Expert NFL Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots Odds & Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 1/19/2017
Is this season's NFL final four field any good or what? We have future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in New England's Tom Brady, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Those three have combined for seven Super Bowl titles, the most of any four conference championship starting QBs since the merger.
Perhaps Atlanta's Matt Ryan is a future Hall of Famer too, and he's only going to be this year's MVP. This will be the first conference championship weekend since 1998 in which all four starting quarterbacks are at least 30. Might be Brady's last at 39. He's in an 11th conference championship game, breaking a tie with Gene Upshaw and George Blanda for the most all-time at any position. Of course Brady is looking for his fifth Super Bowl ring, which would set a record for a quarterback and cement him as the greatest ever. Ditto Coach Bill Belichick.
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Each team remaining is on at least a five-game winning streak. That's a first since the merger. Finally, this marks only the third time in the last 40 seasons that all four teams in the conference championships rank in the Top 10 in both scoring offense and total offense (1998, 1992). So while I'm sure fans of the Seahawks, Cowboys, Chiefs and Texans are still bummed about last week, this is the best possible final four we could ask for in terms of quarterback star power.
This is the 16th all-time conference championship game for the Steelers, who are 8-7 in them. It's their first since the 2010 season when they beat the New York Jets -- who had upset New England -- at Heinz Field. That Steelers team then lost the Super Bowl to Green Bay, Big Ben's lone SB loss in three trips.
The Patriots actually haven't been that good of late in the AFC title game in losing three of their past four. Two of those were in Denver, however. They were upset at home following the 2012 season by the Ravens and then probably should have lost to Baltimore after the 2014 season. New England is the +150 favorite to win Super Bowl LI in Houston with Pittsburgh the +425 long shot. The favored exact result at +260 is Patriots over Falcons. The longest shot is Packers over Steelers at +800.
New England already has opened as the betting favorite on early futures to win Super Bowl LII and the Pats apparently will keep both coordinators after OC Josh McDaniels pulled his name from the 49ers' head coaching search.
Steelers at Patriots Betting Story Lines
Mike Tomlin is one of the good-guy coaches in the NFL. It's a shame he's surrounded by knuckleheads. After the wild-card win over Miami, outside linebackers coach Joey Porter was arrested for being a drunken fool at a Pittsburgh bar. He was originally put on leave but was back with the team for last week's game in Kansas City. Then following last Sunday's 18-16 win over the Chiefs, as I'm sure you've seen by now, Steelers star WR Antonio Brown put himself on Facebook Live. One problem: Tomlin was giving a fairly profanity-laced post-game pep talk to his team and it was all caught on the streaming broadcast. Tomlin really didn't say anything bad, although he did refer to the Patriots as a**holes and how they had 36 hours extra time to rest up. Tomlin also could be heard reminding his players to keep a low profile this week, ironically. Tomlin got in front of that story this week and said Brown would be punished in-house. But not really the type of questions Tomlin, Brown or other players need to be answering all week. Brown has apologized profusely.
Pittsburgh won its ninth game in a row last week and was statistically dominant against the Chiefs but couldn't get into the end zone, settling for Chris Boswell's NFL playoff-record six field goals. Needless to say, that won't work in this game. Le'Veon Bell is just a monster right now as he set a team playoff record for rushing yards for a second straight week with 170. His 337 yards is the second-most in league history through two playoff games in one postseason (Broncos' Terrell Davis with 377 in 1998). While Bell is rolling, Roethlisberger continued his struggles away from home without a TD throw and a pick vs. K.C. He's completing just 59.9 percent of his passes for around 236 yards per game with nine TDs and nine picks away from home this season (including last week). All his home numbers are much, much better.
I took the Texans +16 last week in New England and the Patriots barely managed to cover in a 34-16 victory, although they definitely didn't look like the NFL's best team. Brady set a league record for touchdown-to-interception ratio during the season at 28:2 and it was just 2:2 in that game. I think he really missed Rob Gronkowski. To be fair, Houston's defense was No. 1 overall during the season. Dion Lewis saved the Patriots' bacon by becoming the first player with a rushing, receiving and kick-return touchdown in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era. The Texans did win time of possession and rushed for 105 yards despite having Brock Osweiler at QB, so that could be worrisome if I'm a Patriots fan.
Steelers at Patriots Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , New England is a 6-point favorite (-110) with a total of 50.5. On the moneyline, the Patriots are -235 and Steelers +195. Some alternate lines: Patriots -10.5 (+202), -7.5 (+147), Steelers +3.5 (+122). Pittsburgh is 11-6-1 against the spread (6-3 on road) and 6-12 "over/under" (2-7 on road). New England is 14-3 ATS (7-2 at home) and 7-10 O/U (5-4 at home).
The Steelers are 5-0 ATS in their past five on the road. They are 5-1 ATS in their past six after an ATS win. Pittsburgh is 1-3-2 ATS in its past six playoff road games. The Patriots are 6-0 ATS in their past six after a win. They are 4-1 ATS in their past five home playoff games. The under is 4-0-1 in the Steelers' past five playoff games. It's 8-3 in their past 11 vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 5-1 in the Pats' past six conference title games. The Steelers are 4-11 ATS in the past 15 meetings.
Steelers at Patriots Betting Prediction
Take very little from these teams' Week 7 meeting in Pittsburgh as Roethlisberger was out. New England won 27-16. LeGarrette Blount's five-yard TD run with 11:44 to go was the final scoring play. He had a monster game with 127 yards and two scores on 24 carries. Lewis was out injured then. Brady threw for 222 yards and two scores, one to Gronk. Landry Jones was expectedly shaky for the Steelers. Bell had 81 yards on 21 carries and 10 catches for 68 yards.
This is all coming down to Bell against the Patriots' No. 3 rush defense. He's probably looking at 35 touches between carries and receptions. Brown, meanwhile, has averaged 94.3 yards with three touchdowns in four career games against New England. Brady is 9-2 in his career vs. Pittsburgh and 4-0 at home with 15 TD passes and no picks. Roethlisberger is 3-6 in his career against the Patriots, with one of those wins coming against Matt Cassel.
It could be sloppy by kickoff with Sunday night temps in Foxboro forecast for a low of 23 and snow showers. Thus I'm really liking the under. Give the points. New England vs. Green Bay in the Super Bowl.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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