In what is undoubtedly the biggest game of the 2017 season, The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots on Sunday Afternoon at Heinz Field. The Steelers are looking for payback from their crushing 36-17 loss in the 2016 AFC championship game loss in Foxboro in January. With the Steelers at 11-2 and the Patriots at 10-3, which is good enough for the top two records in the conference, the winner of Sunday’s game will have the inside track on the road to Super Bowl LII.
Here is the breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15 opponent: The New England Patriots
Even at 40, Tom Brady is still playing at an elite level and is the clear front runner for league Most Valuable Player. Brady leads the league in completions with (324), completion percentage (67.4), passing yards (3,865) and passer rating (105.2). Brady also leads the league with 53 completions of 20 or more yards.
One would think the Patriots game plan is to attack the middle of the field with Rob Gronkowski, who is returning from a one game suspension for an illegal hit on the Bills’ Tre’davious White two weeks ago. Brady will try to pick at Arthur Moats and/or Sam Spence with Gronk and Dion Lewis in the passing game. That can open up the space in the passing attack for Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks for big plays down the field.
Player to Watch — RT LaAndran Waddle
Waddle has been filling in for RT Marcus Cannon and he will be charged with blocking both Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt on Sunday. Pro Football Focus has graded Waddle as their best Pass blocking offensive tackle and he has shut out elite pass rushers Von Miller and Khalil Mack earlier this season.
During their 8 game winning streak, which was snapped Monday night against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots only allowed 11.8 points per game. However, injuries are starting to pile up of the defensive side of the ball. Leading sack man Trey Flowers (ribs) and Kyle Van Noy (calf) were out on Monday and Alan Branch (knee) also got injured and will be out on Sunday.
The Patriots defensive game plan is to roll their coverage to Antonio Brown and force the Steelers to beat them with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jessie James and Martavis Bryant. The best game plan for the Steelers to counter the Patriots game plan is to give Le’Veon Bell more carries for two reasons: One, Bell has had only 63 carries the past four games, and second and the Patriots give up a league worst five yards per rush. We are in for an intriguing chess match between Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Patriots defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia.
Player to Watch — S Patrick Chung
Chung is an intricate part of the Patriots 3-3-5 package when he plays the nickel linebacker. Chung has also played nickel corner back and even lined up in the box as an outside linebacker. Chung will be a big part of neutralizing Bell as the Patriots “Swiss Army Knife” of the Pats defense.
Special Teams Notes
K Stephen Goskowski leads the AFC in scoring with 130 points.
KR Dion Lewis has a 103 yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season.
P Ryan Allen has an AFC worst 43.3 yards a punt.
It is difficult to beat the Patriots after a loss, combined with an emotional and physical stretch of recent games by the Steelers will that may leave the Steelers vulnerable in the latter part of the game. The Patriots will weather the emotional storm and take the best shot of the Steelers in the first half and Brady will use the short passing game over the middle to wear down the Steelers defense. The Patriots will pull away for a 34-23 victory over the Steelers.