New York Jets (6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2), Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Sunday, January 23, 2011, 6:30 pm EST, TV: CBS
Opening Line: Steelers -3
Current Line: Steelers -3.5
Opening Total: 38.5
Current Total: 38.5
Money Line: Steelers -200 / Jets +170
The Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) know exactly what the New York Jets (13-5) are trying to accomplish as they meet in the AFC championship game on Sunday. The Steelers (-3.5) became the first team to ever win three playoff games on the road en route to their victory in Super Bowl XL, a feat that was duplicated by the New York Giants three years ago and could very well be repeated yet again by the Jets and/or Green Bay Packers this week.
The difference this time for New York and head coach Rex Ryan is that his team could knock out the three best quarterbacks of our generation in succession after disposing of Indy’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady the past two weeks. Manning and Brady have a combined four Super Bowl wins and six appearances in the NFL’s biggest game between them while Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is going for his third in each category.
Roethlisberger was able to lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl title in just his second year and helped earn another Vince Lombardi Trophy for Pittsburgh three years later. This season, he missed the first four games due to a suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy but went 9-3 under center the rest of the way as the Steelers captured the AFC North title. Last Saturday’s 31-24 win over division rival Baltimore only added to his legend, as Pittsburgh rallied back from a 21-7 halftime deficit thanks in part to his two third-quarter touchdown passes.
The Jets had a much tougher road as the sixth seed in the conference, finishing second behind the Patriots in the AFC East. But they backed up their trash talk off the field with strong play against New England on the field in last week’s rubber match, resulting in a 28-21 road victory. That followed a 17-16 win at Indianapolis the week before and gives New York’s second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez a remarkable 4-1 playoff record with all of the games coming on the road. The lone blemish came in last year’s AFC championship game against the Colts.
Sanchez could be the X-factor at Heinz Field, as Ryan has done a great job of protecting him from any scrutiny he might face throughout his first two years in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has also called plays to his strengths, allowing him to gradually become a bigger factor as the game progresses. A much-improved Sanchez completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions in a 22-17 victory at Pittsburgh in Week 15.
However, the Steelers were without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu in the first meeting, a player Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes has called the best he has ever played with or against. Holmes would know as a former teammate of Polamalu and the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, catching the game-winning touchdown pass from Roethlisberger in the final minutes.
Pittsburgh’s defense turned the tables on the Ravens in the second half of last week’s game, coming up with a key fumble and interception that both led to touchdowns. The Steelers were able to limit New York running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to a combined 89 yards on 23 carries in the first meeting and just held Baltimore’s Ray Rice to 32 rushing yards.
The Jets have covered the last three meetings with Pittsburgh along with four of the past five dating back to 2003. There have not been more than 39 points scored between the teams in the last 10 meetings with the UNDER cashing eight times during that stretch.
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