For many years, dating back even to the AFL, the chief rivals of the New England Patriots resided in their division: the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. The Pittsburgh running back leads the National Football League with 1,105 rush yards this season, but he has actually struggled against the Patriots previously, failing to score a touchdown or top 100 yards in all three games played. Life in the AFC East is frankly boring. The Patriots haven't just had the Steelers number of late, but since all the way back when Brady's career began.
They meet Sunday in Pittsburgh in the NFL's latest Game of the Year, with the victor seizing a clear advantage in the race for the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
On the other side, the over is 4-0 in the Steelers' last four games overall, is 4-0 in their last four home games, and is 4-0 in their last four games coming off a win.
First and foremost, the Patriots would have to finish the season on a four-game losing streak.
The biggest problem for the Patriots defense early in the season was allowing the big play. In the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots are 17-3 in home playoff games, 3-4 on the road.
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The Cowboys hope a third-straight win and then the return of star runner Elliott from suspension can sneak them into the NFC playoffs, while the Raiders hope to emerge from the crowded AFC West. "Don't forget, he went out of the AFC Championship a year ago early (with a groin injury)".
So yes, the Patriots had better win Sunday.
"It's best to play man against Tom Brady", Pittsburgh cornerback Artie Burns said. Kyle Van Noy, meanwhile, is questionable for Sunday with a calf injury. These are the two most commonly used zone coverages in the NFL. There are seasons when Brady hasn't throw that many picks.
As unsafe as Bell is as a runner, I'm even more concerned about his ability to catch the ball.
One is that the Patriots aren't generating much of a pass rush, which could get a boost if Trey Flowers is active. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh is now without their most important player on that side of the ball. New England is No. 13 in red zone offense (touchdowns on 57.1 percent of its drives inside the opponents' 20-yard line) and No. 7 in red zone defense (opponents have converted 47.4 percent of such drives into TDs). Well, some of us will obviously just be looking to be beaten, because, of course, it is impossible for the Steelers to beat the Patriots.
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But a loss Sunday will be huge.
But while New England nearly is a lock to make the AFC playoffs this season, the 10-3 Patriots haven't locked up a spot just yet.
Also remember, if New England beats Pittsburgh, there are still a couple of scenarios where Jacksonville ends up as the top seed. The over is 5-2 in the Pats' last seven games played in Week 15.
And if there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's the importance of the bye week for the top two seeds.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose versatility gave Butler flexibility to take chances, remains in the hospital recovering from a spinal injury that ended his season and left his future in doubt. But when they won the Super Bowl last season, they had a big, pounding running back in LeGarrette Blount and a receiver who was almost unstoppable in Julian Edelman.
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There's a lot at stake here. "You look at the last 10 times we've played them, we've only won twice".