AFC Championship Betting Preview: #3 Pittsburgh Steelers at #1 New England Patriots

2017 NFL Playoffs
AFC Championship Game
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers at #1 New England Patriots
Sunday, January 22, 2017, 6:35 pm Eastern, TV: CBS
Gillette Stadium – Foxboro, Massachusetts
Opening Line: New England -5 1/2
Current Line: New England -6
Opening Total: 51
Current Total: 50
Opening Money Line: Patriots -200 / Steelers +170
Current Money Line: Patriots -235 / Steelers +210

Patriots Steelers AFC Playoff Preview
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady look to return to the Super Bowl as they take on the Steelers Sunday.

Of the fifty Super Bowls that have been played, either the Pittsburgh Steelers or New England Patriots have been in sixteen of them. Each has played in eight. The two teams renew their rivalry as the 13-5 Steelers travel to the 15-2 Patriots for the AFC Championship. The winner will advance to the Super Bowl for a record ninth time to face either the Atlanta Falcons or Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl LI in Houston in two weeks.

Pittsburgh won the AFC North and are the #3 seed in the AFC. The Steelers have won nine straight games including playoffs after a four game losing streak. Pittsburgh beat the #6 seed Miami Dolphins 30-12 in the wild card game at home two weeks ago. Last Sunday, the Steelers traveled to the #2 seed Kansas City Chiefs and won 18-16. Pittsburgh won despite not scoring a touchdown. They kicked six field goals. The Chiefs scored a late touchdown and appeared to score the game tying two point conversion but it was nullified by a holding penalty. The Steelers held on for the win. The game was originally scheduled for a noon Central kickoff, but was moved to 7:30 pm because of some ice storms in the Kansas City area. The Steelers return to the AFC Championship for the first time since 2011.

New England won the AFC East. The Patriots are the #1 seed in the AFC and had a first round bye. New England has won eight straight games including a 34-16 win over the #4 Houston Texans last Saturday. Despite having three turnovers and some penalties, the Patriots scored two late touchdowns to pull away and make the game seem more like a blowout than it actually was. Running back Dion Lewis had a kick return for a touchdown, plus a receiving and a rushing touchdown. The Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship game for an NFL record sixth straight season.

Pittsburgh leads the series 15-14 against New England. The Patriots are 3-1 against the Steelers in the playoffs. Surprisingly, as good as these teams have been recently, they haven’t met in the playoffs since 2004. New England has won three straight games in the series. The Patriots won in Pittsburgh 27-16 on October 23. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed that game with a knee injury and Landry Jones started for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh is coached by Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have road wins at the Washington Redskins 38-16, Cleveland Browns 24-9, Indianapolis Colts 28-7, Buffalo Bills 27-20and Cincinnati Bengals 24-20,  plus home wins over the Bengals 24-16, Kansas City Chiefs 43-14, New York Jets 31-13, New York Giants 24-14, Baltimore Ravens 31-27 and Browns 27-24 in overtime. Pittsburgh has road losses at the Philadelphia Eagles 34-3, Miami Dolphins 30-15, and Ravens 21-14, plus home losses to the Patriots 27-16 and Dallas Cowboys 35-30. Against Kansas City, Pittsburgh was a 2.5 point underdog and the total was 45.5. Pittsburgh is 11-6-1 ATS and the total is 6-12 this season.

New England is coached by Bill Belichick. The Patriots lost 16-0 at Buffalo, and 31-24 at home to the Seattle Seahawks 31-24. The Patriots have road wins at the Arizona Cardinals 23-21, Cleveland Browns 33-13, Pittsburgh Steelers 27-16, Bills 41-25 San Francisco 49ers 30-17, New York Jets 22-17, Denver Broncos 16-3 and Miami Dolphins 35-14. New England has home wins over the Dolphins 31-24, Houston Texans 27-0, Cincinnati Bengals 35-17, Los Angeles Rams 26-10, Baltimore Ravens 30-23 and Jets 41-3. The Patriots were 16 point favorites against the Texans  and the total was 44. New England is 14-3 ATS and the total is 7-10.

