New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday December 17th, 21:25 GMT
TV - Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Heinz Field seems an appropriate venue for what should be a tasty encounter between the Steelers and Patriots. Pittsburgh are already in the play-offs, while New England are all-but there. But for Pittsburgh, the significance here is in beating their closest rivals for the position of top seed in the AFC. With home advantage through the postseason at stake, It's winner takes all.
And that doesn't bode well for New England, especially as Bill Belichick's side arrive off the back of a shocking loss to Miami. I was already convinced the Patriots won't make it back to back titles, which is a supremely difficult task, and last week gave me all the vindication I need. The slide started there and should continue in Pennsylvania.
Run Tom, Run
The Steelers haven't looked gangbusters this year. But somehow they keep winning. An uptick in their performance on defense has helped hugely - only the Vikings and Chargers have conceded fewer points. A big part of Pittsburgh's defensive success has been the strength of their pass rushers, who've landed the second most sacks in the league. And that spells trouble for Tom Brady. The GOAT may lead the top passing unit in the NFL, but he's taken hits, a lot more than most. Brady looks in for a rollercoaster time.
We've got the top two offenses in the NFL here. So there should be lots of points to go around. Especially given neither has side need fear defeat. It could be just the time to air those trick plays and fake punts, as both teams chase the comfort of home field advantage.
Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Martavis Bryant could yet become the most unlikely Super Bowls heroes of all time, given their travails of just a few weeks ago. Big Ben had been written off and parked near the scrap heap following a run of poor games. While Bryant found himself benched for a whole range of reasons, and then lost his place to the starring performances of JuJu Smith-Schuster.
But how things have turned around for both since. With Ben bouncing back, and JuJu self-combusting through ill-discipline and injury, to thrust Bryant back into the spotlight. The Steelers have everything needed, in terms of talent, to go all the way this year. What they've been lacking though, and will need to find, are luck and discipline.
Pats Lack Balance
New England continue to reinvent themselves, with Brandin Cooks emerging as the lightning partner to Rob Gronkowski's thunder. With Danny Amendola in the slot, and James White, Rex Burkhead, and Dion Lewis sharing running duties, the Patriots' offense remains as good as ever. But their defense doesn't. And that's where they'll come unstuck.
New England have been giving up 253 passing yards per game. That's 53 more than Pittsburgh, and the fourth most in the NFL. And it's simply not good enough. Antonio Brown is most people's pick for top receiver in the league. He can tear up the Pats' secondary, with support from Bryant. While LeVeon Bell can feast off the short passes Big Ben likes to feed him, and jink his way through New England's linebackers. The Steelers have it all and on Sunday night they should prove it.
5pts Pittsburgh to beat New England @ 2.3211/8
3pts Martavis Bryant receiving yards Over 42.5 @ 5/6
1pt Antonio Brown to score 1st TD @ 15/2
2pts Rex Burkhead rushing+receiving yards Over 53.5 @ 5/6