Battle with Steelers could help shape AFC playoff picture
The Sports Xchange
The Patriots return from a bye this week to face an opponent
that is on the rise.
For a while, it looked as though the Steelers
wouldn't be much of a threat to get back to the Super Bowl in 2012,
but, as they always seem to do, they've righted the ship just as
quickly as everyone had written them off.
After looking mediocre through four weeks,
Pittsburgh has now won three consecutive games, and it plays host to
New England this weekend in what could be a critical intra-conference
The Patriots are all too familiar with what losing
tiebreakers can do to a team's championship hopes, as was the case in
2008, when they missed the playoffs due to their poor record against
common opponents in the AFC.
While teams always preach the important of winning
division games, it has become equally important to beat anyone and
everyone within the conference, especially if a team finds itself
battling for a wild-card berth down the stretch.
The Patriots are a well-oiled machine offensively,
and they're finally developing some balance in their attack, but the
Steelers boast the league's No. 1 pass defense, and they're pretty
stout against the run, too, ranked 11th in fewest rushing yards allowed.
The key, as is always the case against the
Steelers, is winning the battles in the trenches, such as controlling
the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively. Pittsburgh is also
susceptible to big passing plays.
The Steelers like to run the ball behind their
massive offensive line. The numbers don't show it (15th overall in
rushing), but they're still capable of executing a ball-control offense
that can wear down an opposing defense. They've been forced to come
from behind a lot this year, so no lead is safe -- not with quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger fresh off a game in which he threw for 361 yards and
three touchdown passes.
Once again, the Steelers find themselves right
back in the hunt at 5-2, while the Patriots are alone atop the AFC East
at 5-1 following their comeback win over the Cowboys two weeks ago.
This game could come back to haunt the loser in the event of a
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