Welcome to the preview of the AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the Steelers and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, provides a game outlook, score prediction, individual stats, team stats, the most up-to-date injury report, and even the weather at kickoff! The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!
A look at the Pittsburgh Steelers!
Overall Record: 13-5
AFC #3 Seed
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (10th Season with Steelers)
Overall Regular Season Record: 103-57 (.644)
Playoff Record: 8-5 (.617) (Qualified for playoffs 7 times)
Last Game: AFC Divisional Playoff- Pittsburgh 18 Kansas City 16
Breakdown of the Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger looks to lead his team to their fourth Super Bowl during his tenure as Steelers quarterback. Winners of Super Bowl XL and XLIII, Big Ben would like to make amends for their loss to the Packers in SB XLV.
Roethlisberger has looked both as unstoppable at times as he has looked just ordinary. The Steelers will need the brash and confident version of Big Ben if they are to defeat Tom Brady and the Patriots. Against Miami, Roethlisberger didn’t need much work as Le’Veon Bell ran rampant over the Dolphins. He was 13 of 18 in that game with two touchdown passes to Antonio Brown. Last week against the Chiefs, Ben was only 20 of 31 for 224 yards, no touchdowns, and a bad interception at KC’s goal-line. He looked uncomfortable and unsure in several of his pass attempts. It should be noted that he could’ve had a touchdown pass had Demarcus Ayers not let a ball go through his hand in the end zone. It was a tough pass, but it should’ve been caught.
Antonio Brown has been superb this postseason. Brown has 11 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns so far. Eli Rogers has stepped up nicely during his rookie season out of the slot. Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Demarcus Ayers have all found ways to contribute to the offense when one or several of them have been out injured.
Pittsburgh may get one of their major weapons back in Ladarius Green. The oft-injured tight end was expected to be a big part of the Steelers offense in 2016. He has been out with a concussion since being hit in the head during the Bengals game in week 15. When he did play, Green caught 18 passes for 304 yards and a score. He is traveling with the team to New England despite being listed as questionable. Jesse James has brought his A-Game in Green’s absence. Last week, he had six receptions for 83 yards.
Le’Veon Bell has become an unstoppable force. Bell is averaging 168.5 rushing yards this postseason and set a franchise record for rushing yards against Miami in the wild-card round, then broke it last Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. During the regular season, Bell rushed for 1,268 yards in 12 regular-season games with seven scores. He is as dangerous catching the ball as he is running it. Bell caught 75 passes for 616 yards in 2016. DeAngelo Williams serves as a more than capable change of pace when or if Bell needs a rest. Roosevelt Nix is a big part of Bell’s success with his superb lead blocking as the Steeler’s fullback.
The Steelers defense is playing great at the right time of year. They are allowing a league-low 14 points per game in the playoffs and have caused four turnovers and have sacked the opposing quarterbacks six times.
A look at the New England Patriots!
Overall Record: 15-2
AFC #1 Seed
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (17th Season with Patriots)
Overall Regular Season Record: 237-115 (.673) | 201-71 (.739) with Patriots
Playoff Record: 24-10 (.706) (Qualified for playoffs 15 times)
Last Game: AFC Divisional Playoff- New England 34 Houston 16
Breakdown of the Patriots: Tom Brady needs no introduction. Everyone knows what he is capable of in leading a team to the Super Bowl. The Patriots have been to the AFC Championship Game six straight years, but have won only two of those games. Brady was suspended for the first four games of the year but still managed to pass for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Those stats weren’t as good as last week against the Texans as Brady threw for 287 yards and two scores, but was also picked two times, matching his season total in just one playoff game.
The running game consists of a three-man attack with LaGarrette Blount leading the way with his physical style of play. He found the end zone 18 times during the regular season and rushed for 1,161 yards. James White is a bigger threat catching the ball out of the backfield than he is in running it. He nabbed up 60 receptions for 551 yards and five touchdowns. Dion Lewis returned late in the year from being placed on preseason IR and was tremendous when he got on the field. Lewis ran for 283 yards and caught 17 passes for 94 yards in seven games. He led the Patriots in rushing last week with 41 yards and a score vs Houston.
The biggest threat in the Patriots passing game is out, that being tight end Rob Gronkowski with a back injury. Martellus Bennett stepped up well when called upon, catching 55 passes for 701 yards and seven scores. The main target for Brady is Julian Edelman, who caught 98 receptions in 2016 and scored three times. He had eight receptions for 137 yards last week. Depending on who is healthy, Brady will also utilize Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Michael Floyd, and Malcolm Mitchell. The Patriots have listed Bennett, Amendola, Hogan, and Mitchell all as questionable for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots, in their lone playoff game vs the woefully inept Texan’s offense, gave up only 16 points, sacking Brock Osweiler three times. The Patriots also picked off Osweiler three times.
