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AFC Conference Championship: Steelers at Patriots

January 22, 2017 • Ben Heck • AFC, AFC East, AFC North, Front Page, New England Patriots, NFL Playoffs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Predictions, Preview

Championship Sunday is here, meaning just three more games left in the 2016-17 NFL season (excluding next weekend’s Pro Bowl).

At 6:40 P.M. (ET), the second of two Conference Championship games will kick off in Foxboro, as the Steelers look to upset the Patriots on the way to a Super Bowl appearance.

How the Pittsburgh Steelers can win…

Forget quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and All-Pro wideout Antonio Brown, star running back Le’Veon Bell has been the key piece in Pittsburgh’s 11-5 season and two-game playoff win streak this month. Franco Harris held the single-game franchise postseason record for rushing yards in a game for more than 40 years, yet in Bell’s first two career postseason starts he breaks that record — twice. He ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns in a Wild Card win over Miami, and then came back the following week to drop 170 and break the record once again. The key for Pittsburgh tonight is simple: score touchdowns in the red zone. No more settling for Chris Boswell field goals. I know, it was an incredible, record-breaking performance last week, but six field goals won’t be enough to beat New England in Foxboro. Turn just a couple of those into touchdowns and get another 150 yards from Bell and they’ll be able to keep pace, no problem.

How the New England Patriots can win…

Six years, six AFC Championship appearances for legendary HC-QB duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. While it appears they the Patriots’ defense has been playing shutdown football all season long (ranked first in scoring and eighth in yardage), it should be noted that they have yet to face a quarterback who ranks inside the top 10 in passer rating. While Ben Roethlisberger isn’t in the top 10, he is as close as they’ll get to facing a top 10 passer rating QB (he finished the season 11th). The defense may struggle to keep Pittsburgh to under 30 points, but they have vintage Tom Brady and a solid rushing attack in RB LeGarrette Blount on offense. As long as BB and Brady are together, any and all playoff match-ups are possible for New England.

Our pick: Steelers, 31-28

Remember when these two teams faced off in Week 7 and the Steelers nearly upset the Patriots (NE won 27-16) with Landry Jones starting at quarterback? Well, this is a much stronger Steelers team and it’s a rare occasion for them to settle for all field goals. I don’t see this offense settling for six Boswell field goals again this week, and Le’Veon Bell is the piece they’ve been missing all these years in postseason games. Steelers pull off the upset on the road tonight.

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

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