A preview of the AFC Championship Game matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots:
When: Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (CBS)
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Line: Patriots favored by 4½
1. Strength on strength: During Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak, the offense has excelled. Behind the QB-RB-WR trifecta of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown, the Steelers have scored an average of 25.9 points since Week 11. New England’s defense, meanwhile, may not wow you with star power, but it led the NFL in the regular season in scoring (15.6 points per game allowed). Specifically, the matchups between Patriots corner Malcolm Butler and Brown, and linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Bell are worth watching.
2. Rematch with one Big (Ben) tweak: Don’t put too much stock in New England’s 27-16 Week 7 victory played in Heinz Field. Roethlisberger suffered a torn meniscus the week before against the Miami Dolphins and underwent a minor procedure to fix the issue. Backup Landry Jones started in his place, and the Pittsburgh offense just wasn’t the same.
3. Emerging X-factor: With tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the remainder of the season after undergoing back surgery, running back Dion Lewis has emerged as New England’s toughest matchup problem for opposing defenses. Against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, he became the first player in postseason history to score touchdowns on a kick return, a reception, and a rush in the same game. Lewis is shifty, quick and probably can’t be left in man-to-man coverage. Pittsburgh, however, has very athletic inside linebackers in Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons, so the Steelers should be able to get creative in their game plan against Lewis.