Pittsburgh at New England AFC Championship Odds, Expert Pick & TV InfoWhen: Sunday, Jan. 22, 6:40 PM ET
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro
Stream Option: NFL Live
Opening NFL Lines: Patriots -6 (50.5)
Why Bet on Pittsburgh?The Steelers are the hottest team in the NFL on a nine-game winning streak. They won at Kansas City on Sunday night, a game moved from the afternoon due to a potential ice storm in K.C., 18-16. Spencer Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher — the first overall selection in the 2013 draft — was penalized for holding. The next try failed.
Ben Roethlisberger’s 2016 road woes continued against the Chiefs, Roethlisberger failed to lead a touchdown drive in Sunday’s win as Chris Boswell set a postseason record with six field goals. A major factor was Roethlisberger’s struggles in the red zone. Roethlisberger completed just 1-of- 6 red-zone passes. He also threw an interception and took a sack in those situations. In the regular season, Roethlisberger completed 59.4% of his passes for 238 yards per game, 9 TDs, 8 INTs and had a 78.4 rating away from home.
Le’Veon Bell had a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week. The Steelers became the first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.
The Pats and Steelers don’t much like each other. Several ex-Steelers (namely WR Hines Ward and current OLB James Harrison) have been vocal about the involvement of the Patriots’ Spygate scandal in two AFC Championship Games (2001, 2004) in which the Patriots beat the Steelers. Then, in the 2015 season opener, coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers could only hear the radio broadcast in some crucial moments of the game and, when asked if they have a lot of problems at Gillette Stadium, Tomlin replied, “That’s always the case.”
Steelers star WR Antonio Brown live-streamed over 17 minutes of action from the Steelers locker room on Facebook live after the Steelers’ win over the Chiefs. Included among that seven minutes of action was postgame speech to the team, which included an ironic bit of oratory and some derogatory name-calling.
“When you get to this point in the journey, man, not a lot needs to be said," Tomlin said. "Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We just spotted these a– h– — a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We’re going to touch down at 4 o’clock in the f– -ing morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for their a– . But you ain’t got to tell them we’re coming.”
The Steelers know squeaking out a win with six field goals probably won’t work in Gillette Stadium against the Patriots like it did in Kansas City. The Steelers’ struggle to find the end zone Sunday was jarring considering how well they moved the ball. They reached the Chiefs’ 25-yard line or closer seven times and posted nearly 400 offensive yards.
Why Bet on New England?The Patriots will have extra rest as they beat Houston 34-16 on Saturday. Dion Lewis had a 13-yard touchdown reception, a 98-yard kickoff return for a score, and a late 1-yard touchdown to help the Patriots advance to an NFL-record sixth straight conference title game. Lewis became the fifth Patriots player to score three touchdowns in a playoff game. He’s also the first player in the Super Bowl era to score on a rush, a catch and a kick return in a postseason game.
Tom Brady threw two interceptions on 38 attempts in Saturday’s win over the Texans after throwing the same number of picks on 432 attempts during the regular season. But Brady went 7-of- 14 with a touchdown on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield, picking up 207 of his passing yards on those throws. Brady hadn’t completed that many passes 15 or more yards past the line of scrimmage in the playoffs since the 2006 divisional round against the San Diego Chargers (went 7-of- 17). He had five such completions in two games last postseason. Brady notched his 23rd career postseason win on Saturday, moving him further ahead of the rest of the field. Joe Montana is second with 16. v New England will play in its sixth straight conference championship, breaking a tie with John Madden’s Raiders. There are 19 NFL franchises that have played in fewer than six conference championships since the merger.
Since Bill Belichick became Patriots coach in 2000, the Steelers are 0–4 in Foxboro, and 1–5 overall since Tomlin became coach in 2007 when Brady is the starter. Brady is 4-0 with 15 TD and 0 INT in 4 career home games against the Steelers.
New England won in Pittsburgh 27-16 in Week 7 but I wouldn’t read too much into that as Roethlisberger was out injured. Plus the Pats still had Rob Gronkowski then.
Pittsburgh at New England AFC Championship Expert Pick:Steelers are 4-11 ATS in their last 15 meetings.
Under is 5-1 in Patriots last 6 Conference Championships games.
If this NFL spread were to climb over a TD, I’d take the points. But at 6, go Patriots. And under.