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Pittsburgh is outscoring teams 25-20 this season. Pittsburgh is #10 in points allowed and #11 in scoring. The Steelers average 373 yards per game on offense including 263 passing and 110 rushing yards. The Steelers are #6 in passing and #7 in total offense. Pittsburgh allows 343 total yards per game including 243 passing yards and 100 rushing yards. Pittsburgh is 92/218 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 99/235. The Steelers have forced 38 sacks and allowed 21 this season. Pittsburgh is +5 in turnovers.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has completed 64.4% of his passes for 3,819 yards with 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also has a rushing touchdown. Landry Jones has thrown for 558 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Running back LeVeon Bell has 261 carries for 1,268 yards with 7 touchdowns, along with 75 catches for 616 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was suspended for the first three games of the season.  DeAngelo Williams has 98 carries for 343 yards and 4 touchdowns and has 18 catches for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Receiver Antonio Brown has 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns. Eli Rogers has 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sammie Coates has 21 catches for 435 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tight end Jesse James has 39 catches for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight end Ladarius Green is doubtful with a concussion. Receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are both out for the season. Kicker Chris Boswell is questionable with an illness. The Steelers did not sign another kicker this week. Six offensive linemen are listed on the injury report along with nine defensive players.

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The Patriots are outscoring opponents 28-16 this season. The Patriots are #3 in scoring and #1 in points allowed. New England averages 386 yards per game on offense including 269 passing and 117 rushing yards. New England is #7 or better in all three categories. The Patriots are allowing 326 yards per game on defense including 238 passing and 89 rushing yards. New England is #8 in total defense and #3 in rush defense. The Patriots are 112/239 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 83/224. New England has forced 24 sacks and allowed 34 this season. The Patriots are +12 in turnovers.

Tom Brady has completed 67.4% of his passes for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, along with 28 carries for 64 yards since coming back from a four game suspension. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett started in place of Brady during his suspension. Garroppolo has completed 42/60 passes (70%) for 496 yards and 4 touchdowns, and also has 7 carries for 8 yards. Brissett completed 34 of 55 passes for 400 yards and also had 16 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown.

Running back LaGarrette Blount has 299 carries for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns, plus 7 catches for 38 yards. James White will also get some carries but has 60 catches for 551 yards and 5 touchdowns. Dion Lewis has 64 carries for 283 yards, plus 17 carries for 94 yards.

Receiver Julian Edelman has 98 catches for 1,106 yards and 3 touchdowns and 12 carries for 57 yards. Tight end Martellus Bennett has 55 catches for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is probable with a knee injury. Chris Hogan has 38 catches for 680 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is probable with a thigh injury. Malcolm Mitchell has 32 catches for 401 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is probable with a knee injury.  Danny Amendola has 23 catches for 243 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is probable with an ankle injury.  Tight end Rob Gronkowski has 25 catches for 540 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is out for the season with a back injury. Four defensive players and two offensive linemen are listed on the injury report.

Pittsburgh is 2-0-2 ATS in playoff games, 7-0-1 after rushing for 150 yards or more, 5-0 in road games, 7-1-1 overall, 6-1-1 after a straight up win and against AFC teams, 5-1 after a cover, 13-3-3 in January, 4-1 after allowing less than 90 rushing yards, 21-7-2 against teams with winning home records, 17-8-2 against teams with winning records, and 1-3-2 in playoff road games. The underdog is 10-4 ATS in this series recently.

New England is 6-0 ATS after a straight up win, 5-0 after a cover and against AFC teams, 4-0 against teams with winning records, after passing for 250 yards or more and on fieldturf, 10-2-1 after scoring more than 30 points, 5-1 after a straight up win by 14 points or more, 14-3 overall, 4-1 in playoff games and home playoff games, 25-9-2 at home, 35-17-4 against teams with winning road records, 78-38-2 after gaining more than 350 total yards and 1-6 in AFC Championship games. The Patriots are 11-4 ATS against the Steelers recently.

It is somewhat amazing that since 2001, the AFC team in the Super Bowl has been quarterbacked by Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning except for 2012 when Joe Flacco and the Ravens won the championship. Both of these teams have won multiple Super Bowls recently. This will be a hard fought game, and it will be tough for either defense to slow down all the offensive weapons on the other side. I like the Patriots to win a close game. Temps are expected to be in the low 40’s with a slight chance of rain or snow. Wind could be a factor though.

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