Just two more games to go and then it’s the Super Bowl, and in the AFC for many, it’s the two teams predicted back when pre-season commenced. Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to New England to try and derail the dynasty that is Tom Brady and his Patriots. These squads met back in Week 7 of the regular season, a 27-16 New England victory, but that was a game in which Pittsburgh was without Roethlisberger. His torn meniscus did not end Pittsburgh’s season as many predicted, nor did New England’s loss of Rob Gronkowski. Both groups enter playing the best football of their respective seasons, with neither losing since Week 10. This game should make for must-see television on Sunday evening, and with Roethlisberger vs. Brady, it truly doesn’t get any better. Read on below for a full game prediction and analysis as the AFC crowns their conference victor on Sunday evening.
Steelers vs. Patriots Betting Odds:
Pittsburgh Steelers +6 (+100)
@ New England Patriots -6 (-120)
Over 51 (-110)
Under 51 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Steelers vs. Patriots Pick:
For as dominant as New England has been of late and over recent seasons, they showed some real vulnerabilities last week against Houston. Yes, they won by 18, but Houston’s defense really gave them some fits at time. It also shed some insight to conventional wisdom that New England’s current version – without Gronkowski, isn’t all that dominant against other solid teams. Expect that to continue Sunday evening against a Steelers team that is currently playing its best football of the year.
Where Pittsburgh could take advantage is blistering past New England’s porous pass protection. The Steelers don’t have Clowney rushing off the edge, but somebody like James Harrison can surely penetrate the line and get into New England’s backfield to disrupt the timing of Brady in the pocket. Along with guys like Stephon Tuitt and Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh boasts enough talent to put heat and Brady without sending additional rushers in blitz-situations. Brady typically has had some struggles in situations like these. Additionally, without Gronkowski, Brady still doesn’t have a big cog in the middle to rely upon. Pittsburgh’s secondary has gradually improved throughout the season and is currently at their highest level. Back in Week 7 it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh did a great job bottling up Julian Edelman. New England has feasted on weak opposition and a mediocre strength-of-schedule, enhancing their impressive record. Pittsburgh enters as a team doing many things well, and should be able to limit Terrific Tom to just an average day under centre.
On the other side of the football, the New England stop unit has been statistically impressive this season, but again, the competition hasn’t been the highest. They never faced the Steelers’ at full strength, and now that they’ll see them on Sunday night, they better be prepared. This Pittsburgh attack can be lethal and has rounded into fine form. Even though there were some warning signs last week in Kansas City, the Pats don’t have the same terrific defense. In fact, New England barely boasts a pass rush and the Steelers’ offensive line has rounded into one of the top units in all the NFL. Expect them to open holes for Le’Veon Bell bursting through the backfield and look to really gain ground via the run game. Lamar Miller also had some big success early last week in New England, but ultimately Houston had to abandon the run game because they were trailing heavily. Pittsburgh likely won’t need to do that on Sunday.
New England’s defense ranks 23rd in the NFL against the pass, and when you consider the Pats really haven’t faced that many stellar QB’s this season, you have to figure there’s going to be room through the air for Big Ben. Bill Belichick gets a lot of credit as a head coach for being able to successfully eliminate another team’s top threat – but I just can’t see him doing that to the uber-talented Antonio Brown. Especially because the Pats were ranked 20th all season in defending against a team’s number one receiver. Even Eli Rogers has been a very reliable target for Roethlisberger in the slot, and look for the talented youngster to put lots of heat on New England downfield.
Historically, Tom Brady has struggled in these AFC Championship games – despite his team’s relative dominance over the years. He’s thrown 12 touchdowns and 12 picks in these games, and look for more of that mediocre play from the future Hall of Famer on Sunday evening. Their offense is sputtering at the wrong time, and the Steelers will do enough to make things tough for New England to consistently move the chains. For Pittsburgh, they have every chance to win this game if they can avoid an egregious error and remain level in the turnover battle. They protect well and have elite skill and game-breaking talent on offense. Since 2001, the Pats are 12-0 in the playoffs against new opponents, but just 11-9 in regular season rematches. Pittsburgh has seen the Pats this year and they fully know what to expect. Look for a very tight affair to be settled on a Chris Boswell field goal, as Pittsburgh stuns the Patriots en route to Super Bowl LI in Houston.
PICK = Steelers +6 (+100)