The Patriots enter the game 9-4 and look to take a maintain a strong hold over the Dolphins in the AFC East. Having lost their last three, the Steelers need a win to avoid potentially dropping to second in the AFC North.
New England won last season’s meeting by the score of 27-24 and have taken the last five games between the teams. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been a nightmare for the Steelers, scoring five touchdowns over the last five meetings.
Statistically, the teams come in relatively even. Pittsburgh is fourth in scoring offense and 16th on scoring defense, while the Patriots are sixth in scoring and 12th in fewest points allowed.
A big concern for the Steelers is the status of running back James Conner, who is questionable for the game with a ankle injury. He has 909 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and if he cannot go, the next highest producing running back is Steven Ridley with just 60 yards all season. Even if he can go, Conner’s effectiveness is likely to be diminished.
Clearly, New England will have their hands full with JuJu Smith-Shuster and Antonio Brown, who have combined for 177 catches, nearly 2400 yards and 18 touchdowns. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for over 4200 yards and should have time to throw against a New England defense that only has 25 sacks. However, the Patriots have 14 interceptions and Roethlisberger has been picked 13 times.
New England’s offense continues to go through Tom Brady, who has 3700 yards and 23 touchdowns. Running back James White is leading the team with 76 receptions, but Pittsburgh has 45 sacks and needs to get to Brady so he cannot spread the ball around to Josh Gordon, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
Sony Michel heads a modest, but effective ground attack. Michel and White have combined for over 4.2 yards per carry and over 1000 yards. Clearly, the Steelers will attempt to stifle the ground game, get New England into third and long and try to disrupt Brady’s rhythm.
What is likely to be a close game could come down to the kicking game. While New England’s Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t been automatic (just 6-of-11 from beyond 40 yards), he’s been much more effective then Chris Boswell. He’s only 10-of-16 overall and has only four made kicks in nine attempts beyond 40 yards.
The Patriots are 2 1/2 point favorites and look for them to continue their dominance over the Steelers and extend Pittsburgh’s losing streak to four. Pick the Patriots minus the points.