Week 15 Preview: New England at Pittsburgh
James Lang (USA Today Sports)
Get your popcorn out, because this one is going to be a show.
After the New England Patriots were embarassed in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football after losing to the less-than-formiddable Miami Dolphins, they enter the Steel City to take on Pittsburgh in what will more than likely determine which team has home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
While the loss to the Dolphins certainly caught people off guard, you can expect the team to come in with a renewed sense of focus and determination simply because they have no choice.
Even though Tom Brady is 10-2 against the Steelers in his career, that doesn’t mean much entering today’s contest. This latest crop of Steelers are different, due in large part to their defense and ability to be more versatile in schemes and not just sit in zone coverage, allowing Brady to surgically move the ball down the field.
The Patriots secondary will certainly be tested, as All-Pro Antonio Brown, impressive rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the tall vertical threat that is Martavis Bryant will be a lot to handle. You also cannot forget Le’veon Bell, who was sidelined early on in the AFC Championship last year, which undoubtedly played a big factor in the outcome. The linebacking corps will be a little thing, with Kyle Van Noy not being able to suit up with a calf injury. A clog in the defensive line in Alan Branch will also not play (knee).
With that being said, the Patriots are getting back tight end Rob Gronkowski, who sat out last week’s game against the Dolphins serving a one-game suspension. Gronkowski should help open up the field for Brady going down the middle and allowing routes to go underneath.
This game is not going to be easy, as it has enormous playoff implications.
It’s going to be a dog fight, and nobody would rather have it any other way.