When was the last season the Patriots were not playoff favorites?
I cannot even remember.
Every year, they seem to be projected to finish well, and always end up in the playoffs. There are not many other powerhouses like the Patriots in modern NFL times. There are a few, but not many. The Patriots get the opportunity to face one of those few this coming Sunday, as they travel to Western Pennsylvania to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
We saw the Patriots win with ease last week. After a tightly contested first half, Brady and the Pats brought a different level of intensity into the rest of the game, outscoring the Bengals 25-10 in the second half. Brady had another strong game, completing all but six passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots defense limited a talented, Andy Dalton run Cincinnati offense that has reached the playoffs in each of the past five seasons.
The Bengals primary rival over those five years? None other than the Steelers.
The Steelers are 4-2 so far this season, due to having one of the best lineups in the league. Their offense contains one of the best running backs in the NFL, one of the best wide receivers in the entire league, and a defense that is usually pretty strong. This week, might be a little different however. The Steelers lost their franchise quarterback to a torn meniscus, and you have to wonder how they will play without him. Landry Jones, who has started two games over the course of his career, will take over as the Steeler’s starter. Jones’ career completion percentage of 57.1% is lower than any single season mark by Roethlisberger. Even with Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell still active for the Steelers, they have other injury issues.
Their defensive star, Cameron Heyward, will also miss Sunday's game, and there are questions surrounding the health of Ryan Shazier, Markus Wheaton, their offensive line, and the rest of their defense. Every team has injury problems, but not every team has ruled their best player on each side of the ball out five days before the game. The Steelers have the talent, but it will be tough.
We in New England do understand what it is like to go forward without a star quarterback. Just a couple of weeks ago, Brady was out, and the Patriots too were relying on a backup. Now though, quarterback is more of an exclamation point than a question mark. Brady is back, and is undeniably more talented than Ryan Tannehill, who led the Dolphins to a victory over the Big Ben led Steelers last week.
The Patriots have an able passing attack, and without Heyward applying pressure, the Pats should have an easier time protecting Brady. The Patriots allowed AJ Green to pile up yards, but kept him out of the end zone, so even if he does well, they won’t be massacred by Antonio Brown. Blount should be able to take advantage of a weak Steelers run defense which allowed 222 yards on the ground to Miami last week.
With the Steelers playing without their most important offensive and defensive player, Pittsburgh allowing over 200 rushing yards last week, and the Patriots having the almighty Tom Brady, the spread currently favors the Patriots by 7.5.
Even playing on the road, the Patriots are playing with a large advantage this week, and what could have been one of the best match-ups in the league could go on to be more boring than the four page essay I need to write.
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