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The King’s Patriots-Steelers Preview

Will the Pats bounce back after getting pushed around in Miami? Or will the Steelers knock off the defending champs?

AFC Championship - Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

There are many things in life I will never understand. Here are a few of the really important ones.

1. At the beginning of “Return of the Jedi” when Luke Skywalker arrived at Jabba’s Palace, why did he leave his newly-constructed lightsaber with R2-D2 instead of keeping it with him? Did he think Bib Fortuna would confiscate it at the door or something? If so, that would’ve been easily avoidable with a Jedi mind trick (he mind-tricked Fortuna into letting him into the palace in the first place anyway). The lightsaber definitely would’ve come in handy when Luke found himself trapped in the Rancor’s pit. I’m just saying. Forty years from now, after roughly 1,426 more viewings, I still won’t understand this.

2. How did it take me until age 22 to finally try Waffle Crunch cereal? I will never understand how it took me that long in life. I’ve now eaten Waffle Crunch cereal just about every morning for the last year and a half. Seriously, if you start your mornings with cereal but it’s not Waffle Crunch, you’re missing out and you should fix it. Just trust me on this.

3. Lastly, I will never understand why during the last several NFL seasons, the Patriots have morphed into a team that could be coached by Jeff Fisher just about every single time they’ve visited Miami. This one might be the biggest mystery of all. But since the 2014 season, it’s happened almost every year without fail.

Honestly, I should’ve seen New England’s 27-20 loss to the Dolphins on Monday night coming. I should’ve seen the writing on the wall. The Patriots had won eight in a row, had everyone convinced they were surging right back to the Super Bowl, had throttled the Dolphins 35-17 two weeks ago at Gillette Stadium, were just a couple more wins away from locking up the top seed in the AFC, and so on. They were due for a Slap-In-The-Face loss. And the biggest, most obvious sign that this loss was coming: the game was in freaking Miami.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
Anyone who bet on the Patriots going 0-11 on third down in Miami is quite wealthy now.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

(Side note: If the Patriots do end up winning the Super Bowl again this year, they’ll have to live with the fact that they have a loss to Jay Cutler on their record.)

I definitely noticed the signs, but I chose to ignore them. I thought for sure the Patriots were winning on Monday. First of all, they are 10 times better than the Dolphins, and everyone knows that. They had been neck-and-neck with the Steelers at the top of the AFC for weeks, and the two are set to clash this Sunday – which will be the most significant game the Pats have played in weeks. So did I think they would fold like a lawn chair the week before the big game, going 0-11 in third down situations, and shift the advantage in Pittsburgh’s favor? I did not.

But amazingly, the South Beach curse is still alive (the Pats somehow won in Miami last year, so I thought it was over). I don’t think I’ll ever understand the South Beach curse. I’ll never get why it always happens in Miami. But whatever, it is what it is. All things considered, it’s not that important. The Pats are off to Pittsburgh to play in a game that will most likely decide which team will get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. And just to be safe, you should set a DVR recording for Sunday’s Pats-Steelers game, because this game is going to be good. In fact, it could be a game you might want to re-watch a couple of times. That is, assuming the Patriots don’t mistake the city of Pittsburgh for Miami.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown has scored five touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s last three home games.
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

There’s also a chance you might never want to watch it again. Even before the Miami loss, I wasn’t taking the Steelers lightly, unlike some Pats fans. A few readers were telling me that it was going to be a cakewalk of a game because the Steelers just don’t measure up to the Patriots, and that I should expect a 45-20 win. Did you really think the Patriots were so invincible that the Steelers weren’t going to give them any trouble at all? Especially when the game is in Pittsburgh? I mean, I thought I was an arrogant Pats fan.

The Patriots are absolutely capable of winning at Heinz Field on Sunday, but that in no way means they will. Here are a few reasons why this game is very losable:

A. The Ben Roethlisberger Factor: Big Ben is very, very good. He’s one of the best quarterbacks of this generation. When you look at the elite quarterbacks of the 2010s, you have (in no particular order) Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Luck (at least at one point), Wilson, Flacco (to an extent) and Roethlisberger. He’s a two-time champ and one of the most seasoned vets in the game. In Pittsburgh’s last three home games, Roethlisberger has 1,156 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. You can never overlook Big Ben.

B. The Antonio Brown Factor: Brown loves himself some Heinz Field right now, just like his quarterback. In the last three home games, Brown has 526 receiving yards with five touchdowns.

C. The Le’Veon Bell Factor: I’ll cut right to the chase. Last three home games, 411 yards, four touchdowns.

D. The Chris Boswell Factor: Boswell has been coming through in the clutch for the Steelers in recent games. Their last three victories have come via Boswell field goals.

E. The Defense Factor: While Pittsburgh’s defense might not be downright dominant right now, the Steelers are still in the top six when it comes to scoring defense, sacks and passing defense. This could end up hurting the Pats if Tom Brady gets flustered into throwing one of those awful picks that he displayed in Miami.

Put all of these factors together, and the possibility of the Steelers winning on Sunday doesn’t seem so outrageous. I wouldn’t even be a little bit surprised. The Steelers are hot right now, and the Patriots are far from invincible.

But on the other hand, even considering these factors, it’s very rare that the Patriots play two bad games in a row. How many times during the Brady-Belichick era have the Pats played a bad game in back-to-back weeks? You can probably count them on one hand. They won’t be as bad on Sunday as they were on Monday. In this situation, Brady would typically have one of his classic bounce-back games, where he throws for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski will be back after his one-game suspension.

(Side note: Gronkowski is still 100 percent the best tight end in football, and don’t let anyone try to talk you into this Travis Kelce bonehead.)

Meanwhile, Rex Burkhead has proven to be the best new addition to this Pats team (he was the lone bright spot in the Miami loss). And lastly, Chris Hogan (a.k.a. Welker 3.0, or Edelman 2.0) is back. He may have looked a little rusty on Monday, but that will fade. Soon enough, he’ll be himself again. And then there’s Brandin Cooks, who wasn’t exactly shining against the Dolphins (in his defense, hardly anyone was), but is still always a major threat to burn opposing defenses deep down field.

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos
Honest question: Where would the 2017 Patriots be without Rex Burkhead?
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

To sum up: losing in Miami wasn’t good, but it wasn’t exactly the end of the world. If the Pats do what they do best and bounce back, they’ll pick up the win on Sunday and put themselves in position to clinch home field.

What seems the most realistic?

A. Brady stepping up after a crushing loss to lead the team to victory and proving that nothing can rattle this team.

Or …

B. Brady and Belichick submitting back-to-back stinkers with one of those games being the biggest game of the season.

There is also the possibility of …

C. The Patriots bouncing back and playing a good game, but the Steelers stepping up to match them piece for piece, having all of the little breaks fall their way, and pulling out the win with a Chris Boswell field goal.

Pats fans must prepare for the possibility of option C, but I do like the odds on option A.

The King’s pick: Patriots 31, Steelers 26.