Patriots at Steelers
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP game
Line: Patriots by 3.
When: 3:30 p.m.
TV: CBS. Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms.
Overview: These teams met in Week 8, with the Steelers romping, 34-20, in Pittsburgh. That ended the Pats’ NFL-record winning streak of 21 games, including playoffs. These clubs also met in the 2001 AFC title game, with New England winning, 24-17, on the road.
Patriots focus: They were dominant in derailing the high-powered Colts last week, and when they were manhandled by Pittsburgh early in the season, the Patriots were without their hammer, RB Corey Dillon. He’s at full strength now but will be operating against the NFL’s top rush defense (allowing only 81.2 yards a game). The Pats’ defense hasn’t allowed more than seven points in its last three outings, in which it gave up an average of just 291 yards.
Steelers focus: Jerome Bettis starts again at RB for the team that led the AFC in rushing as they had a league-high 618 runs this year (and threw just 358 passes). The defense has been solid (allowing just 275 yards and no touchdowns last week vs. the Jets, who scored on a punt and interception return). Rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger was shaky last week, but still is undefeated in the NFL.
Bottom line: The vogue pick last week was Indy, and that crashed. The trendy pick now is New England. So we’ll go against the grain, siding with a team that is undefeated at home — where it allowed seven or fewer points by opposing offenses in each of its last four games.
Pick: Steelers 17, Patriots 16.
– Dan Caesar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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