By Danny Cox
The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers were streaking through the season, but that all came to a halt in Week 14 for one of those teams—and in a huge way. While the Steelers outlasted the Baltimore Ravens for their eighth straight win, the Patriots watched their win streak break with a shocking loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Unfortunately, that loss came at the worst possible time for New England.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ Season Record: 11-2
Right now, the Steelers are tied for the best record in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, who just lost quarterback Carson Wentz for the rest of the season. They were expected to be facing off against a Patriots team with an identical record, but the Dolphins prevented that from happening. Pittsburgh has won eight in a row, and they certainly do not look as if they have any hiccups to get past in their way to number nine.
Steelers On Offense
Of course, Ben Roethlisberger is the leader of this team, which is playing lights out football. But the true star of the team is Antonio Brown, who is having a season that could very well earn him the MVP award for 2017. Brown has more than 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns on 99 receptions with three games left to go. The next closest receiver on the Steelers’ roster is JuJu Smith-Schuster, with almost 1,000 receiving yards less. If the Pats want to stop the Steelers’ offensive production, the key will be stopping Antonio Brown.
The second focus will have to be on running back Le’Veon Bell, who is dangerous in the passing game as well with 75 receptions for 579 yards and two touchdowns. Add that to his 1,100 yards on the ground and seven more touchdowns, and Bell is a double-headed monster all on his own.
Steelers On Defense
Defensively, the Steelers are giving up less than 20 points a game while New England is averaging almost 30, so something has to give. One thing that will help the Patriots is the fact that Ryan Shazier is going to miss the rest of the season, but it’s for a very unfortunate reason. While the Steelers still hope he will play football again one day, it is no surprise that his absence on the field is going to be felt by the entire team.
Still, Tom Brady will have to beware of cornerback Artie Burns, who has 10 passes defended this season and safety Sean Davis, who has two interceptions. Bud Depree, Vince Williams, T.J. Watt, and Cameron Heyward have 27 sacks between the four of them, which means the Patriots’ offensive line is going to have to work double-time.
Steelers Players To Watch: WR Antonio Brown and LB Bud Dupree
While there are plenty of weapons to watch out for on the offense of the Steelers, the eyes of every single Patriots defender will need to be on Antonio Brown. He’s going to draw double coverage, which will leave someone open, but that is actually a better option than allowing Brown to get behind the secondary.
It is only Bud Dupree’s third season in the NFL and he still has three games left in the regular season, but he already has a career-high in sacks and tackles. The young linebacker is fast, strong, and always in the right place on the field. Not only does he know how to stalk the center of the field, but he can also be on a quarterback before anyone even realizes it, and he’ll be someone for Brady to keep in his sights all day.
This is not going to be an easy game for either team, but the New England Patriots are heading into the contest with a distinct disadvantage. Yes, they’ll have Rob Gronkowski back and a few other of the missing players may return as well, but everyone needs to play better than they did against the Dolphins. Antonio Brown is having an MVP-type season and he is getting a lot of help on offense, while the Steelers’ defense is playing incredibly well. A win for the Patriots is not out of the question, but it will have to be a hard-fought victory.