NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers

Frank Doyle | Updated Oct 26, 2011


New England and Pittsburgh’s paths cross at the half-way point in the season – who marches on and who’s got a problem come Sunday evening? Frank Doyle reports.

You have to think hard to remember the last time Pittsburgh was an NFL betting home underdog against anybody, but the Steelers are getting a three point start this Sunday when New England comes to visit.

The Patriots are 5-1, 3-2-1 ATS and are in cruise control. Their game plan is to turn up, win, go home. The one loss came in a bizarre game at Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Bills came from behind for a wild win, further proof that there are no certainties in a game where the ball isn’t round and bounces funny.

The Steelers, by contrast, have struggled. Pittsburgh was annihilated at Baltimore in Week 1 and soundly beaten at Houston in Week 4. Pittsburgh has accumulated five wins apart from those defeats, but look at the teams the Steelers have beaten – Seattle, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Arizona. Those five times combine for a record of 8-24, 12-19-1. In other words, the Steelers have met nobody like the team they’re going to meet on Sunday.

Pittsburgh is ranked third in the League on total defense, while New England is ranked dead last, 32nd out of 32. Pittsburgh gives up five less points per game – 17.4 against the Patriots’ 22.5. But for all that, it’s very hard to get the memory of the Steelers’ humiliation in Baltimore in Week 1 out of mind – a Baltimore team, by the way, that’s twice let itself down badly since.

How old is that Steelers’ defense? When it comes to defensive vulnerability, Tom Brady is like a shark who smells blood in the water. If the Steelers’ D has lost a step, Brady will exploit that lost step all day and chop Pittsburgh up like parsley.

What gives the Steelers a chance is that Ben Roethlisberger is the most under-rated quarterback in the NFL. People rate him sure – nobody mistakes him for Tarvaris Jackson or Donovan McNabb – but he’s not seen as elite the way Brees or Brady or Rodgers are viewed as elite.

And that’s a mistake. One of the reasons that Roethlisberger isn’t seen as elite is because Brady, Brees and Rodgers are all easier guys to like. That’s human nature, and it’s also the reason the other three have been named Super Bowl MVP and Roethlisberger hasn’t.

But the record shows that Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings and has constantly delivered in the clutch. He can take the licks and get up for the next down, he doesn’t scare easily and he can bomb it downfield with the best of them.

The Patriots defense is vulnerable. If it comes down to a shootout the Patriots win, because they’re so much more suited to that sort of game. But if the Steelers’ defense are still the right side of the hill, then it’s game on, because the Steelers offense certainly has the chops to take on the Patriot defense. Brady and Roethlisberger have five Super Bowl rings between them. It’ll be one hell of a ball game.

Follow Sports Interaction on Twitter!