AFC Championship Preview: Patriots Look to Solidify Greatest Dynasty Ever

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

AFC Championship

#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at #1 New England Patriots (14-2)

New England (-6) via Top Bet

Foxborough, Massachusetts (Gillette Stadium)

January 22th, 3:40 PM (PST)

CBS

How each team got to this point:

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • 11-5 regular season and AFC North Champions
  • Defeated the Miami Dolphins (10-6) 30-12 in the Wild Card Round
  • Defeated the Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) 18-16 in the Divisional Round

New England Patriots

  • 14-2 regular season and AFC East Champions
  • Clinched first round bye and home field throughout the playoffs
  • Defeated the Houston Texans (9-7) 34-16 in the Divisional Round

Prior Meeting

  • New England beat Pittsburgh 27-16 during Week 7 in Pittsburgh
  • The game does not matter a ton for Sunday’s game because Pittsburgh had to play this game without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
  • Here are the highlights from the Week 7 matchup

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKv_bBRPrM

Somehow, some way, the New England Patriots find a way to be playing deep into January. At the beginning of the year people thought: There is no way Brady can have a good season at the age of 39, the 4 game suspension is going to catch up with New England, and there isn’t enough talent around Brady to win. Yet, what did do New England do? Tom Brady had a historic season throwing 28 TD to just 2 INT (an all-time NFL record). The Patriots went 3-1 without Brady and finished the season 14-2 with the best record in the NFL. Their defense full of no names finished 1st in the NFL in scoring by only giving up 15.6 points per game, and their offense finished 3rd in the NFL scoring 27.6 points per game.

“[Tom Brady] and Belichick have molded one of the most successful dynasties in professional sports history.”

The New England Patriots are now headed to their 6th straight conference title game, an NFL record. They have the best coach in the NFL, maybe even NFL history (click on the link to read: Is Bill Belichick the Greatest Coach of All Time?), and the best quarterback in the NFL. Yes, people want to point to Aaron Rodgers. He is having an incredible stretch, but don’t forget how everyone felt when he was 4-6. Brady is the model of consistency and him and Belichick have molded one of the most successful dynasties in professional sports history.

On to Sunday’s football game. The Steelers come in boasting one of the best offensives in the entire NFL. The offense is extremely difficult to stop because of the multitude of weapons from the dangerous trio of Big Ben, Le’veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. Not to mention, Bell is also very diverse himself. Despite missing 4 games due to suspension, he has ran for 1,268 yards (105.7 yards per game) and caught 616 yards out of the backfield (51.3 yards per game).

The Steelers have the firepower and the experience to go toe to toe with the top rated Patriots offense. Watch Antonio Brown look to have a monster day, despite his recent negligence on Facebook live. I expect him to handle the situation differently than Odell Beckham and actually play better because of the incident rather than play worse.

Tom Brady against Mike Tomlin’s defense has thrown 19 TD to just 0 INT, completed 71.2 % of his passes, and has thrown for 314.6 yards per game in just the 6 games. He has had a good history against Tomlin and that bodes well against the Steelers who do not have a vaunted defense like they have had in past seasons.

Obviously, both offenses are elite, but the game will be won on the defensive side of the football. The Steelers defense is not as good as past years, but is still a pretty good defense. Tomlin and James Harrison will have them inspired to play good and mean football. Their front 7 is good enough to beat up on New England, but the defense is suspect in the back end and can be exploited for big passing plays.

For New England, their talent doesn’t resemble the number 1 defense that they are. It is amazing every week how well they come to play because Belichick gets rid of what seems to be one of their best defenders every season, yet their defense is elite. No matter what, Bill Belichick will have his defense stout and ready to play.

Malcom-Butler-Super-Bowl

#21 Malcolm Butler, Now a Leader of this Top Ranked Patriots Defense, Makes the Game Winning Interception in the 2015 Super Bowl (The Associated Press)

Prediction

There is not much to separate these two teams. However, it is never smart betting against Brady and Belichick at home. Furthermore, I like New England’s defense more than Pittsburgh’s. New England’s defense has allowed just 11.5 points and 273 yards per game in their last 6 games. New England has been consistently elite for the entire year and I expect them to do the same on Sunday, which gives them the slight edge over Pittsburgh.

In the end, I think New England is going to win a very tight game. However, if Big Ben has a chance late to win the game, I would expect him to drive his team down the field and score a game winning TD, but in all likelihood, the New England defense will never give an opportunity for Big Ben to even have that shot.

New England 27 Pittsburgh 23

NFL Divisional Round Preview: Pittsburgh at Kansas City

AP Photo/Jared Wickerham

Divisional Round

#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

Kansas City, Missouri (Arrowhead Stadium)

January 15th, 5:20 PM (PST)

NBC

The game was supposed to kick off at 10 am (PT) on Sunday, but had to be moved to Sunday night because of a snow storm. The weather is going to be cold, but not as terrible as it can get in Kansas City. The game should be in the low 30’s with a good chance of rain.

