Pittsburgh (13-5) at New England (15-2)
When: Sunday, January 22nd 2017
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
Time: 6:40 ET | TV: CBS
The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are both aiming to become the first team to advance to a ninth Super Bowl when they meet in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday evening. Much like the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers suffered through a four-game losing streak in the middle of the season, but have strung together nine straight victories after taking care of Miami (30-12) and Kansas City (18-16) this postseason. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has one of the league’s top receivers at his disposal in Antonio Brown, but Pittsburgh’s offense is centered around running back Le’Veon Bell, who has set franchise playoff records in back-to-back games by rushing for 167 yards against the Dolphins and 170 at Kansas City. Bell has rushed for 118 yards or more in seven of his last eight games but was limited to 81 on 21 carries by New England while making 10 catches for 68 yards in the Patriots 27-16, Week 7 victory. Brown has recorded 481 receptions over the last four seasons, including seven for 106 yards in Week 7, while going over 100 yards in both playoff wins. Roethlisberger owns a 13-6 postseason record heading into his fifth AFC title game. The defense has shown the most improvement for the Steelers, who have allowed an average of 16.6 points and has 31 sacks during their winning streak.
New England might have showed a little rest after their bye against the Houston Texans last Saturday night, but the defense limited Houston to just a field goal in the second half in the 34-16 victory in Foxborough. After throwing for 28 touchdowns against only two interceptions this season, Tom Brady matched the interception total by getting picked off twice during a mediocre performance in last week’s victory over Houston. Brady has had great success in his career against the Pittsburgh defense, however, throwing for 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last six meetings, and for his career has 26 scoring passes versus three picks while posting a 9-2 record against them. “I think the game earlier in the season is not really that relevant,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “What the Steelers have done in the last 2.5 months is really what we’re probably going to see Sunday night, and that’s what we’ve got to be ready for.” Running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Week 7 meeting, but Dion Lewis did the bulk of the damage last week with three touchdowns including a 98-yard kickoff return. The Patriots’ defense led the league by allowing just 15.6 points during the regular season, but will be tested on Sunday.
Pittsburgh’s defense is playing well enough right now to slow down Brady a bit and the Steelers’ offense is very hard to stop right now. I think this line is way too high, but I get it – New England covers the spread routinely. I believe the Steelers have a legitimate shot at winning this game, so taking the points is a no-brainer.
Pick: Steelers +6