AFC Championship Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers will face the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, it is a meeting of two of the most successful franchises in not just NFL history, but in world sports.

The two franchises combine for 10 Lombardi Trophies, 16 Superbowl appearances, 29 AFC Championship appearances, 108 playoff appearances, and 1077 regular season wins.

It will also be a matchup of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks – Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. Ben will be looking to go to his fourth Superbowl while Brady will be looking to head to his seventh.

Just looking at those statistics above show just how successful these two teams have been and are currently, it will be the best game of this upcoming Championship weekend, so let’s break it down a bit more.

Venue:

Gillette Stadium (espn.com)

The Patriots where the number one seed in the AFC (shocking) so they will be hosting the three seed Steelers at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The venue will be packed, will be loud, and will be rocking as the Patriots and their fans continue the story line of “sticking it to Roger Goodell” over the whole Deflategate issue.

Injuries:

The Steelers have had a bad case of the flu spreading through the lockeroom so a number of players have recently been off sick, most notably kicker Chris Boswell. James Harrsion had a few bumps and bruises that kept him out of practice a few days, Sean Davis has a shoulder injury, as does Vince Williams. Ladarius Green appears to still be in the concussion protocol also.

The Patriots are nursing a few injuries, Danny Amendola has an ankle injury, Martellus Bennett has a knee injury. Linebacker Don’ta Hightower has a shoulder injury and receiver Chris Hogan has a Thigh injury.

The Quarterbacks:

Tom Brady,¬†arguably the best to ever do it, quarterbacks the Patriots in the lead up to his potential seventh Superbowl appearance, he has had an MVP type year and if he hadn’t of missed four games would probably be the front runner for the award.

Moving away from his regular season statistics though, Tom’s recent postseason games have been much lower than the future Hall of Famer’s lofty standards. 8 INT’s in his past 6 playoff games is something the Steelers will likely try to capitalize on.

Brady’s stats this year read like this: 28 TD’s, 2 INT’s, 3554-yards, 63.8%.

Tom Brady (businessinsider.com)

Ben Roethlisberger is leading the Steelers in a statistical down year, although the offense is a lot more run heavy, the Steelers quarterback has had quite a few bad throws and unfortunate interceptions this postseason (3 INT’s in last 2 games). That being said he made probably the clutchest throw of the evening in Kansas City, hitting Antonio Brown on a 7-yard crossing pass on 3rd down, backed up near their endzone, that essentially shut the door on any Chiefs comeback.

Roethlisberger’s stats this year read like this: 29 TD’s, 13 INT’s, 3819-yards, 64.1%.

Ben Roethlisberger (bleacherreport.com)

The Difference Makers:

For the Steelers it is going to be the defensive line. While I was almost going to argue why Le’Veon Bell is the key difference maker (which he is very very important) it is in fact the Steelers defensive line that needs the biggest game of all in order for the Steelers to win.

Steelers defenders (steelers.com)

The ageless wonder James Harrison and emerging stud Bud Dupree need to be draped all over Tom Brady all day long, if you look at when the Texans had success against the Patriots offense last week, it was when the pass-rush was most effective. Once the pass rush calmed down, that’s when Brady gutted them. If the Steelers D line balls out this Sunday, and applies continuous pressure, I find it hard to believe the Patriots can find any offensive success.

For the Patriots it’s got to be Dion Lewis, I may be jumping onto the bandwagon here after his performance last week, but being the first player to score on a return, a run, and a catch is quite impressive!

That kind of versatility will keep both the Steelers defensive and special teams staff on alert, if Lewis can effect the game the way he did vs the Texans then the Steelers are going to find themselves down, fast.

Dion Lewis (csnne.com)

Food For Thought:

The last time the Steelers played the Patriots it was an 11 point win by the Pats. The offense made quite a few big plays but considering the state the Steelers defense was in at that point in time, and the fact that Pittsburgh was playing Landry Jones at quarterback, and everyone and their mum knew the Steelers were just going to run the ball constantly, it was hardly a statement win for the Patriots.

Round 2, and this time the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger back and healthy, Antonio Brown is doing Antonio Brown type things and Le’Veon Bell is on a historic run, so the question I guess is will the Patriots win this time, vs a fully stacked Steeler offense and a defense that has grown leaps and bounds? Who will Bill Belichik try to minimize the most?

Predictions:

Ben Roethlisberger: 3 TD’s, 1 INT, 304-yards passing.

Tom Brady: 1 TD, 2 INT’s, 220-yards passing.

Antonio Brown: 9 catches, 100+ yards, 2 TD’s.

Martellus Bennett: 2 catches, 70-yards, 1 TD.

Le’Veon Bell: 125-rushing yards, 50 receiving yards, 2 TD’s.

Dion Lewis: 100 all purpose yards.

Steeler defense: 5 sacks, 2 INT’s 2 Forced Fumbles.

Patriots defense: 1 sack, 1 INT.

Final Score: Pittsburgh – 31 New England – 24

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