The NFC Championship was expected to be a high-scoring affair. Well, 65 points have been scored in that game, but it’s been one-sided pretty much all game long.
The AFC championship? That’s expected to be a more even keel, old school type of game. Two highly capable offenses, underrated defenses, terrific special teams units, and a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. A combined 29 AFC Championship appearances, with eight AFC Championship wins apiece, tied for most ever. That’s what will be on display in this game tonight on CBS, and so will arguably the top running back and receiver in the league. Simply put, it’s a must-watch game.
For the Steelers, getting to this point has been somewhat surprising. Expected to be a high-scoring offense, the team scored at least 30 points five times in 16 regular season games and at least 20 points in 12 of 16 games. They were also held to just three points at Philadelphia in Week 3, 15 at Miami a few weeks later, were scoreless for most of the game at the Ravens in a game where Ben Roethlisberger rushed back from a knee injury, and didn’t score a single touchdown last week at Kansas City in the Divisional Round.
What I’m saying is that while the offense can be explosive, especially while possessing arguably the best running back in the league in Le’Veon Bell and top level receiver in Antonio Brown, they’re not as good offensively on the road as they are at home. The fact that Ben Roethlisberger has been up and down since his injury doesn’t help at all, especially since they’re facing one of the sneakily best defenses in the league!
Speaking of the Pats, the defense has been playing great and making plays, but the offense is what everyone wants to talk about. Quarterback Tom Brady threw for 28 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions this year, despite missing the first four games of the season due to suspension. He was off last week, yet the team still scored 34 points against the league’s top defense! Dual threat running back Dion Lewis is fully healthy, bruising running back LeGarrette Blount is a nightmare matchup for every defense, Julian Edelman is finally playing great the past few weeks, and with Malcolm Mitchell expected to return tonight, the offense is healthier than its been in a long time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy for the Pats against Pittsburgh at all. Aside from that high-caliber offense, the Steelers also possess a vastly underrated defense that’s been thriving for the past few months. In the second half of the regular season, the Steelers allowed just 16 points per game, while sacking opposing quarterbacks four times a game. In the postseason, they’ve allowed a combined 28 points in two games.
As far as the game itself goes, all sighs seem to point to New England. Tom Brady owns the Steelers, having barely ever lost to them, barely turning the ball over against them, and that includes during the Ben Roethlisberger era. Since Mike Romlin has been the Steelers coach, the Pats are 5-2 against them. The Pats are healthier, have home field advantage, and are less of a wild card.
That said, I’m expecting a close and hard-fought game. The Pats haven’t allowed a running back to exceed 95 yards in a game since last season, so Le’Veon Bell, who’s broken the Steelers team rushing record each of the last two weeks, may not have the easiest of games. The defense will have to step up, as will Ben Roethlisberger. Somehow, someway, I expect the Steelers to at least make a game out of it. I’m not going to pick them to win per se, and my heart says the Pats will coast to a 10 – point win or so, but I’ll predict that it’ll wind up being a closer game than that. At least for entertainment’s sake, I hope it will be.
Prediction: Steelers 23, Patriots 27