Defensive end Trey Flowers leads the team with seven sacks. Corner Malcolm Butler has four interceptions on the year.
For the year, the Patriots gave up a league low 15.6 points per game and were 8th overall in Total Defense.
Game Preview: As amazing as these two franchises have been, it’s almost unthinkable that this will be the first time since January of 2005 that these two teams will have met in the postseason.
One will advance to play in an NFL Record 9th time in the Super Bowl.
Ben Roethlisberger has waited 12 years since his rookie season to make amends with that last loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.
Roethlisberger will be playing in the AFC Championship Game for the fifth time (3-1) in 13 years with the Pittsburgh. It is the Steelers first time back in the conference title game for the first time since 2010. He missed the regular-season game in October vs New England with a knee injury.
“You’ve got one game to get to the Super Bowl. You’re going to the dragon’s lair,” Roethlisberger said, “and we’re trying to slay the dragon.”
Brady is 9-2 all-time against the Steelers with 26 touchdowns and three interceptions. Roethlisberger is 6th all-time with 13 playoff wins.
If the Steelers win, Roethlisberger will hope to add Super Bowl Ring #3 to his collection. Brady would be playing for his 5th. That would be the most ever in the Super Bowl Era.
Roethlisberger has learned that he doesn’t need to carry the Steelers on his back to lead them to victory. He has Le’Veon Bell to thank for that.
Big Ben told his star running back that he would be the man leading the Steelers offense to paydirt come playoff time.
“Ben obviously knows the things I do well,” Bell said. “He came up to me, really told me to be the same player I was all year.”
With an average of 168.5 yards a game during his playoff career, how can Roethlisberger not love what he sees out of Bell?
“What I’d hoped for and expected. He’s a very special football player. He’s rising up to the challenge,” Roethlisberger said.
Bell definitely has the attention of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“He’s really a hard guy to tackle. He’s got good vision, great patience, and he does a good job,” Belichick said. “Defensively he really forces you to be disciplined. You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles.”
New England will have to focus on containing the Killer B’s, that of Big Ben, Bell, and Brown. You kinda have to pick your poison on which one you want to slow down the most. It’s a tough task for the Patriots, especially if all three play at the top of their games.
You’re going to see Bell being featured in a myriad of formations. If Pittsburgh is able to move the ball as they have all postseason, they will start finding ways into the end zone rather than settling for those six field goals they had last week vs Kansas City. The offense is too good not to. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley would be wise to just turn Bell loose and also ditch the empty set formation. Always keep the defense on their heels in guessing what is coming. An empty set guarantees a pass play.
With Bell leading the way, it will give Pittsburgh’s passing attack more room to operate. That’s when Roethlisberger needs strike with accuracy and confidence with his multitude of capable receivers. Antonio Brown is going to get his catches and yards. The Patriots will do all they can to keep him as contained as possible. It will be up to players like Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, and Demarcus Ayers to make big catches when thrown to. If Ladarius Green is able to suit up at tight end, it just adds another log to the fire in the Steelers exceptional offense.
“Of course, I want to play, but I am just taking it day by day and seeing whatever the coaches want me to do,” Green said. “That’s not my decision.”
There’s no doubt Pittsburgh will move the ball and put points up on the scoreboard. How and if they win this game will be decided by a young defense that has come together as a strong unit in the 2nd half of the season. Players such as Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, and Sean Davis have become solid, relied upon players. The ageless James Harrison is playing as well as he did when he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Just a few months shy of his 39th birthday, Harrison has 2 1⁄2 sacks, four quarterback pressures and a forced fumble in the postseason.
Plain and simple, the Steelers defense will need to pressure Tom Brady, and when they do get to him, they have to punish him physically.
“If we can get pressure, I’ll be happy,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Thursday. “The thing we have to do is try to hold the points down as much as we can.”
Houston nailed Brady eight times last week, sacking him twice. Their constant pressure led to Brady having a passer rating of just 68.6.
New England can get at you offensively, defensively, and even on special teams. You can’t take a single play off against them. They bring it every snap. That’s how they are coached.
“The way that they beat you, it’s a full team effort,” Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said. “For us, it’s obviously going to be minimizing (Brady’s) role and pressuring him. Houston did a pretty decent job getting pressure up the middle. Everyone pretty much knows that’s the plan, but it’s hard to execute it. He throws a good deep ball, he’s very good at moving the safety, it requires a lot of discipline. We’re going to have our hands full. This is the type of game you want to be in, this is the type of team you want to play against.”
