The New England Patriots (10-3) travel to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to take on the Steelers (11-2). This AFC showdown will kick off at 4:25 PM/ET.
The Patriots are coming off a surprising loss to the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. New England traveled to Miami, where Tom Brady and the Patriots have struggled sporadically over the course of his career and got thoroughly outplayed all night. The Patriots face a must-win game heading into their tilt with the Steelers. For weeks, these two teams have circled this matchup on the schedule knowing that the AFC’s number one seed would likely come down to whichever team held this head-to-head tiebreaker. New England’s loss gives the Patriots no room for error in the chase for a first-round bye and the number one seed.
The Steelers are coming into this game in a better position than New England. While the Patriots lost, the Steelers managed to orchestrate an improbable comeback against division rival Baltimore. Ahead of New England by a game, Pittsburgh has a little more room for error down the stretch, but this remains a must win. If the Steelers can defeat the Patriots, then they’ll control the number one seed in the AFC with two weeks remaining before the start of the playoffs.
The Patriots look vulnerable.
Against the Dolphins in week 14, the Patriots’ offense looked vulnerable. Playing without Gronkowski, Tom Brady played is worst game of the season. Brady was under heavy pressure for most of the night. The heavy pressure resulted in Brady throwing two interceptions. Overall, Brady’s accuracy seemed a little off most of the game. Facing a Steelers team that ranks 4th in passing yards, expect Brady’s struggles moving the football to persist. The return of Gronkowski, however, should aid the Patriots’ offense.
The Patriots’ offense wasn’t the only unit to struggle in week 14. New England’s defense struggled to stop a Dolphins’ offense that ranks 28th in yards, according to NFL Stats. Prior to week 14, the Patriots hadn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points since their week four loss to the Panthers.
Facing a Steelers’ offense that ranks 6th in yards per game after giving up 27 points to a struggling Dolphins team is a concern. Expect the Patriots to try to reduce Le’Veon Bell’s impact on the game. Bells’ ability to factor in the passing game as well as the running game, makes him the most dangerous weapon on the field.
This is the Steelers year.
Ever since the Steelers lost to the Patriots in the 2017 AFC title game, the Steelers have wanted this opportunity at redemption. With a chance to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win on Sunday, expect the Steelers to try to deliver a knockout punch to the Patriots early.
The Steelers offense has a few question marks though. The health of wide-receiver Juju Smith-Schuster makes his availability up in the air. The loss of Smith-Schuster wouldn’t hurt the Steelers too much, but his presence would certainly create issues for a Patriots’ defense that’s struggled when facing speedy playmakers.
The biggest issue facing the Steelers is their defense. When their offense is working properly, the Patriots have the potential to move quickly. In last years AFC Championship game, Brady and the Patriots picked apart the Steelers secondary. Throughout Brady’s career, he’s regularly found success when facing this unit. The Steelers’ defense, however, ranks 6th in yards allowed per game, according to NFL Stats. The Steelers defense is much improved from last year and looks ready to face Brady and the struggling Patriots offense head on.
Steelers vs Patriots Betting Lines
The Patriots and Steelers will face off in what looks like a battle for the AFC. While both teams have struggled in the last few weeks, the Steelers have remained fully in control of their playoff destiny. Despite losing one of their defensive leaders in Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ defense is playing at a Super Bowl level. Pittsburgh has so many weapons on both sides of the ball, however, they’ve struggled with their last three wins needing to come from behind in each to secure victory. Perhaps Pittsburgh got caught looking ahead to this matchup, or perhaps it’s a sign of real issues. Whatever the reason for their struggles, they’ve managed to win all three of those games and that’s what great teams do.
The Patriots, on the other hand, looked like a shell of themselves offensively last week. The Patriots rarely lose two games in a row, and it’s hard to imagine that happening with the stakes so high. The biggest disappointment for the Patriots’ offense in week 14 was their wide-receivers. Brady didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until the third quarter and by the end of the game their best receiver, Brandon Cooks, had 7 targets but only one reception. Expect Cooks to bounce back big with the return of Gronkowski.
This game is big and both teams will put forward their best effort. Expect a high scoring affair that should come down to the final position. The Patriots didn’t inspire confidence last week, and the Steelers have so many offensive weapons the Patriots will need their defense to step up big if they’re going to upset the Steelers on the road. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots losing two games in a row, especially with so much on the line against Pittsburgh. Expect the Patriots, with the return of pass-rusher Trey Flowers, to get after Roethlisberger and force him into mistakes. If the Patriots can put pressure on Big Ben and limit big plays from Pittsburgh offense, then they’ll do just enough to pull off the upset.
Play: Patriots +3 @ BetOnline.ag