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As long as Tom Brady's suspension still includes Week 1, the Steelers benefit

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Tom Brady may get his four-game suspension reduced when his appeal is heard on June 23. However, it's highly unlikely he'll get the entire four games overturned. Therefore, for the Steelers, who play New England in Week 1, this could go a long way toward shaping the 2015 season.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

At first, there was outrage among NFL fans that the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady possibly tampered with game balls prior to several constests in 2014--including the AFC Championship game against Indianapolis on January 18. Then, there was joy when it was announced that Brady would be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 regular season. Those four games include the NFL's annual Kickoff on Thursday, September 10 against the Steelers at Gillette Stadium.

Obviously, for Steelers fans, Patriots haters to the maximum, the news of a suspension was met with glee and renewed hope that their team's very-demanding schedule may lighten up a bit, with Jimmy Garoppolo opposing Ben Roethlisberger in that opening game, and the prospects of Pittsburgh walking away with a 1-0 record looking much better.

But, over the past week or so, with Brady's appeal hearing on June 23 fast-approaching and word coming down that the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback is looking to be completely exonerated by Commissioner Roger Goodell and reinstated fully to start the regular season, fans are starting to grow a bit nervous again.

The NFLPA, as unions always do, is backing Brady and hoping to get the suspension overturned. Also, when you throw in Goodell's long-time and very public friendship with New England owner Robert Kraft, many are beginning to think Brady won't miss a single second of the 2015 regular season.

However, how do you think it will look to the world if Brady, considered almost untouchable by so many all these years, a person who seemingly was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, gets off with no punishment after such a very public and much talked about cheating scandal? If Brady is totally innocent, then who were those locker room attendants talking about in their text messages? Why were they so willing to cooperate with the Wells investigation and disclose text messages to one another where they discussed the deals the quarterback was making with them in-order to get those footballs deflated to his liking? Why did they seem to be so casual about the whole thing in their text messages and on a first name basis with  Brady when talking about him? Why was Brady so unwilling to disclose his text records? Privacy? Please.

Fact is, it's quite apparent Brady knew of and even orchestrated the whole Deflategate fiasco. Do I think it's a big deal, and do I think it made much of a difference in New England capturing another Lombardi trophy? No on both counts. However, as I've said before, the public as a whole feels quite differently about things. Therefore, while Brady might be successful in getting his suspension reduced, there is no way he and the Patriots will be getting out of this totally unscathed.

In other words, prepare for Jimmy Garoppolo (or Matt Flynn), because it won't be Tom Brady in Week 1, and that should be enough for Steelers fans.

I was at the now closed for business Sports Rock Cafe back in Week 1 of the 2008 season with a couple of friends, watching the Steelers destroy the Texans at Heinz Field, when word came down that Brady had suffered a season-ending knee-injury. As deplorable as this sounds (Terry Bradshaw would have broken out in a cold sweat if he was there), the entire place erupted in cheers and wild applause, because everyone knew the significance of the loss of such a great player.

New England did manage to post an 11-5 record behind reserve quarterback Matt Cassel, but it wasn't good enough to make the playoffs--the only time the Patriots have missed the postseason since 2002. One of the Patriots' five losses occurred late in the year, when Pittsburgh traveled to Gillette Stadium and walked away with a resounding 33-10 victory.

The Steelers actually finished with a 12-4 record (one victory more than New England), but it was good enough to earn a bye and, because of how the postseason unfolded, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on the way to Super Bowl XLIII.

In the ultra-competitive and ultra-balanced NFL, often the difference between making the playoffs or not, winning a division or settling for wild card, or earning a bye or playing in the wild card round comes down to tiebreakers. Can you imagine how different Steelers history might be had Brady not missed the entire '08 campaign?

When the Steelers won their two most-recent Super Bowls, they did so without having to go through New England. This has often been cited by Patriots fans over the years. Of course, these very same fans conveniently overlook the fact that New England may have won three of its four Super Bowls aided greatly by spying on the opposition.

Fact is, unlike scandals and investigations that uncover cheating, people don't often remember or care about who a team played on the way to winning a championship--while the '08 Steelers had one of the toughest regular season schedules in decades, the cumulative regular season record of their three postseason opponents was the weakest of any Super Bowl winner (.583).

As reported last week, the Steelers have the 12th most talented roster in the NFL, according to ESPN. Obviously, with a world-class offense with very few weaknesses, it's the unknowns of a struggling defense that puts the team closer to the middle of the pack than near the cream of the crop.

This is where one game could make a difference; sometimes, that's all it takes to shift the balance of an entire season.

You might bristle at a possible reduced suspension for Tom Brady. However, as long as the suspension includes Week 1 against Pittsburgh (and it almost surely will), you should be happy, because it could go a long way in shaping how the Steelers season unfolds, and, ultimately, how and where it ends.