Let’s Do It Again

AFC Game Of The Week

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers

Patriots: Last Sunday was a heartbreaking way to lose a football game. They did enough to remain in the game, but the ending will stick with them for the rest of the year no matter how much they try to focus on the next opponent. For those of you who know me, I have a great amount of respect for Bill Belichick. In my opinion, he’s the greatest coach ever and he knows how to rally a team and bring them together but most importantly, keep them focused. We can also mention that all the man does is win and he always has his team either a game away from the Super Bowl or they’re in the big game. However, I’ve found myself questioning two of his moves this year. The first of course was his decision to bench Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl back in February and he was their best cover cornerback. The next is having the Patriots best defensive player in Devin McCourty on the sideline in a Hail Mary situation? I can honestly tell you if Devin is on the field for that final play, Kenyan Drake doesn’t get into the endzone. The Patriots right now are 9-4 and closing in once again on their tenth straight division title (remarkable) and another playoff berth. They’ve really struggled on the road this year as they have a 3-4 record away from Foxborough. As always, people are beginning to question them and write them off. I’m not one of them because with that coach and Tom Brady, they are still one of the favorites to get to the Super Bowl not just this year, but every year. They are still in a good position to get another first-round bye, which would be their eighth and play January football. Tomorrow afternoon, they travel to a stadium that they’ve had much success in and will look to win another game in Pittsburgh.

Steelers: Just when I think they are beginning to turn things around and they’ve seemed to figure out their issues, they go back to struggling. This is the state they’re in right now. To be honest, they haven’t played a complete football game since they last beat the Carolina Panthers on November 8th. Their “issues” as a team started back up when they faced the Jacksonville Jaguars because they didn’t look great in that game. The Jaguars have always played them tough and they had that game, until the Steelers snuck by for the win (which should’ve been a loss). The following weekend in Denver, they turned the football over four times to the Broncos and Ben threw an interception at the goal-line (you’d think he’d learn, right?) and that game snapped their winning streak. They return home in week 13 to face the Los Angeles Chargers and everything seems to be going smoothly again. The second half of that game was a struggle and the Steelers defense had a difficult time limiting the passing attack of the Chargers. That gave them two losses in a row. Last week in Oakland, I called that a trap game for them against the Raiders and they fell for it. When I think their defense is stepping it up and improving, they take two steps back. They allowed 14 points in the second halves against the Raiders and Broncos and 26 to the Chargers, who erased a 23-7 halftime deficit, so the pressure is on their offense to shoulder the load. They are a much better football team then what they’ve shown the last few weeks. When Antonio is scoring, Juju is making plays down the field, they’re able to run the ball, Ben is extending plays and the defense shows some effort on their end, they’re having fun, and everything is going smoothly. A familiar face comes rolling in tomorrow afternoon for another big showdown in the AFC.

Patriots Player To Watch: Trey Flowers– When you watch the Patriots defense nowadays, they don’t have that consistent pass rusher, but he’s the closest thing to one right now. Being able to keep Ben in the pocket and flush him to his opposite side of the pocket will be the key for the Patriots defense tomorrow.

Steelers Player To Watch: Jaylen Samuels– James Conner is highly unlikely to play in this game. I’ve been impressed with how this kid has looked. He has a relentless motor, he can run it and he’s an added threat in the passing game.

Final Analysis: Well, here we are again. This is the best rivalry in the NFL right now because whenever they meet, there is always something on the line. Last year’s battle was an instant classic and if we get anything like that game in this battle tomorrow, we are in for a treat! The Patriots will attack the Steelers linebackers early on and often with quick slants and passes to Edelman, Gordon and James White. New England will also need to protect Brady against the Steelers and their blitz schemes. The Steelers are great when it comes to rushing the passer and they lead the league in sacks with 45. If the Steelers play that zone-blitz scheme defensively, Tom will pick them apart, so they need to play man to man across the board. The Patriots defense will be challenged by the receiving duo of Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster. Those two will test that secondary unlike any other receivers they’ve faced this year. The Patriots must get more of a pass rush against the Steelers and show they can stop a top-notch receiving corps.

Prediction: Patriots 31 Steelers 28