New England is looking to stay undefeated at home this year, a place where it has rarely lost during the Tom Brady era. The Patriots have had some close calls in Massachusetts this year with a last-second comeback against the New Orleans Saints and a second-half revival versus the Miami Dolphins.
Pittsburgh is simply trying to get off the mat. At 2-5 and sitting in the basement of the AFC North, the Steelers need to get some wins and in short order. While the Cincinnati Bengals, at 6-2, have probably taken the division by the throat, the last wild card spot is still up for grabs, with the San Diego Chargers at 4-3 in the sixth-seed.
Meet the Steelers
Pittsburgh is struggling through a tough season, something the Steel City is anything but accustomed to. The Steelers began the season 0-4 before winning two straight, only to get beat by the Oakland Raiders last week. Ben Roethlisberger is having a decent year, throwing for 1,930 yards and eight touchdowns versus seven interceptions.
Mike Tomlin's group is trying to find a complimentary run game and may have it with rookie Le'Veon Bell. The rookie out of Michigan State has scored three touchdowns in the last four games, although he struggled in Oakland, carrying 13 times for a measly 24 yards. In the passing game, Antonio Brown has by far been the biggest threat, hauling in 56 passes with 630 yards.
LaMarr Woodley has been very good on the defensive side of the ball, racking up five sacks for the black and gold. Unfortunately, Woodley's sack total equals the production from every other Steeler combined. Without a solid pass rush, the team amazingly still ranks second in the NFL in pass defense, allowing only 181 yards per game.
Meet the Patriots
New England is leading the AFC East by two games over the New York Jets but is certainly not playing up to its capability. Tom Brady is having his worst statistical season to date, but yet getting it done in typical Brady fashion. The former Michigan signal-caller has only completed 55.9 percent of his passes while hitting on nine touchdowns against six interceptions.
Of course, Brady has not had much help. The Patriots allowed Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd to leave while Aaron Hernandez was cut in the offseason while he battles a murder charge. In their places have stepped in Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola. However, Amendola has been hurt for much of the campaign, totaling 19 catches and 174 yards.
On defense, the Patriots have all kinds of injuries. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and middle linebacker Jerod Mayo are both out for the season while cornerback Aqib Talib tries to recover from a hip injury. One player who has come up big is Chandler Jones, who leads the team with 6.5 sacks.
Local take: Pittsburgh
Over at Behind The Steel Curtain, it is discovered that the Steelers can only win in one area of the country:
Per Alan Robinson's calculations, the Steelers have not won outside of the Eastern Time zone since their '11 "victory" vs. Kansas City, and haven't won on the West Coast since the San Diego game in '05 when Chris Hope was their free safety, Alan Faneca was starting at guard, and James Harrison was on the bench.
Local take: New England
The Patriots have done a marvelous job adapting on the fly after losing DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo for the year, but this one will be particularly tough to overcome. Vollmer was critical in run-blocking and pass protection, and while Scarnecchia will undoubtedly have Marcus Cannon playing at a high level, a lapse here and there spell doom as QB Tom Brady reads through his progressions.
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Brady’s Hand a Cause for Concern http://t.co/tt0lTN4iyc— Greg Knopping (@patspulpit) October 30, 2013
In recent years, this would be must-watch television, but with the Steelers struggling and the Patriots barely getting by, people will likely turn their attention to other contests. Still, the matchup of Ben Roethlisberger against Tom Brady is always an intriguing one, even as the supporting casts change. Pittsburgh is going to have a chance in this game, but it must be able to run up the gut with Le'Veon Bell, taking advantage of the Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo injuries. Conversely, the Patriots need to throw the ball with effectiveness to the wide receivers, something that has not come easy.
Pick: New England 24, Pittsburgh 21
The Patriots are favored by 7.5 points at home over the Steelers, according to Oddsshark.com.
New England has a bye week while Pittsburgh will host the Buffalo Bills.