Blogging Dirty weighs in on the AFC Championship Game that will follow the Falcons vs. Packers match-up on Sunday.
We might as well call the AFC Championship Game for what it is by asking, can the Pittsburgh Steelers stop Tom Brady? The New England Patriots played their way to a sloppy win last week against Houston and put the team right where Bill Belichick wants them. No reason to be overconfident, plenty to study throughout the week, and no Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive front to deal with.
It’s no secret that the key to defeating the Patriots is to pressure Tom Brady between the tackles. The Chiefs were the best candidate via their 8th ranked defensive front by Pro Football Focus. The Steelers only rank 16th, which is a result of their collective, older age and lack of depth. But to their credit, since about Week 10, Pittsburgh has been one of the better teams at generating pressure despite max coverage.
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I’ve often referred to the New England Patriots’ season as “The Tom Brady Revenge Tour” for obvious reasons. Brady remains at the top of his game and is determined to see Roger Goodell hand him yet another Lombardi Trophy at season’s end. Many NFL teams would be intimidated to come into Foxboro on Sunday, but the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t one of them.
How the Steelers can win
It seems obvious, but Pittsburgh cannot turn the ball over. Of all playoff teams in the divisional round, the Patriots owned the best defensive scoring unit. The Steelers will have to properly scheme their offense using Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Brown has to be used to stretch the field and allow Big Ben to find Bell coming out of the backfield. I don’t know that New England has a linebacker athletic enough to run with Bell.
Sustain drives and keep Tom Brady off the field, especially late in the fourth quarter.
How the Patriots can win
New England wins by doing what they always do in practically reinventing the way they win. Kansas City heavily planned for Julian Edelman and while he did have a big game, the day really belonged to Dion Lewis. Pittsburgh can do their best to shut down Lewis and it won’t be unlike New England to have LaGarrette Blount go off instead. The “Patriot Way” is a total team concept, but at any point, a player we didn’t see coming can break off a huge performance. Such a degree of unpredictability continues to be an edge for New England.
The Patriots will use time of possession to their benefit and grind down the elder Steelers defense.
I called for a ‘Falcons vs. Patriots’ Super Bowl a few weeks ago and I’m sticking to it. New England remains their typical well-prepared and focused selves while Pittsburgh is dealing with mass illness and Facebook Live controversy. I predict a ‘ground and pound’ type of game that is low scoring and no shortage of field goal tries. In other words, this is the game Blount is salivating to play in and against his former team. The Patriots played their worst game with Tom Brady under center last weekend and it was still convincing win.
I like the Patriots win the AFC Championship Game, 18-13
Sunday will be the Steelers’ third attempt to knock off the Brady-led Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. New England won the 2001 and 2004 games, both of which were played in Pittsburgh. Tom Brady will lead his team into an impressive, 11th AFC title game. It’s a ‘wrap’ should the Patriots win another trip to the Super Bowl. Brady would cement his place as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. The haters will still disagree, but its becoming impossible to debate his individual and collective accomplishments.