 2009.

Only the Giants have opened against a team in their division, defeating Washington in 2008 and losing to the Cowboys in 2012. NFC East games are typically among the highest rated of the year.

The Patriots 2015 home schedule consists of games against Buffalo, Miami, the Jets, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh. The allure of getting an NFC East team in that game has to be powerful, but in terms of hype, the Steelers would be a good pick.

It's cool, though. The Steelers get to play the NFC Champion Seahawks on the road in 2015, too.