AFC Championship Preview: Super Sunday is On the Line
Sunday, January 22, 2017, will mark the 3rd time the Steelers and the Patriots will have met in the AFC championship game. This will be the first time this matchup will be played in Foxborough, MA with a Super Bowl spot on the line. Both times the Pittsburgh Steelers were unsuccessful against the Patriots in Pittsburgh. The first game played between these two was in 2002, the Patriots were victorious 24-17. A second meeting occurred just three years later, again in Pittsburgh with the same result: Patriots 41 - Steelers 27.
Fun fact of the day: both times the Steelers and the Patriots met in the AFC championship the winner went on to win the Superbowl.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are on a tear of late; winners of their last 8 games, defeating the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card round 30-12, and defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16 in the divisional round. Pittsburgh will have their hands full with Tom Brady this Sunday, marking the first time in the playoffs that they will face a high scoring offense. How will the Defense respond? The keys to the game for the Steelers are short and simple: The Killer Bees. Yes, Ben, Bell, and Brown are going to be the ones who can win this game, much like they have all year. They will have to be at the top of their game in a hostile environment at Gillette.
It is unbelievable to me how you can roll into Arrowhead Stadium, not score a touchdown, and end up winning the game. All credit here goes to the defense, the offensive line, and Le'Veon Bell. Player of the game, Bell had 30 rushes for 170 yards. He also broke a record for most yards rushed by a player in their first two playoff games totaling 337 yards rushing. If the Steelers can get Ben, Bell, and Brown to have a huge day they have a great chance to win this game and punch their ticket to Superbowl LI.
The New England Patriots have a huge hill to climb after the unconvincing victory over the Houston Texans. Houston laid a foundation on how to beat Brady and the Pats: pressure, pressure, and more pressure. With weapons like Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Hogan, and James White, Brady has many options to destroy the Steelers secondary. To go against Brady in an AFC championship game in Foxborough sounds terrifying.
Keys to the game for the Patriots: first and foremost the defense must stop the formidable trio of Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le'Veon Bell. New England must create turnovers, and take care of the ball against the Steelers. The Texans did just that to the Patriots, disrupting their offense in the first half. Playing a better team who can capitalize on turnovers, the Patriots could see themselves falling behind early.
If I've learned one thing being a Miami Dolphins fan playing the Steelers, it is that you cannot worry too much about one aspect of the game. When you focus too much on stopping Le'Veon, the passing game opens up and Antonio Brown catches two passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. And when you focus too much on the passing game, Le'Veon Bell torches you for 167 rushing yards—by that time the game is surely out of hand.
Steelers-Patriots AFC championship game is sure to entertain and promises a great 3+ hours of football. My prediction: Brady fixes what was broken against the Texans and torches the Steelers for 4 TDs with 350+ yards passing. Patriots win 38-24 and punch their ticket to Superbowl LI in Houston.