WHEN : Sunday, January 22nd 6:40 PM (EST)
WHERE : Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Over the past 15 years only four quarterbacks have played in the AFC Championship and this year two of those elite players will face off once again. The 13-5 Pittsburgh Steelers will travel up north to Foxborough to play the 15-2 New England Patriots. The Steelers came into the playoffs as the three seed. Their road to the finals was not an easy one. They were able to take down the Dolphins 30-12, and then pulled out an 18-16, nail biting win over the Chiefs. Pittsburgh’s offense put up 389 yards of total offense, but they were not able to score a touchdown. Chris Boswell, the Steelers kicker, broke a postseason record by making six field goals in the victory. The Patriots playoff game last week was not as interesting, in fact it was a complete blowout. The Pats defeated the Texans 34-16. They controlled the entire game thanks to their spark plug running back, Dion Lewis. Lewis scored three times, in three different ways. He scored once as a receiver, once on the ground, and even scored on a kick return. The Steelers hold a nine game winning streak, and the Patriots have won their last eight, these two teams have reached their potential and set up what should be a fantastic conference championship.
These two teams played once already this year. In week 7 the Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16. The Steelers team that lost that week was not the same as the one who will face off against the Pats this Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger was injured in their last meeting, and Landry Jones had to step in and take his place. Big Ben is no stranger to big time games. He has already won two super bowls, and is very determined to add a third. The biggest factor in this game will be “the Killer B’s.” The combination of Ben and Brown through the air have propelled Pittsburgh to rank fifth in the league in passing yards per game. Bell is the other element to this trio, as he has been virtually unstoppable of late. Over Pittsburgh’s last 8 games, Bell has averaged almost 150 rushing yards per game. His patient style of rushing has proven to be extremely effective, and incredibly difficult to stop.
No matter how great Pittsburgh’s offense is, Bill Belichick is known for shutting down team’s top players. The Patriots coach, arguably the best head coach the NFL has ever seen, always focuses his defense on controlling their opponents studs. He believes that you must do whatever it takes to control the talent, so that you force other players to step up and beat you. The most intriguing matchup will be whether or not the Patriots defense will be able to stop Le’Veon Bell. New England’s defense ranks third against the run, but so far there has not been a single defense that has been able to control Bell from putting up ridiculous numbers.
Speaking of putting up ridiculous numbers, Tom Brady knows a thing or two about that. Last week against the Texans, Brady had an “off day” throwing two interceptions. Brady had only thrown two interceptions ALL SEASON prior to last Sunday’s matchup. With that being said, the Patriots were still able to put up 34 points, and 377 total yards. The Patriots offense consists of a number of different weapons that all contribute in unique fashions. Tom Brady can pick apart any team through the air. Dion Lewis will burn you out of the backfield or as a receiver. If speed isn’t what the Patriots need, they will turn to LeGarrette Blount, who has powered his way to over 1,000 rushing yards this season. New England’s opponents can never forget about their deadly receiving corp made up of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Martellus Bennett. All of these players contribute, and they will give Pittsburgh’s defense a very hard time on Sunday.
MY PREDICTION : As good as the Patriots are, and as great a coach Bill Belichick is, I have to pick the Pittsburgh Steelers to win this battle. Le’Veon Bell has been unbelievable, and he simply can not be stopped. Whether it is out of the backfield as a runner, or in the slot as a receiver, Bell is an intricate part of Pittsburgh’s offense that gives hell to their opponents. The Brady/Belichick combination is a lethal one, but right now I think the Steelers are the best team in the conference. After they beat the Patriots Sunday, they will get a chance to prove they are the best team in the NFL when they play in Super Bowl 51.