Well, pre-season is now officially over. The annual see if you can beat the Patriots and move on to the Super Bowl game is here. The way people are talking about it, you’d think the Belichick and co. are riding a 7 game losing streak and just lucky to be here. Mike Golic and Ryan Clark say the Pats’ offense is the worst remaining in the playoffs. The First Take dynamic duo of Jim Carry and Jeff Daniels agreed the Pats are starting their offseason next Monday morning. Unbelievable. It wasn’t particular pretty and it certainly wasn’t free of mistakes, but an 18 point playoff victory over the #1 defense in football is being used as proof the Pats are done. In come Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh and the “Killer B’s” (Big Ben, Bell, and Brown), fresh off a mostly unimpressive display against the Chiefs, but you wouldn’t know that from watching ESPN. That being said, we can all agree on this being a matchup of the top two teams in the conference. There’s star-power, there’s history, there’s bad blood. You can’t ask for anything more. Let’s strap ‘em up.
Winner heads to Houston.
Let’s take it around the table and see what the BBS Staff thinks of this massive AFC Championship showdown in Foxboro on Sunday night…
Tom Brady: Over/Under 300 yards passing?
Niko: Brady wasn’t sharp last weekend. In fact, he completed a career playoff low 47.4% of his passes. While it wasn’t efficient or pretty, he still mustered 287 yards (albeit with a few deep prayers answered). I’m going OVER here. GOAT will bounce back, because quite simply, he and the offense need to in a big way.
Pete: OVER. I know Brady has been iffy in his last two playoff appearances, but he knows there is some pressure on him this week. He was PISSED at his press conference this week and looks focused and ready to roll. Against this Steelers defense, expect the Patriots to spread everyone out, put Brady in shotgun, and sling the football all around the field.
Jordan: OVER. Brady has struggled over the course of his career in home games in the AFC title game. Take away the game against Indy in 2015, and Brady has thrown 4 TDs to 8 INTs. Shocking, I know, but that is how it has gone done. But that has been against some pretty good defense, and this week, that isn't the case. Brady is going to shred the Steelers and their weak secondary, OVER.
LeGarrette Blount: Over/Under 69 yards rushing?
Niko: Although Blount was a massive part of the game plan the first time around against this defense, collecting 127 yards and 24 carries, given the emergence of Dion it’s tough to imagine LGB being called on another 20+ times. The hammer back hasn’t hit this mark since December 12 against Baltimore. I’ll go just UNDER, but LeGarrette is going to be a bigger factor this week than he was last week (8 carries, 31 yards).
Pete: UNDER. Like I mentioned above, I don't think we will see a lot of the running game this week. Dion Lewis has assumed the role of lead back, as Blount was invisible in last week's victory over the Houston Texans. I just don't see the Patriots utilizing the power run game unless it is a blowout.
Jordan: UNDER. Where Pitt lacks playmakers in the secondary, a couple guys in the front-7 make up for it. Ryan Shazier and James Harrison are still pretty good. That, and this is going to be in the hands of Brady.
Dion Lewis: Over/Under 69 yards from scrimmage?
Niko: Dion is officially unleashed. With a 15 touch workload last week (13 carries, 2 catches on 7 targets, not including kick returns…), Lewis looks exactly like last year’s version and fully recovered from his ACL surgery. That equals bad news for the Steelers. OVER.
Pete: OVER. While Lewis has become an explosive back, his big issue is ball security (along with injury concerns), as we saw him put the rock on the floor twice last week. If Bill Belichick does not feel like he can trust Lewis with the ball in his hands, don't be surprised if we see more of Blount or James White.
Jordan: OVER. The beast has been unleashed. Lewis, aside from turning it over, absolutely balled out last week against the Texans. I see him having another big week, with 2 more TDs.
Julian Edelman: Over/Under 7.5 receptions, 85 receiving yards?
Niko: OVER on both. Over the last two weeks, Brady has gone to his favorite receiver early and often, with 8 receptions on 13 targets each week, along with 151 and 137 yards respectively. He’s going to be critical in this one.
Pete: OVER on both. Julian Edelman is officially unleashed. The beard is long, the attitude is there, and I expect him to have a big game this week against a soft Pittsburgh secondary.
Jordan: OVER on both. Psycho Jules and Pissed off TB12 are an absolute force, and one of the most dominant in the league. JE11 is getting hot at the right time.
Chris Hogan: Over/Under 3.5 receptions, 49 receiving yards?
Niko: Hogan came up absolutely massive for Brady against the Texans, answering a few of those aforementioned “prayers” in my TB12 prediction. That said, he’s been largely hit or miss this season statistically, with huge weeks followed by pedestrian ones. Plus, Mitchell is expected back. Just UNDER on both here for Hoges.
Pete: OVER on both. Chris Hogan has been phenomenal and one of Tom Brady's favorite targets, as we saw last week. The Patriots don't need an explosive down the field threat, but rather something like what we have seen from Chris Hogan this year.
Jordan: UNDER/OVER. Hogan is good for one big play a week, if he's healthy. Assuming that thigh isn't going to hinder him at all, Hogan should be good for at least 1 play for 35+.
Martellus Bennett: Over/Under 3.5 receptions, 39 receiving yards?
Niko: Comparing last week to a “first date” he really wanted to go well, Marty admitted he was nervous. I’ll bet he shakes those jitters and shows up on the stat sheet, hitting both of these marks on Sunday night. Gronk crushed this secondary in the first matchup, and I think Bennett will do his best quasi-impression. OVER.
Pete: I will give Marty the benefit of the doubt, as he has not played in many high-pressure situations in his career like last week. However, Marty has had so many tiny injuries this year that I don't feel comfortable saying he will be an intricate part of the offense. UNDER on both.