If it is pouring rain for most of the game, and the field becomes sloppy, then there will be a big advantage for the Chiefs. The rain would make the game revolve around running the football and defense, which gives the advantage to the Chiefs. The weather is something to pay attention to, but I don’t believe it will be the deciding factor if it stays in the 30’s and there isn’t an immense amount of rain.

Pittsburgh’s Offense

The Steelers offense is one of the most dynamic in the league. They have the best trio in the NFL with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’veon Bell, and Antonio Brown and will present a ton of challenges for Kansas City. Kansas City has the talent to stop them, but the Steelers have been playing real good football of late and I think there are too many players to worry about on the Steelers for the Chiefs. Therefore, I’d give the slight advantage to Pittsburgh’s offense over the Chief’s defense.

Kansas City’s Offense

Kansas City’s offense relies a lot on Andy Reid’s impeccable play calling. They have been without their star RB Jamaal Charles for almost the entire year, but still have found a good running game with Spencer Ware. The Chiefs are a capable offense but are limited because of Alex Smith. He will play solid and not turn the football over, but he isn’t going to win playoff games by himself.

The only way the Steelers can get gashed is by Tyreek Hill having a huge day. He has created many issues for other defenses, but Tomlin will make sure to have a good game plan in place to stop Hill.

Tyreek-Hill-Denver

Explosive WR Tyreek Hill with a long touchdown play

Photo Credit: David Eulitt 

I believe the Steelers defense, who has really picked up of late, will do a good job slowing down Kansas City. In their last 8 games, they have only given up 16.6 points per game, instead of their season average of 20.4, which is deflated from their strong 7 game finish to the regular season.

Prediction

In the end, the Steelers have too much on offense to worry about and have their defense (which is considered their weak link) playing good football at the right time. Ben Roethlisberger’s injury must be monitored. If it is truly an issue, which I don’t think it will be, then the cold weather and a gritty Chief’s defense could cause a lot of problems. However, I think the boot on Ben’s foot was just precautionary and won’t lead to any issues tonight. If that holds true, then I think the Steelers will win a close and low-scoring game.

Pittsburgh 24 Kansas City 20

Side Notes:

Roethlisberger’s injury could be a factor if it gets cold making it tough for him to move around. If he isn’t mobile, then a lot of issues will surface trying to run away from the Chief’s dominant pass rush.

The Steelers blew out Kansas City early in the year (43-14), but I don’t think it will have any impact on the game today:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbMAeumZT-E

Wild Card Weekend Preview: Miami at Pittsburgh

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wild Card Round

#6 Miami Dolphins (10-6) vs. #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Heinz Field)

January 8th, 10:05 AM PT

CBS

It is another playoff game with a backup quarterback gearing up to start. The Miami Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill to a sprained left knee a few weeks ago and have to go with career backup quarterback Matt Moore. It will also be a tough battle for Miami because they are facing the explosive Steelers, who unlike last year, have Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown healthy and look to be the team with the best chance to take down the Patriots in Foxborough.

Pittsburgh has been playing sound football to the end year. They had to beat Baltimore in Week 16 for the division crown, and then rested all their main players and beat Cleveland the following week. The Steelers are the much more talented team and are the healthier team. The trio of Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown is better than any trio in the NFL today. It will be hard for the Dolphins, who even when healthy, would struggle to go blow for blow with the Steelers offense.

Miami’s offense isn’t much to get excited about, even if Tannehill is healthy. They have a good, but inconsistent and young running back in Ajayi. He has the potential to go off, but after his fast start, he has not been able to get much going. In addition, the Steelers don’t have to worry about much except for Ajayi, so the Steelers will look to load the box. He might be effective, but will probably be limited by the Steelers defense. Ajayi is the only hope for a Miami victory, but if the Steelers entire focus is him, I trust Pittsburgh’s ability to shut him down.

Jay-Ajayi-vs.-Pittsburgh

#23 Jay Ajayi runs for 204 yards against Pittsburgh on October 16th, 2016

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The defenses are also mismatched. Even though the Steelers are having a down year on defense, they still are much better than the Dolphins. The Steelers rank 10th in the NFL in points against (20.4 ppg) and are 12th in yards against (342.6). The Dolphins rank 18th in points against (23.8 ppg) and rank 29th in yards against (382.6). It is easy to spot the discrepancies between the two defenses. The Steelers should dominate the defensive matchup.

One last thing to note, the Dolphins did beat the Steelers in Miami 30-15. Ben Roethlisberger was dealing with a knee injury and Jay Ajayi had a monster day running for 204 yards and two scores. This game is definitely worrisome for Pittsburgh fans, but Roethlisberger is now healthy, the Steelers will have a better game plan to deal with Ajayi, Miami will be without Tannehill, and will be on the road. I think there was a lot going against the Steelers in that game, and it was an aberration. I would be shocked if that game had any resemblance to one we are going to see Sunday morning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN9KKPCgDbg

In the end, there isn’t a lot to discuss in this game. One team has more talent, is healthier, has the better quarterback, is at home, and has playoff experience. The Steelers don’t have most things going for them in this matchup, they have everything. I would be shocked if this game stays close for very long.

Pittsburgh 31 Miami 13