The marquee NFL match-up of Week 15 is without a doubt Pats-Steelers.
In a rematch of January's AFC Championship game the top two teams in the AFC are essentially playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Steelers are 11-2 and the Pats are 10-3. If the Steelers win today they'll end up the one seed in the AFC. They're playing the Texans and Browns to finish out the season. I know anything can happen in the NFL, but the Texans are on their 3rd QB, and the Browns are 0-12. Think it's safe to assume those games will be wins for Pittsburgh. The Patriots on the other hand are getting the Bills and Jets (both at home) to close out the year, so this is probably going to be the last time either team loses in the regular season with today's winner holding the head to head tie-breaker should they finish with identical records.
Despite being a 2 point underdog at home (which makes ZERO sense to me), this game has all the makings for a Steelers victory. They're playing at home. They're hot, haven't lost since week 5. AB and Bell are playing at MVP levels. They've found ways to win games that they seemed dead and buried in. Now after rallying around the Ryan Shazier injury people are starting to through around the term "team of destiny". If they want to take the next step and be legitimate Super Bowl contenders they have to take care of business at home against the defending champs.
Then there's the Patriots. The Pats are coming off one of their worst offensive performances in years Monday night in Miami. For the first time since 1991 they didn't convert a 3rd down. They also had one of the worst onside kick attempts I've ever seen.
Their defense has been decimated by injuries, and ineffectiveness. Granted they've turned things around since their September struggles, but this still has to be the worst front 7 a Patriots team has had since they started winning Super Bowls left and right.
Quick who leads this team in sacks?
It's like they don't want to rush the passer. No Kyle Van Noy today again, and they probably won't have Trey Flowers (correct answer for team sack leader) either. I have no idea how they're going to keep Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell in check.
But despite all of this, Tom Brady owns Big Ben and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I wrote about how we haven't had too many high stakes Patriots-Steelers matchups in January it-blows-my-mind-pats-and-steelers-havent-met-in-the-playoffs-since-2004.html. But when they do play, more often than not the Patriost are on top. Brady is 7-2 head to head vs Big Ben and 10-2 all time against the Steelers, losing in 2004 and 2011. The Patriots just always beat the Steelers. It's that simple, they could be playing at Gillette, the big ketchup bottle, or France, it doesn't matter. No matter what the Patriots seemingly always find a way to win. They don't just win, Brady dominates. Since Mike Tomlin became the Steelers head coach in 2007, Brady is 6-1 versus Pittsburgh with a 72.0 completion percentage, 324.7 passing yards per game, 22 TDs, zero interceptions and a 127.5 passer rating.
Honestly I think this game means a hell of a lot more for the Steelers than it does for the Patriots. Even if they lose today, going back to Pittsburgh for a playoff game doesn't scare me. They've done alright there.
On the exterior this is just another game to New England, but not to Pittsburgh. The Steelers, and Mike Tomlin have been talking about this game for weeks.
If you're ever going to beat the Patriots and Tom Brady, you have to do it now, seemingly all the cards are in your favor.
However history does not favor the Steelers today. Tom Brady led Patriot teams are an astounding 34-6 after a loss. Since 2003 (excluding 2008 when Brady missed basically the whole season) the Patriots have only lost back to back games 5 times. It's easy to assume the Patriots will just come out with a "We're On to Cincinnati" type game today against the Steelers, but I do believe this Patriots team has it's flaws, they're a wounded duck. If you're Pittsburgh and you can't find a way to outscore this Patriots team with a JV front seven, coming off an embarrassing loss, with a chance to all but lock up the one seed, at home then when are you ever going to beat the Patriots in a meaningful game?