The AFC Championship is set for a great battle of two consistent winning teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers visit the New England Patriots at Foxboro, Massachusetts. Kickoff is set for 6:40 PM ET on CBS. This should be a great game from teams with good defenses and Super Bowl winning QBs. Let’s take a look at the matchups.
Patriots Passing Game
Tom Brady is having another hall of fame type year. Brady notched a 112.2 QB rating in 12 games with 28 TDs and 2 interceptions. Brady struggled a bit in the divisional round game against Houston with 2 interceptions and only 47% completion. The Patriots still played good defense forcing turnovers with a solid run game and scored 34 points in the game.
Julian Edelman had 1,106 yards and 3 TDs this season out of the slot. Martellus Bennett filled in well for Gronkowski with 701 yards and 7 TDs. Chris Hogan added 680 yards and 4 TDs but is dealing with a thigh injury. Malcom Mitchell contributed 400 yards and 4 TDs and Amendola had 253 yards and 4 TDS. Michael Floyd was added late in the year to be an outside receiver after troubles with the law in Arizona. Dion Lewis and James White can be threats catching the football out of the backfield. The Patriots have solid but not great weapons. Brady works well with them in Josh McDaniel’s system. Brady’s protection will be the key for his success. The Texans pressured Brady often and Brady had a poor game because of it.
Brady will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. The defense is no longer the strength for Pittsburgh but is a pretty solid unit. Pittsburgh was 10th in the league allowing 20.4 PPG. Pittsburgh was 14th allowing 87.3 QB rating. The Steelers forced 23 turnovers on the season with 13 interceptions and 10 fumbles recovered. Pittsburgh notched 38 sacks and consistent pressure. The Steelers defense has turned it up a notch and the playoffs and held the Dolphins and Chiefs offenses in check in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Steelers have multiple solid pass rushers but no stand out players. James Harrison led the way with 5.0 sacks and Bud Dupree added 4.5 sacks. Cameron Hayward had 3.0 sacks and Stephen Tuitt notched 4.0 sacks at 3-4 DE. Brady will have a tough matchup with several players that can throw off his timing and accuracy.
Patriots Run Game
LeGarette Blount is a work horses. He had only 3.9 YPC but did tally 1,161 yards and 18 TDS on the season. Dion Lewis returned late in the season and is a good scat back with 4.4 YPC on the year. James White added 4.3 YPC on 38 carries. Pittsburgh was 19th in the league allowing 4.3 YPC. The Patriots will exploit this and try to run often against the Steelers to avoid their pass rush.
Steelers Passing Game
Ben Roethlisberger had a good season with a 95.4 QB rating in 509 attempts with 28 TDs and 13 interceptions. Antonio Brown is a beast with 1,214 yards and 12 Tds on the season. Leveon Bell added 616 yards despite missing 3 games to start the season. Eli Rogers is solid in the slot with 594 yards and 3 TDs. Sammie Coates is a deep threat and Jessie James has made some clutch catches this season. The Steelers have the weapons and QB but the Patriots have the number 1 PPG defense in the league.
Trey Flowers, Jabaal Sheard have had nice seasons rushing the passer. The Patriots got rid of Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in trades and still produce a nice pass rush. Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich are solid Des and Malcom Brown added pass rush at the nose tackle spot. New England will have their hands full with the Steelers weapons. The key as always will be protection of the QB to allow the Steelers weapons to work their magic. The Patriots forced 23 turnovers on the season and several second half turnovers of Osweiler in the divisional round. The game will come down to turnover differential with two evenly talented opponents.
Steelers Run Game
Leveon Bell is a monster. Bell had 1,268 yards and 7 TDs at 4.9 YPC in 13 games. Bell had a huge game against the Dolphins and good game against the Chiefs. The Steelers only scored 6 FGs in their win against the Chiefs and will need to score TDS to keep pace with Tom Brady. The Patriots were 8th in the league allowing only 3.9 YPC. If they can limit Bell, the Patriots will have a huge advantage in the game.
This is a tough game to call. The Patriots have been winning all year and just know how to get to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. The Steelers have a better offense overall and a top 10 defense. However, you just can’t pick against the Patriots at Foxboro. New England wins 23-20 on a late Stpehen Gostkowksi field goal.