Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots battle it out for the AFC title
AFC title showdown in Foxborough

Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots battle it out for the AFC title

VAVEL USA's Jamie Joslyn previews the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers

jamie-joslyn
Jamie Joslyn

The number three seed Pittsburgh Steelers travel to the first seed New England Patriots with a trip to Super Bowl 51 in Houston on the line. 

How the teams got here

New England has the home advantage after they earned that right for the entire postseason after going 13-3 in the regular season to be the AFC's top seed. Bill Belichick's team took full advantage of being at home last week, as after a strong second half they knocked off the Houston Texans 34-16 and denied them a possibility of a Super Bowl in their own stadium. 

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers are on the road for the second straight week after they slotted into the AFC's third seed following an 11-5 record in the regular season to take the AFC North title. Mike Tomlin's team has had to do things the hard way after a wildcard win at home against the Miami Dolphins and then a grinding an 18-16 victory at the Kansas City Chiefs last week. 

Unconvincing victories

The Patriots and Steelers both got the job done in the divisional round, but both teams showed signs of weakness in areas where they are usually flawless. From New England's point of view, this lapse came from quarterback Tom Brady, who threw two interceptions in the win over Houston, that's as many as he'd thrown in the entire regular season. 

As for the Steelers, their three killer B's Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger managed to move the ball fine and put up decent numbers in Kansas City, but they could not finish off their drives with touchdowns, with all 18 of their points coming from the boot of Chris Boswell.

Roethlisberger (7), Bell (26), and Brown (84) are the keys to tomorrow's AFC Championship Game for Pittsburgh (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Roethlisberger (7), Bell (26), and Brown (84) are the keys to tomorrow's AFC Championship Game for Pittsburgh

Therefore, if Brady suddenly gets turnover happy then you have to feel the Steelers offense will be a lot better at taking advantage of these mistakes than what the Houston offence was last week. At the same time, however, if Roethlisberger and co. can't score touchdowns then they're a lot more likely to be punished down the other end of the field, as New England has a far more prolific offense than the Chiefs.

Last time out

These two teams have already met this season back at the end of October where the Patriots prevailed 27-16. However, Landry Jones was the quarterback for Pittsburgh in that game. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was a huge factor in the week seven match-up with four catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, but he has been on injured reserve since the end of November. 

Key area of the game

The key battle in this game will be if the Patriots can keep up their outstanding run defense against arguably the best running back in the NFL. New England was third best against the run in the regular season and they haven't allowed a single 100 yard rusher all season.

However, Le'Veon Bell has gone over 100 yards in seven of his last eight games and has averaged over five yards a carry in six of those contests. Although, Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia's unit can take heart from the fact that they held Bell to just 81 yards in the regular season game, in which he was used more as a check down option for backup QB Landry Jones. 

Injury report

The Patriots have quite a few players who are deemed questionable for this game including Dont'a Hightower, Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett, but you'd feel precautions are being taken and they'll be ready for Sunday night.

It's a similar story for the Steelers with tight end Ladarius Green listed as questionable due to the concussion protocol and linebacker James Harrison because of trouble with his triceps, but again you wouldn't expect them to miss the biggest game of the year.

Tom Brady (12) has been without Rob Gronkowski for a while now, but the Patriots offense has been just fine (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Tom Brady (12) has been without Rob Gronkowski for a while now, but the Patriots offense has been just fine

Stats

Pittsburgh leads the regular season series 14-11, but New England is 3-1 in the postseason against the Steelers, including two AFC championship game wins on the road in 2001 and 2004.

No teams in the AFC have been in more title games than these two, with this being their 16th and 13th appearances respectively in conference championship games.

New England has a 5-1 record at home in AFC title games.

These two teams have the most conference championship and overall playoff wins in the entire league since 1994. 

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