AFC Championship Game Preview: Steelers vs. Patriots
Here we go again. As a Patriots fan, we’re in familiar territory. Reaching the AFC Championship is pretty much the equivalent of making the playoffs for New England residents, so if tomorrow doesn’t result in a W then the season is a failure. I’m going to be honest; I’m off about 10 shots of Jameson as I write this, so a lot is going to be based off of emotion. But just know that I’m speaking for the vast majority of Patriots fans when I say that if we don’t at least make it to the Super Bowl, then we underachieved this season.
It’s a bit different this year; we haven’t seen the Steelers in a game of this magnitude for a minute. It feels like we play either the Ravens or the Broncos in this game every year, so it’s nice to switch it up. This is the rivalry that should have always existed in the AFC, but it just didn’t for one reason or the other. Of course when I say one reason or the other, I really mean because Bathroom Ben gets injured every damn year. But it’s different because it poses a challenge that Belichick & co. hasn’t faced in the AFC Championship game in years.
The Steelers scare me. And when I sit and think about it, they really shouldn’t scare me at all. Pretty much anytime I can remember us playing the Steelers, including Postseason games, we’ve won. Not sure what it is about seeing that Black and Yellow in the secondary that makes Tom Brady go crazy, but he seems to put up career numbers against the Steelers. But yet, they still worry me, and it’s probably because this is one of the few times that the “killer B’s” are all healthy at once. Just like any other Belichick coached game, this is going to come down to matchups: The backs vs. the LB’s, the O-line vs. the D-line, and the Corners (Butler) vs. the Wideouts (Brown).
We played the Steelers earlier this season, but Bathroom Ben wasn’t on the field. If there was one thing you could take from watching film from that game, it was that the Steelers left a lot of plays on the field. Not only will New England have to play better than they did the first time around against the Steelers, but they’ll have to play twice as good as they did against the Texans last week. It’s no secret that Tomlin wants to get the ball to Brown and Bell, so it all comes down to how Bill plans to stop it.
New England hasn’t given up 90 rushing yards to one single player in 24 games, and Bell has been on a tear as of late, so something’s gotta give. If I were a betting man, and given Belichick’s history, I would guess that Bill would be more comfortable selling out to stop Bell and living with whatever completions Malcolm Butler gives up. I expect to see much of the same that we’ve seen in the past two times we’ve played the Steelers. We’re going to leave Butler one on one with Brown, let him get his catches, but make sure Bell doesn’t dictate the pace of the game. I have no doubt in my mind that Antonio Brown is going to have a hell of a game. I’m talking about 100+ yards and a TD kind of a game. But that never results in a W against us. I don’t even doubt that Bell has solid statistics as well, but it’ going to come with way more touches than it would on any other day. Just for comparison, tomorrow will be like Westbrook scoring 40 points but it takes him 35 shots to get there.
On defense, we’re going to stick to our “bend but don’t break” philosophy. You’ll see Ben drive down the field on us, but just like they’ve done all season, the Steelers will struggle to get the ball into the end zone. I know y’all saw their game last week; it was looking like a highlight reel for their Field Goal kicker. Not only do I know it, but Mike Tomlin knows that he can’t come into Foxboro and win the game by kicking 6 field goals. TB12 puts up 7, so that’s not going to cut it.
When the Pats have the ball, expect Brady to stick with what he knows during pressure situations. There’s going to be a heavy dose of Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis, and the Steelers can be taken advantage of in the middle of the field. If the Pats can’t get solid yardage with Blount/Lewis on 1st and 2nd down, then they’re going to lose the game. Bud Dupree and old ass James Harrison are going to come after Brady if it’s 3rd and 6+. The Steelers will try to get pressure up the middle like the Texans, but the Patriots will have already had made the necessary adjustments.
I understand the Steelers are the sexy pick in this game. “Experts” on TV and niggas in the barbershop are going to pick Pittsburgh, but don’t buy it. It will be a close one, but there’s a reason why we fought so hard for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. At this stage in his career, TB12 knows that these opportunities come few and far in between. He’s not going to let this one pass him by. I’m not going to come out and say that I’m picking us (Patriots) to win because I don’t want to jinx us, but I’ll see y’all in Houston.