With Rob Gronkowski out, Pittsburgh’s secondary will have to focus on stopping Julian Edelman. If the Steelers are able to shut down Edelman, Brady will have to rely on lesser players such as Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd. Malcolm Mitchell played well during the regular season, but is questionable, at best, to play this week.
“There are a lot of undersized guys who are very successful,” said Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell, “with Antonio Brown being one of them. One thing that makes undersized guys like (Edelman) that successful is they continue to work to get open no matter what. They never stop their route. … With guys like that you’ve got to cover a lot because their route is never over.”
LaGarrette Blount was out-rushed by Dion Lewis last week vs Houston. Whoever carries the ball more for New England will find little space to run in. Pittsburgh has stepped up its rushing defense in the playoffs. They held Miami’s Jay Ajayi to just 33 yards and the Kansas City’s Spencer Ware to 35.
It’s been a long time coming for Roethlisberger vs Brady Part II. The last time, Brady and the Patriots walked out of Pittsburgh and handed Roethlisberger his first loss ever. The Steelers licked their wounds and won the Super Bowl the following year.
I love the way Pittsburgh’s defense is playing. It is the reason I like them to defeat New England this Sunday night in Foxborough. I see the Steelers getting after Brady and making his life just miserable enough for Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense to find enough points to advance Pittsburgh to their 9th Super Bowl and a shot winning Championship #7 in Super Bowl LI.
Prediction: Steelers 27 Patriots 20
AFC Championship Game
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-5) at #1 New England Patriots (15-2)
Venue: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA.
Game time: Sunday, January 22nd, 6:40 p.m.
TV: CBS | Announcers: Jim Nantz (play-by-play) Phil Simms (analyst) | Tracy Wolfson and Jay Feely (sideline)
Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 102.5 WDVE-FM | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Tunch Ilkin (analyst) | Craig Wolfley (sideline)
National Radio: Westwood One | Announcers: Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) Dan Fouts (analyst) | Ross Tucker (sideline)
Weather at Kickoff: Cloudy and 40. Chance of rain showers during the game. Winds light and variable.
Vegas Line: New England -6
- Series History: Series began in 1972.
- The Steelers are 14-11 in the overall Regular Season series against the Patriots.
- Steelers are 4-4 playing in New England.
- Streak: Patriots won previous three meetings.
- Last Regular Season Meeting: Last Regular-Season Meeting: Oct. 23, 2016, in Pittsburgh- New England 27 Pittsburgh 16
- Steelers are 1-3 in the Post-Season vs the Patriots.
- Last Post-Season Meeting: Jan. 23, 2005, in Pittsburgh- New England 41 Pittsburgh 21 – AFC Championship Game
- New England DL Jabaal Sheard played at the University of Pittsburgh for four years (2007-10).
- New England RB Dion Lewis rushed for the Pitt Panthers for two years (2009-10).
- The Steelers look to improve to 37-24 in postseason team history.
- Pittsburgh looks to win their fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game (2005, 2008 and 2010 seasons).
- The winner between Pittsburgh and New England will play in an NFL Record 9th Super Bowl appearance.
- Mike Tomlin looks to extend his record to 3-0 in AFC Championship Game history (2008 and 2010 seasons).
- Ben Roethlisberger with a win, would improve to 14-6 in the postseason as a starter (6-2 on the road).
- Roethlisberger is two completions from surpassing John Elway (355) for the sixth-most pass completions in NFL playoff history and 32 from fifth (Dan Marino, 385).
- Antonio Brown is 72 receiving yards from becoming the third Steeler with at least 700 postseason receiving yards.
- Brown with 100 receiving yards this week, will become the first player in NFL history to record five consecutive 100-yard playoff games.
- Le’Veon Bell with 100 rushing yards on Sunday, will become the second player in Steelers playoff history to record three consecutive 100-yard games in the postseason, joining Franco Harris (three games).
- James Harrison is a half sack from registering 10.0 in his Steelers’ postseason career and to join LaMarr Woodley (11.0) as the only players with at least 10.0 sacks in team playoff history.
- Chris Boswell is one field goal from tying Gary Anderson and Roy Gerela (15) for the second-most in Steelers postseason history and two to match Jeff Reed (16) for the franchise record.
