Two of the traditional AFC powers will get reacquainted with one another this weekend as the New England Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. The fun gets started at 4:25 EST on Sunday, December 16, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The game can be seen nationwide on CBS.
This game opened as a straight up PK. However, heavy betting in New England’s favor has made the Patriots 2.5-point favorites on the road. The over/under is set at 52 points. Click here to check out a full list of the Week 15 betting odds.
The Steelers enter this game in desperate need of a win after three consecutive losses. Pittsburgh has been a little unfortunate not to win at least one or two of those games, especially since the last two losses only came by a field goal. However, they all count as losses and now the 7-5-1 Steelers are only half a game ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North. If they can’t get things turned around, they risk falling into the crowded wild-card race.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, their schedule doesn’t get any easier. After last week’s disappointing loss to the Raiders, the Steelers must now face the Patriots and Saints in back-to-back weeks. They’ll finish the season with a home date with the Bengals. But if the Steelers can’t find a way to win at least one of their next two games, they could be in trouble.
The Patriots, of course, are also coming off a loss. Granted it took a miracle play by the Dolphins to make it happen, but the Patriots still lost to fall to 9-4 on the season. Despite the loss, New England still has a chance to wrap up another AFC East title with two wins in their final three games or a win this week and a Miami loss. The Pats will also secure a playoff birth of some kind with a win and a Tennessee loss.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are still holding out hope of catching the Chiefs for the top seed in the AFC. They would have to make up two games over the final three weeks, but it’s still possible because they would have the head-to-head tiebreaker with Kansas City. With New England closing out the regular season with home games against the Bills and Jets, a win on Sunday would give the Patriots a great chance to at least secure a first-round bye and perhaps catch the Chiefs.
The Steelers are definitely reeling at the moment, but four straight losses for Pittsburgh is hard to fathom. After a few close calls, I’m inclined to think the Steelers will bounce back at home, even with Tom Brady and company coming to town. The line moving steadily toward New England makes me even more comfortable leaning toward Pittsburgh.
To be fair, the Steelers are facing plenty of challenges. For starters, James Conner is unlikely to play this week, as he’s still nursing an ankle injury. The Steelers struggled to run the ball without him last weak against a terrible Oakland defense. Clearly, he was missed and is an invaluable part of the Pittsburgh offense. Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley are surely capable of performing better than they did last week. But there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to give the Steelers a competent rushing attack this week.
The Steelers should also be a little worried about Ben Roethlisberger, who is dealing with sore ribs. Roethlisberger missed a significant chunk of last week’s game, which may have ended up costing the Steelers. However, he played well after returning to the game and should be good to go this week. Obviously, he’s not the kind of player who’s going to let a little pain keep him sidelined.
As long as Roethlisberger plays, the Steelers will still have a potent passing attack leading the way. Keep in mind that the New England defense looked rather porous last week against the Dolphins. They allowed Ryan Tannehill to throw for 265 yards and three touchdowns on just 19 pass attempts. If Miami can do that with a rather average set of receivers, the Patriots could be in trouble against Pittsburgh’s talented contingent of elite playmakers.
It’s also worth noting that the Patriots have been a different team on the road this season. After last week’s loss, the Pats are just 3-4 on the road. Defensively, they’ve given up over 30 points in four of their seven games away from home. That gives me confidence that the Pittsburgh offense will have a good game, even with Roethlisberger banged up and the running game unreliable.
Obviously, Brady and company are capable of winning a shootout, so a poor effort from New England’s defense doesn’t guarantee a Pittsburgh win. However, despite the Steelers losing three straight, this game is still a virtual tossup. With that in mind, I’m more comfortable taking the Steelers as the home team, the underdog, and the team that’s far more desperate for a win.