It’s finally here – the game of the year! The 11-2 Steelers face the 10-3 New England Patriots at Heinz Field. The winner gets the #1 seed in the AFC and probably home field throughout the playoffs. The Steelers have been thinking of this game ever since they lost to the Patriots in the AFC championship game in January. The Patriots probably haven’t been thinking of this game as much because they almost always beat the Steelers. They’re 8-2 against the Steelers in their last 10 games. Do the Steelers have a chance? When you have the best wide receiver and running back in the game, you can beat anyone. Right? Let’s look at the matchups:
Patriots offense vs Steelers Defense
If there was one player the Steelers could afford to lose the least it was Ryan Shazier. He was the heart and soul of the defense, their best player, and the signal caller on defense. They tried to replace Shazier with Sean Spence (just signed) and Arthur Moates (formerly outside linebacker) but that did not go well. The Baltimore Ravens put up 38 points on the Steelers last week and ran at will.
The secondary hasn’t been good since cornerback Joe Haden went down with a broken leg a month ago. He returned to practice but he’s questionable to play this week. If he doesn’t play, rookie Cam Sutton will get his first start.
The Steelers will have to solve their problems quickly because they’re facing arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Tom Brady carves up the Steelers defense almost every time he faces them. The Steelers are known for their zone-blitz scheme and Brady excels against that kind of defense. To beat the Patriots, the Steelers will have to use more man coverage and get lots of pressure from their defensive line like the Dolphins did last week in their 27-20 victory over the Patriots.
Steelers offense vs Patriots Defense
Can anyone stop the Steelers offense right now? They’ve averaged over 33 points the last 4 games. Ben Roethlisberger is playing as well as he has his whole career; he threw for 506 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against the Ravens. Le’Veon Bell leads the league in rushing and Antonio Brown leads the league in receiving yards. Brown is close to having the best season any receiver has ever had.
Can the Patriots stop this offense? If you look at their rankings, you’d think they’re terrible. They rank 29th in yards allowed. But ever since week 4, they’ve averaged giving up 17 points per game. They’ll try to neutralize Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and see if the other weapons can beat them. In the AFC championship game, Brown was the Steelers only weapon as Bell was hurt and the other wide receivers were inferior. This time, Bell is healthy and the Steelers also have JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant. One of them has to step up.
This looks very much like it’ll be a shootout as the Steelers defense won’t be able to stop Brady and the Steelers offense is firing on all cylinders. One problem with that – the Patriots always find a way to neutralize the Steelers offense. The Steelers have averaged 18 points in their last 3 meetings. 18 won’t be enough to win this game. If Shazier and Haden were playing, I’d give the Steelers a chance but the Patriots are just too good.
Patriots 30, Steelers 22