NFL Playoffs AFC Championship Game Preview
Pittsburgh Steelers vs New England Patriots
The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are in familiar territory as they prepare to clash in Sunday night’s AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The winner of the matchup will establish an NFL record by becoming the first team to advance to the Super Bowl for the ninth time (Enter Contest).
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a pair of Super Bowl rings but knows the challenge presented by the Patriots. They’ve beaten Pittsburgh in the AFC title game after both the 2001 and 2004 regular seasons on their way to championships. New England, the first team since the 1970 merger to advance to six consecutive conference championship games, won at Pittsburgh 27-16 in Week 7. It was a game Roethlisberger missed due to injury. But things look to be much different this time around. The Steelers’ are on a roll. They are on a nine-game winning streak.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (13-5)
Roethlisberger owns a 13-6 postseason record heading into his fifth AFC title game. He has one of the league’s top receivers at his disposal. Pittsburgh is also centering its offense around running back Le’Veon Bell, who has set franchise playoff records in back-to-back games by rushing for 167 yards against Miami and 170 at Kansas City. Bell has rushed for at least 118 yards in seven of his last eight contests but was limited to 81 on 21 carries by New England while making 10 catches for 68 yards. Antonio Brown has racked up 481 receptions over the last four seasons, including seven for 106 yards in Week 7, while going over 100 yards in both postseason wins. The defense has shown the most improvement for the Steelers. They have permitted an average of 16.6 points and registered 31 sacks during their winning streak.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (15-2)
After throwing for 28 touchdowns against only two interceptions, Tom Brady matched the latter total by getting picked off twice during a pedestrian performance in last week’s 34-16 victory over Houston. Brady, though, routinely has carved up Pittsburgh’s defense, throwing for 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last six matchups, and for his career has 26 scoring passes versus three picks while posting a 9-2 record against the Steelers. 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 against Houston with three TDs. It includes one on a 98-yard kickoff return. The Patriots’ defense led the league by surrendering 15.6 points during the regular season. New England is 16-3 at home in the playoffs since 2001.