The NFL season is coming down to the wire and that means it is time for the (9-4) New England Patriots and the (7-5-1) Pittsburgh Steelers to have their seemingly annual showdown today (4.25pm ET Sunday, live on CBS).
While these teams don’t meet this time every year, it has certainly become somewhat common to see them playing head to head this late in the season. Of course, it also hasn’t been rare to see these two AFC powerhouses facing off in the postseason either. For the past decade or so, the Patriots and Steelers have really been the class of their conference, with consistency in performance to boot. That much hasn’t changed this year as both New England and Pittsburgh are once again in the drivers’ seats as far as their respective divisions go.
That doesn’t mean that either of these two has been invincible this year. They have had their fair share of head-scratching moments in 2018. That cost both teams their chance to enter the postseason with the AFC’s top record.
For New England, that includes one of the worst losses (34-10) in the Bill Belichick era to the Tennessee Titans and last week’s shocking debacle against the Miami Dolphins. That game didn’t start out as a recipe for disaster much the way the Tennessee one. In that one, New England never led and never really looked like they wanted to lead either.
Against Miami, things were a little different. New England took a 27 to 21 lead into the half only for Miami to take a one point lead after the fourth. Then the Patriots scored a pair of field goals thanks to Stephen Gostkowski and took a five point lead with just 16 seconds remaining. You don’t need a football expert to tell you that you are absolutely supposed to win these games, but New England didn’t. Instead, they let one of the lowest success rate plays – a desperate lateral – find its way into the endzone. It’s a play that almost never works but when it does, it’s magic. Just not if you are the team that failed to defend it and lost the game as a result. That’s what New England is coming off of as they prepare for his game against Pittsburgh. That’s what they’ll have on their mind. It’s a loss that won’t cost them the division, but it is one that could severely impact their seeding. What happens today would be another.
Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly have a bad loss that will stick with them the same way. They did open their season with a tie against the Cleveland Browns, who experienced their first non-loss in over a year. Looking back, the Steelers very well should have won and certainly had their chances. That game isn’t likely going to be the difference between the Steelers receiving a #1 seed or a #4. No, it will be their three most recent losses, as Pittsburgh finds itself in a tailspin that they will need to find their way out of soon. Otherwise it won’t just be their seeding that suffers but their entire playoff hopes as well.
The Steelers are on a three-game losing streak which, much like the Patriots’ struggles this year, are games they really should be winning. Well, at least two of them are. With the exception of a close loss against the Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh’s most two recent defeats came against the (6-8) Denver Broncos and (3-10) Oakland Raiders. The Raiders game especially was a dagger given that Pittsburgh had a chance to tie that matchup with a field goal that would have forced overtime. To get in that position, after Oakland scored a go-ahead touchdown with 21 seconds left on the clock, certainly made the loss sting that much deeper.
It has really been a tale of two seasons for the Steelers and Patriots. The games which have been fitting of the lofty expectations and the ones that haven’t. Those are the bad losses that could prove to be detrimental as their road to the playoffs continues its treacherous stretch.
Our Betting Preview’s New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Picks & Predictions Verdict
When things have been good, they’ve been good. Both the Patriots and the Steelers have benefited from continued success on offense, something that has been the story for several years during this rivalry. Pittsburgh ranks fifth in total yards, with New England right behind them in sixth. In passing yards, the Steelers rank third with the Patriots in eighth. In points per game, the Steelers rank fourth compared to sixth for the Patriots.
It is clear that what has worked for both of these teams over the past several years is still working now. It just hasn’t worked consistently all season the way these two have been accustomed to. For New England, injuries have certainly played their part and at some level, Father Time has caught up as well.
That’s not to say Tom Brady isn’t having a season that is still better than about half the guys in the league, but it is clear in some ways he has lost a step. He’s also, once again, had to work with a bit of a patchwork offense as Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman have both spent time on the injured list this year.
For the Steelers, their struggles could be attributed to the big shock the team experienced at the beginning of the season when Le’Veon Bell held out until it was clear he would not be taking the field for Pittsburgh in 2018. That certainly had its impact but in his absence, rookie James Conner really did step in and step up. Well, he did at the beginning of the season. There’s no coincidence in the last three games Pittsburgh has lost, Conner has been held to under 60 yards. He didn’t even play in the Oakland game and his status is still up in the air for this week as well.
It would seem that the Steelers are at their last gasp, just hoping to survive and make it into the playoffs and then go from there. This week is no easy task especially given Pittsburgh hasn’t beaten New England in their last five tries. They will have the advantage of being at home, but ultimately that won’t be enough. With that thought ringing in our ears, these are the New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers predictions & betting picks for this preview:
- Bet on the Patriots -2.5pts on the spread @ -110 with BetOnline or Intertops. You could chance giving away the extra half point for better odds because Bovada go -3pts at odds of evens. We will err on the side of caution with the first suggested wager.
- For the next of our picks, we like the look of the over for the total points likely to be scored in this NFL game. The most attractive option here is to go over 54pts @ -110 with Intertops.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.