New England v Pittsburgh | Monday, January 23, 10.40am (AEDT), Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
Two veteran quarterbacks will no doubt have a big say on who comes out on top in the AFC Championship game, but it will be another intriguing tussle that will decide the outcome of this encounter.
New England Patriots’ Tom Brady and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger’s will take centre stage at Foxborough but it will be the battle between the Steelers’ running game and the Patriots’ run defence which will ultimately determine who comes out on top.
Pittsburgh is ranked 14th in the NFL with 110 rushing yards a game and boast one of the premier running backs in the league in Le’Veon Bell.
The Steelers RB has rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of his last eight games and had a complete game against the Patriots in their regular season match-up in week 7 where he rushed for 81 yards in addition to 68 receiving yards.
The Patriots on the other hand are ranked third in the NFL on run defence, conceding just 88.6 yards per game at a miserly average of 3.9 yards per carry.
They have yet to concede a single 100-yard rusher this season and they’ll look to keep that record intact and contain the dangerous Bell who runs behind a stellar o-line.
Pittsburgh’s build-up to the game has been punctuated by the Antonio Brown saga where the carefree wide out foolishly recorded coach Mike Tomlin’s post-game speech in the Steelers locker-room and streamed it live on Facebook.
The rare insight into the Steelers’ inner sanctum appreciated by Brown’s devoted Facebook followers but Tomlin wasn’t amused and understandably wasn’t in any mood to ‘like’ Brown’s Facebook post.
But to Brown’s credit, the Steelers wide receiver later apologised on Twitter for his Facebook blooper. “Let my emotions and genuine excitement get best of me,’’ he tweeted.
Brady’s Patriots were 27-16 winners over the Steelers in week 7 but the Steelers didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger for that game with back-up quarterback Landry Jones handling the signal calling duties.
By his own lofty standards, Brady is coming off a subpar game last week against the Texans where he completed just 18 of 38 and threw two INT.
The future Hall-of-Famer rarely plays badly in successive games, so expect him to lift here.
If the Pats’ run defence can hold Bell and the Steelers’ rushing attack, the Pats will be off to another Super Bowl.
New England at $1.41
Pittsburgh at $3.00
Tip: New England at $1.41
Line: Pittsburgh +5.5 at $1.97