AFC Championship Game Showdown
OUR AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW:
STEELERS-PATRIOTS SQUARE OFF SUNDAY WITH SUPER BOWL LI BERTH ON THE LINE
Geez, enough of this social media nonsense that’s dominated the week-long headlines leading into this otherwise fascinating AFC Championship Game matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots – time for everyone to put their phones down and get to work!
Meanwhile, it’s been a while since these two AFC powers clashed at playoff time as you have to go all the back to the 2004 season when a very young QB Tom Brady and Company went into the Steel City and bashed Pittsburgh 41-27 – these teams also collided in the playoffs in 2001, 1997 and 1996 – but you better believe there’s bad blood what with Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin calling the Pats some unkind words in last week’s well-documented locker-room rant that was supposed to stay in-house while the Pats have had a permanent chip on their shoulder pads this year ever since the aforementioned Brady was suspended for the season’s first four games.
Buckle up the chinstraps and let’s get it on!
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AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
PITTSBURGH (13-5) at NEW ENGLAND (15-2) – 6:40pm ET, CBS
Go back to NFL 2001 – yes, dial it back some 15 seasons – and you’ll see that either the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers have played in a combined nine AFC Championship Games. Okay, so you gotta go back to 2004 to find the one-and-only time during the past decade-and-a-half that they played one another (see above) but just consider that in a possible 32 berths in this title game, these two powers have combined to be part of things some 15 times!
In fact, the last time an AFC Championship Game was played without either the Pats or the Steelers, you’ve gotta go back to 2009 when the Indianapolis Colts bested the New York Jets 30-17… remember when!
Now, here’s Brady and Company in search of a fifth Super Bowl crown in this era and standing in the way is a high-powered – and rather mouthy – Pittsburgh team that hasn’t beaten the Patriots since 2011. Sure, the Steelers have been “cooling it” on social media this week after the whole firestorm following last Sunday’s 18-16 hang-on-for-dear-life win at Kansas City and there’s little doubt that the likes of WR Brown – who has exceeded 100 receiving yards in both playoff wins against Miami and KC – and RB Le’Veon Bell (fresh off nearly 340 rushing yards in those two post-season victories) are major handfuls for any NFL defense but even playoff veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger (29 TDs in the regular season but none last week at Arrowhead Stadium) knows this is a daunting task even though the Las Vegas oddsmakers currently have N’England “only” a 6-point home favorite. The Pats’ defense – somehow still underrated after all these years – generally “takes away” at least one team strength and so the question here is can Pittsburgh snag the upset if either Bell or Brown are silenced?
In a word or two, not likely.
On the other side of the coin, the Pats last week had some blips on the screen offensively as Brady was intercepted twice, sacked twice and hurried a bunch in the 34-16 win/cover versus 17-point pup Houston. But amidst the “panic” that set in on Patriots Nation because Brady appeared human and RB LeGarrette Blount was ill, came the realization that do-it-all RB Dion Lewis is a major-league threat – he’s the first player in league history to score a TD rushing, receiving and on a return in the same playoff game – plus WR Julian Edelman remains a star with his eight receptions worth 137 yards against Houston a real high note for Bill Belichick’s team.
It says here that Brady must connect on a few “chunk plays” with the fiery Edelman plus WR Chris Hogan and TE Martellus Bennett – both banged up last week – must make some move-the-chains plays too.
Can the Steelers win on a bunch of PK Chris Boswell field goals as was the case last Sunday night?
In a word or two, not likely.
These championship game regulars will be sparring for a berth in Super Bowl LI – click the phone to “off” and enjoy.
Spread Notes – New England is an electrifying 14-3 ATS (against the spread) this season and that includes a 7-2 spread mark when in the role of home betting favorites. The Pats, however, have covered only seven of their last 10 post-season games dating back to the 2006 campaign. On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s a heady 11-7 versus the vig overall this season and note the Steelers have compiled a 24-16-4 ATS log as underdogs since the arrival of coach Tomlin back in 2007.
Here’s the last three head-to-head meetings between the Steelers and the Patriots (note all home teams are in CAPS):
Interesting to note that not only did Pittsburgh QB Roethlisberger miss the regular-season game played between these teams back on Oct. 23rd, but the Steelers were haunted by failed trips into the red zone along with 10 penalties for 85 yards. Note that the 2015 meeting was the NFL Kickoff Game after the Pats had won Super Bowl 49 versus Seattle.
Here’s the team-by-team charts for both the Steelers and the Patriots this year (note all home teams are in CAPS below and spread listed is according to the winner):
|NEW ENGLAND (15-2)|
|11||New England||-11||SAN FRANCISCO||30-17|
|12||New England||-9½||NY JETS||22-17|
|13||NEW ENGLAND||-13||Los Angeles||26-10|
|16||NEW ENGLAND||-17||NY Jets||41-3|
Note: More NFC and AFC Championship Game goodies plus Hoops too in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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