The New England Patriots are in their sixth straight conference championship game; the Pittsburgh Steelers are making their first appearance since 2010. This is an intriguing matchup between two teams that a lot of people expected to be here, and it should be a fun game to watch.
Keys to the game
Can the Patriots contain Le’Veon Bell?- Bell is a very patient runner who likes to slowly attack the line of scrimmage and use the defenses aggression against them. The Patriots are built to be able to handle Bell. The Patriots are a two-gap defensive line that I think will be patient instead of just advancing up the field. If they do this, they can use Bell’s patience against him. If they slow play Bell and close his gaps down and allow their linebackers to fill the gaps they can cause trouble for Bell. I still expect Bell to break some runs; the Patriots just need to keep him from consistently running the ball against their defense.
Tom Brady had an off week last week; will that carry over here? The fact that he played poorly last week means that it probably won’t happen again this week. When is the last time Tom Brady played two subpar games in a row?
Bill Belichick vs. Mike Tomlin. This is a huge advantage for the Patriots. Tomlin is a good coach, but Belichick may be the greatest coach in NFL history.
Can the Steelers afford to get into a track meet? Very simply, no they can’t. A track meet with Tom Brady will get you beat. The Steelers have to be able to limit Brady’s possessions, the best shot at doing that would be a big day by Le’Veon Bell. If Bell can control the game on the ground which he could do behind a great Steelers offensive line, the Steelers have an excellent shot to win this game.
Can the Steelers pressure Brady? Yes, they can, and they will need to show multiple fronts, maybe do a little bit of what the Texans did with putting the pass rushers over the center from time to time. That strategy paid off big time for the Texans. If they get pressure up the middle on Brady and make him get out of the pocket, they have a shot at containing him. Brady is not Aaron Rodgers; he does not throw the ball nearly as well outside of the pocket.
This game is a tossup, as crazy as it may sound. I think that LaGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis’s ability to make plays in the running game will be the difference in this game. Patriots 27, Steelers 24.