Jordan: I think this is where we finally see the Martellus Bennett we thought we were getting back in the offseason. I know he's battling like 31 different injuries, but I honestly see no one on the Steelers that can tame him. It's just about whether Tommy throws it to him or not.
Ben Roethlisberger: Over/Under 275 yards passing?
Niko: Say what you want about Big Ben, but he’s not afraid to take chances. He’s gutsy, he’s been here before, and he needs to play one heck of a game to keep pace with New England, especially at Gillette. He has the arsenal of receivers to do so. Just OVER for Roethlisberger.
Pete: Ultimately, this game will come down to quarterback play. Big Ben vs. Tom Terrific. Does it really get better than that? Big Ben has been extremely efficient this season, but the Steelers have struggled in the end zone and the quarterback looks banged up. I will say just UNDER, however.
Jordan: Big Ben is coming off a week in which he struggled to put the ball in the end zone, and was even picked in the red area once. However, I believe it'll take a lot of throwing for the Steelers to stand a chance against the Pats. OVER for Big Ben.
Le’Veon Bell: Over/Under 159 yards from scrimmage?
Niko: Call me crazy, but let’s go UNDER. The Pats’ front 7 has been solid this season, and the run defense 3rd in the NFL. Bell is a different beast, but I don’t think he goes totally off. I’m more worried about him out of the backfield receiving to be honest.
Pete: UNDER. 159 yards is a BIG number, even for the best running back in the entire league.
Jordan: UNDER. Bell will definitely be involved a ton, but I think 159 is an insane number for the Pats to give up at 100% strength. Come on, now.
Antonio Brown: Over/Under 7.5 receptions, 90 receiving yards?
Niko: AB is one tough cover. I expect it to be Butler, but there are various opinions on this. Greg Bedard (SI) wrote he expects it to be Logan Ryan with safety help. Regardless, AB goes just OVER on these.
Pete: I will go UNDER on receptions, but OVER on yards. Malcolm Butler will most likely get the nod here, regardless of what Bedard says. Butler won't allow many plays, but what he does will go for big yardage.
Jordan: Brown vs. Butler. Two of the game's best at their respective positions going head to head. Should be a great matchup, even if Bedard says it'll be Logan Ryan. Butler, however, does struggle against Brown (like many do), I'll go UNDER/OVER here.
Eli Rogers: Over/Under 3.5 receptions, 49 receiving yards?
Niko: Slightly UNDER on both here for Rogers. Whoever lines up across from him on Sunday will have the advantage.
Pete: UNDER on both, because I don't know who he is.
Jordan: UNDER on both, the Pats aren't letting some no name torch them, it's just not in their nature.
Jessie James: Over/Under 3.5 receptions, 39 receiving yards?
Niko: James stepped up against KC, piling up 83 yards on 5 catches. Assuming Ladarius Green remains out (concussion) and with the amount of attention Bell and Brown will garner, I can see him getting 5-6 targets. He’ll hit these marks. OVER.
Pete: OVER. The Patriots never let tight ends kill them, but like Niko mentioned, Ladarius Green being out of this game could give James a lot of looks on offense.
Jordan: OVER/UNDER. Like the other 2 mentioned above, James should get a higher amount of touches with Ladarius Green likely out. I just don't see the Pats allowing him to get any big plays.
Niko: Patriots’ interior defensive line (Branch, Brown, Valentine) vs. Steelers’ interior offensive line (Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro). While the Steelers boast 2 Pro-Bowlers in the group (Pouncey, DD), Alan Branch and the entire 6’6 360 pounds of him has been immovable this season. If Branch can wreak havoc as he has, and Valentine and Brown can hold their ground, it would go a long way to keeping the explosive Bell at bay.
Pete: Containing Le'Veon Bell. I know it goes without saying, but he will decide whether or not the Patriots make it to another Super Bowl. The Patriots need to make sure Bell only hurts them on the ground and not allow him to get it going in the passing game. Expect to see Patrick Chung cover Bell a lot, as, like I mentioned before, the Steelers do not have a lot of production coming out of their tight ends this year.
Jordan: The Patriots secondary vs. the Steelers receivers. With a lot of the attention going to Bell, the Pats have to make sure they're playing well over the top. If guys like Brown and Rogers go off, it could be a long day.
Niko: Big game for Elandon Roberts as the Patriots try to limit Le'Veon Bell. I will say he has a huge game, 10 tackles with two for a loss.
Pete: I am going to say we see a big game out of James White. He is a legitimate pass-catching back that can line up in the slot or out wide. While he isn't the shiftiest (Lewis) or powerful (Blount) player, he is a reliable target for Tom Brady.
Jordan: Danny Amendola goes off for 75+ yards and 2 TDs. Amendola has been a very good postseason contributor in his brief Pats career, and it could spell trouble to an already poor Steelers secondary.
Game Total: Over/Under 51 points?
Niko: Going to go OVER here. This has the makings of a shoot out and I don’t think either offense or quarterback will disappoint.
Pete: OVER. Have you seen these two offenses?
Jordan: OVER. This is a slugfest for sure.
Final Prediction (New England -5.5)
Niko: 30-24 “Assholes”. Can’t wait. Let’s head back, baby!
Pete: 34-24 Patriots. I think one of these teams will win the Super Bowl and I just can't bet against Tom Brady in January in Foxboro. LETS GO PATS!!!!!
Jordan: 35-30 Pats. This is going to be the real Super Bowl. I don't see either team losing to whoever the NFC representative is. A good old fashioned shootout will determine the AFC participant, and I see the Patriots just edging out Big Ben and the Steelers. LETS GO ASSHOLES!