Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots
Start-time: Sunday 22 January, 23:40 GMT
TV: Live on Sky Sports
For the sixth year on the spin, when the teams run out for the AFC Championship Game, one of them will be the New England Patriots. It is a testament to the brilliance of Bill Belichick as a head coach and the mastery of Tom Brady as the starting Quarterback.
This year both of those men - particularly Brady - are fuelled by the fire of a thousand suns, having been forced to sit out the opening four games because the commissioner hates the Patriots. Since the whole Deflategate situation came about, said commissioner hasn't dared go to New England and that won't change this weekend as he's set to watch the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta instead.
New England have been the best team in the AFC all season long. Last weekend though they looked vulnerable and played pretty abject football against the terrible Texans. They are clearly missing the biggest difference maker in the game in Rob Gronkowski. Still they played poorly and won by 18 points.
As for the Steelers, they come into this looking like a team who can do some damage. They have the better skill players in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. The former is a threat down the field who will give Malcolm Butler all he can handle. The latter is a running back who not only has the patience in the hole, he also has the catching ability to be a danger in the screen game.
James Harrison is a key man on D as the ageless one has been a disruption in the backfield all season long. As other players seem to slow down as the games go on, he has gained an extra step and will get to Brady unless the protection is good all evening long.
But the Steelers run a pure zone on D and that is something Brady has feasted on in his career. The only way Pittsburgh have a chance of slowing down or even stopping #12 is by getting to him. Last year we saw Denver swarm all over Brady in a game for the ages by pressuring the future Hall of Famer. This year though Dante Scarnecchia is back as the OL coach and the difference is stark.
Do you trust the team with the greatest head coach/QB combo of all time, who are desperate to make Roger Goddell hand them the Lombardi Trophy or do you go with the hot Steelers? I will tell you this, in the two years I've been writing week in, week out for the NFL section at betting.betfair.com, I have gone against New England just the once, at Denver last year. I was right that day and I don't plan on going against them in the foreseeable future...
I'm going to play a couple of longer shots this week because both teams like to spread the ball around. With New England, Brady will just find the open guys so I'm going with former Penn State Lacrosse player Chris Hogan at 14/1 for the Pats and another former Penn Stater Jesse James at 16/1 for Pittsburgh. Both at a point a piece for the first TD market.
In the anytime scorer marker, Michael Floyd is available at 4/1 and that is surely tempting. This is the type of game where they'll unleash the former Arizona Cardinal WR for some big plays. Going to play a couple of points here.
The line has been set at 50.5pts but I think is right on the money. I have sat here writing pieces all season wanting to go over but I see this as a 27-24 type game and that is just 0.5pts over the line. So I'm going to gingerly take the over but this line has been put right where it is extremely tricky for the gambler.
The spread is set at New England -6pts and I do foresee a close game. Six points seems like a big line to me considering the talent that the Steelers have at their disposal. I'm going to take them on the spread but I fully expect to be writing more about Brady and Co. in the buildup to the Super Bowl in a fortnights time with the Pats moving on to Super Bowl LI
3pt Back Pittsburgh to win +5.5pts points at Evens or better on the Exchange
3pt Back over 50.5pts at 20/21 on the Sportsbook
3pt Back over 278.5 passing yards for Tom Brady at 5/6 on the Sportsbook
3pt Back over 35.5 receiving yards for Jesse James at 5/6 on the Sportsbook
3pt Back Michael Floyd to score an anytime TD at 4/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Chris Hogan to score the first TD at 14/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Jesse James to score the first TD at 16/1 on the Sportsbook