NFL: New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers clash for a trip to Superbowl LI.
The New England Patriots will look to make a statement on Sunday when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game. New England has home field advantage this time around and are historically great at home during the playoffs in the Brady-Belichick era.
The match up offers many challenges for the Patriots on defense more so than on offense. Tom Brady plays well against the Steelers, especially at home. Brady is 9-2 all-time with 26 touchdowns and three interceptions against Pittsburgh, his MVP caliber season has proven that even without Rob Gronkowski, the offense can put up points against any defense. The schemes and routes that Brady runs are tailored for his player’s and their strengths.
Dion Lewis will be a key contributor this week along with LeGarrette Blount. Both with contrasting styles, Lewis with his quick running and grabbing passes out of the backfield, Blount with his punishing running style. Tight end Martellus Bennett is primed for a break out performance in the playoffs and we could see it this Sunday.
The Steelers defense will have difficulty containing the Patriots offense because they can adapt in so many ways. If the running game is not working, they can let Brady have his way with throwing the ball all over the field, his receivers are formidable with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola.
The defense is a different story, the statistics show that the Patriots defense is elite. However, the Steelers offense will pose many challenges. Star wide receiver Antonio Brown is a match up nightmare, coupled with Le’veon Bell at running back and how he can control the pace of the game.
Bill Belichick has a history of taking the opponents strengths away from them. The scheme will probably revolve around stopping the Steelers running game and forcing Ben Roethlisberger to use his arm and get his receivers open. Bell is averaging 168.5 rushing yards this postseason. Corner back Malcolm Butler will be the primary cover on Brown throughout the game.
Coach Mike Tomlin will be sure to keep the pressure on Brady and attempt to keep him uncomfortable, depending on how well the Patriots offensive line protect Brady, keeping the pocket clean will be vital for Brady to be able to carve up the Steelers defense.
This AFC title game is shaping up to be a thriller, with star power on both sides, it will be an interesting game. The Patriots are favored, as they should be with how they perform at home and considering what is on the line.
A possible 7th Super Bowl appearance for Brady and a chance at a 5th ring with Bill Belichick at the helm. Pittsburgh will try to derail those plans and prove their championship mettle.