Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) +10.5, 49 O/U at New England Patriots (12-0) -10.5, Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, 4.15pm EST Sunday
by The Crazy Snake of Predictem.com
I have a news flash for you! Tom Brady is a mere mortal after all. Though he has 41 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions for 2007, he completed less than half of his 38 passes last week against the Ravens and threw only his fifth pick for the season, admittedly on a tip. In addition, he was sacked 3 times for the second consecutive week and went into the 4th quarter for the second successive week with the Patriots’ perfect 12-0 record under intense scrutiny.
But then we discovered why we had doubts about his mortality to start with. Against Baltimore, with under 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter, down by 4, when only a touchdown would do he drove the Patriots down the field and got a first down on 4th and 6 with his FEET. Is there anything this man cannot do? But then, to add more thickener to the plot, he faced 4th and 5 and threw for the end zone with under 50 seconds on the clock. He didn’t hit his receiver but there was a flag on the play and he got one more shot. Now, we all know what happens when you give Brady one more chance, right? RIGHT! And so the Pats maintained their flawless copy book.
So the only question left for any of us is can they win their last 4 games and 3 in the post season and tie Don Shula’s ’72 Dolphins as the only team in NFL history to go perfect for an entire season? Many believe the upcoming game against the Steelers is probably the last chance to see a regular season loss. They have the Giants in week 17 and Brady has shown minor susceptibility against heavy blitz schemes, so maybe Pittsburgh isn’t the last stop. But certainly this is one of two chances at best.
This will be a great game for determining just how useful and accurate the NFL team rankings can be. We have the Patriots as the NFL’s best offense against the number 1 ranked defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have my doubts about the latter ranking in any case, but it does make for an interesting storyline. Pittsburgh should be able to apply heavy pressure to Brady, and if somehow they can find themselves in front, they will be able to imply scoreboard pressure because of their running game and their ability to soak up large chunks of clock. Ben Roethlisberger will enjoy the opportunity to throw a ball that isn’t like a piece of wet soap, even if it is in hostile territory, and that could help the Steelers to score some points. The New England defense has slipped a little of late and that could weigh heavily against them if they get behind in this one.
Pittsburgh will undoubtedly run Willie Parker heavily, and New England will be ready. Pittsburgh will need to find other avenues to advance the ball and will hope the injured Santonio Holmes can start. He is their main deep threat, with Hines Ward typically playing underneath deeper coverage. Ben Roethlisberger has been making plays of late and is having a stellar year. He will need to maintain and exceed that form if his team is to end the New England run.
New England has so many weapons that it’s difficult to see how any team can stop them all. That is why applying pressure to Brady works so well. If they can reduce the time Brady has without totally blowing coverage they can stop him. Last week versus the Ravens Brady dumped off short on a number of occasions to avoid blitzes and the Pats were actually out-gained in total yards as a result. Pittsburgh will at least try to apply a similar attack on the New England field general, and should they catch up with him a few times this one could get interesting.
I like the prospects in this game on paper and hope they play out. I think it could easily develop into another tight and intense struggle. But I have to be frank here, too. This is Foxboro and this is the Patriots. It’s rare to see them lose here, and even rarer to expect them to do so when they are already 12-0 and have answered every conceivable challenge they have faced. Pittsburgh at home would almost certainly be a major challenge but on the road they are not nearly as formidable.
The Snake’s Bite: Despite their past two performances where they barely scraped home, I expect the Patriots to strike back to their dominant best here and win convincingly. Take the Patriots to cover the 10.5 start. They have scored a TD on the opening drive with monotonous regularity and a repeat of that here would put a lot of pressure on the Steelers. If they got even further behind it would limit their ability to play their natural style of game and that would hugely affect their chance to win. When Ben is forced into trying to make big plays, fast, bad things start to happen for the Steelers. I can see that happening here, and in what has been touted as a close tussle I can see a potential blowout in the making.