They Meet Again
Pittsburgh and New England have a long-standing rivalry, dating back to their first meeting in the AFC Championship game in 2002. Brady injured himself in the second quarter, but Drew Bledsoe took over and led the Patriots to a 24-17 upset victory in Pittsburgh. In the 2004 AFC Championship game, a rookie Roethlisberger threw an interception in the first quarter that was returned for an 87-yard touchdown, and the Patriots went on to defeat the Steelers at Heinz Stadium 41-27. Both Patriots victories ended in New England hoisting the Lombardi Trophy two weeks later.
When the Patriots and the Steelers met this season during Week 7 in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger was sidelined, still recovering from knee surgery. With their backup QB starting, the Steelers fell to the veteran Tom Brady 27-16.
The House that Brady Built
Playing at Gillette Stadium gives the Patriots a serious advantage over the Steelers. In his career, Tom Brady is 4-0 against Pittsburgh at home, compared to his 3-2 record at Heinz Field. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger is 3-3 at home versus the Patriots, but when in Foxborough is 0-3. New England dominates when playing in front of its fans, going 6-2 this regular season.
The Patriots are five-point favorites, but the Steelers are not to be overlooked. The Patriots’ offensive line struggled against the Texans when Brady played his worst game of the season, and the Steelers passing defense plans to capitalize on those weaknesses. On offense, Roethlisberger alone is a tough quarterback to face and is especially dangerous with Brown receiving. Although Le’Veon Bell has rushed for 337 yards in Pittsburgh’s last two playoff games, New England has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Roethlisberger’s record at Gillette combined with the Patriots’ dominance at home looks to be a stout test of the Steelers’ strength.
Winner and Loser
Both the Steelers and the Patriots are coming off challenging wins after their respective AFC Divisional Playoff games. Roethlisberger threw for 224 yards with one interception to narrowly secure an 18-16 win over Kansas City. Despite having home field advantage, New England had an uncharacteristically mediocre first-half performance against the Texans. Brady threw two interceptions in the first half, but came out hot in the second half and threw for 287 yards.
In order to advance to the Super Bowl, the winning team must have an error-free offensive performance and push for touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. The Steelers have played sloppily at times but boast the offensive manpower to win this game. The Patriots had a below-par showing in the first half against the Texans last Saturday and cannot afford to make mistakes of that caliber against the Steelers’ defense. Rob Gronkowski’s absence from the Patriots’ lineup helps the Steelers’ defense to limit the powerful New England offense. The Steelers are five-point underdogs, but their trifecta of Brown, Bell and Roethlisberger poses a dangerous test for the Patriots’ defense that I believe will prove to be their undoing, as Brady and company miss their second straight Super Bowl.
Prediction: Steelers 34, Patriots 31
Mary Burke is a junior in the College.
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