Individual Statistics (Regular Season)
QB- Ben Roethlisberger (3,819 yards passing | 29 TD passes | 13 interceptions | 17 sacks)
RB- Le’Veon Bell (1,268 yards rushing | 7 rushing TD’s | 75 receptions | 616 yards receiving | 2 receiving TD’s)
RB- DeAngelo Williams (343 yards rushing | 4 rushing TD’s | 18 receptions | 118 yards receiving | 2 receiving TD’s)
WR- Antonio Brown (106 receptions | 1,284 receiving yards | 12 receiving TD’s)
WR- Eli Rogers (48 receptions | 594 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s)
WR- Sammie Coates (21 receptions | 435 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
WR- Cobi Hamilton (17 receptions | 234 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
WR- Darrius Heyward-Bey (6 receptions | 114 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
WR- Demarcus Ayers (6 receptions | 53 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
TE- Jesse James (39 receptions | 338 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s)
TE- Ladarius Green (18 receptions | 304 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
TE- Xavier Grimble (11 receptions | 118 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
K- Chris Boswell (Extra Point: 36-36 | FG: 21-25 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 2-2 | 30-39: 8-9 | 40-49: 11-12 | 50+: 0-2 | Long: 49)
New England Patriots
QB- Tom Brady (3,554 yards passing | 28 TD passes | 2 interceptions | 15 sacks | 64 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s)
RB- LaGarrette Blount (1,161 yards rushing | 18 rushing TD’s | 7 receptions | 38 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB- Dion Lewis (283 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 17 receptions | 94 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
RB- James White (166 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 60 receptions | 551 yards receiving | 5 receiving TD’s)
WR- Julien Edelman (98 receptions | 1,106 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s)
WR- Chris Hogan (38 receptions | 680 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
WR- Malcolm Mitchell (32 receptions | 401 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
WR- Danny Amendola (23 receptions | 243 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
TE- Martellus Bennett (55 receptions | 701 receiving yards | 7 receiving TD’s)
K- Stephen Gostkowski (Extra Point: 36-39 | FG: 31-35 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 8-9 | 30-39: 15-17 | 40-49: 6-7 | 50+: 2-2 | Long: 53
Steelers – Patriots: Offensive vs Defensive Comparison (Post-Season)
Steelers Offense: Steelers average 378 YPG | Patriots allow 285 YPG
Rushing: Steelers average 175 YPG | Patriots allow 121.1 YPG
Passing: Steelers average 203 YPG | Patriots allow 181 YPG
Scoring: Steelers average 24 PPG | Patriots allow 16 PPG
Steelers Defense: Steelers allow 266 YPG | Patriots average 377 YPG
Rushing: Steelers allow 56.5 YPG | Patriots average 104 YPG
Passing: Steelers allow 209.5 YPG | Patriots average 279 YPG
Scoring: Steelers allow 14 PPG | Patriots average 34 PPG
Injury Report (1/20/2017)
Questionable: TE Ladarius Green (concussion, illness), LB James Harrison (shoulder, triceps), RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)
New England Patriots
Questionable: WR Danny Amendola (Ankle), TE Martellus Bennett (Knee), RB Brandon Bolden (Knee), LB Dont’a Hightower (Shoulder), WR Chris Hogan (Thigh), WR Malcolm Mitchell (Knee), DL Jabaal Sheard (Knee)
Final NFL Standings
Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Schedule
Friday, Aug. 12 DETROIT L, 30-17
Thursday, Aug. 18 PHILADELPHIA L, 17-0
Friday, Aug. 26 @ New Orleans W, 27-14
Thursday, Sept. 1 @ Carolina L, 18-6
Regular Season (11-5)
Monday, Sept. 12 @ Washington W, 38-16
Sunday, Sept. 18 CINCINNATI W, 24-16
Sunday, Sept. 25 @ Philadelphia L, 34-3
Sunday, Oct. 2 KANSAS CITY W, 43-14
Sunday, Oct. 9 NEW YORK JETS* W, 31-13
Sunday, Oct. 16 @ Miami* 1 p.m. L, 30-15
Sunday, Oct. 23 NEW ENGLAND* L, 16-27
Sunday, Oct. 30 BYE WEEK
Sunday, Nov. 6 @ Baltimore* L, 14-21
Sunday, Nov. 13 DALLAS* L, 30-35
Sunday, Nov. 20 @ Cleveland* W, 24-9
Thursday, Nov. 24 @ Indianapolis W, 28-7
Sunday, Dec. 4 NEW YORK GIANTS* W, 24-14
Sunday, Dec. 11 @ Buffalo* W, 27-20
Sunday, Dec. 18 @ Cincinnati* W, 24-20
Sunday, Dec. 25 BALTIMORE W, 31-27
Sunday, Jan. 1 CLEVELAND* W, 27-24 OT
Sunday, Jan. 8 AFC Wildcard: MIAMI W, 30-12
Sunday, Jan. 15 AFC Divisionals: @ Kansas City W, 18-16
Sunday, Jan. 22 AFC Championship Game: @ New England 6:40 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Jan. 29 Pro Bowl (Orlando, Fla.) AFC vs NFC 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday, Feb. 5 Super Bowl LI (Houston, Texas) 6:30 p.m. (Fox)