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Patriots vs Steelers Could Determine Home Field Advantage

On Sunday, the New England Patriots will visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in a showdown between the two top teams in the AFC. The game is likely to determine what team wins home field advantage throughout the playoffs in the conference.

Here are a few things you should know about this big game.

Tom Brady could be slowed by injury. Neither Brady nor the Patriots have spoken much about an Achilles problem that has put Brady on the team’s injury report for three weeks. Brady has not practiced as regularly as before and based on his performance on Monday in the team’s loss to Miami the Achilles problem could be affecting his mechanics.

Brady missed several passes he normally completes in Monday’s game and in particular his short-armed throws to each sideline. Both interceptions he tossed lacked strength and were underthrown. If he cannot put pressure on his plant foot because of an Achilles problem, the same will happen on Sunday.

The Patriots did not convert any of their 11 third down attempts and gained just 248 total yards, their season low.

Defensively, the front seven of New England has been decimated by injuries. Defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Kyle Van Noy both missed Monday’s game with rib and calf injuries respectively. Defensive tackle Alan Branch left Monday’s game injured. The Patriots were not able to bother Miami’s Jay Cutler in the pocket.

Pittsburgh has bad memories of its 36-17 loss in the AFC Championship game to New England last season. The Steelers secondary gave up 384 yards and three touchdowns. If Pittsburgh keeps playing zone then the same thing could happen on Sunday.

On Monday, Miami played single-high safety coverage and a linebacker played zone down the middle with cornerbacks playing man to man outside. Pittsburgh should model is coverage after Miami’s.

Pittsburgh misses its All-Pro linebacker Ryan Shazier. His athletic ability to play sideline to sideline is the glue that held this defense together. His absence on Sunday against Baltimore was very noticeable.

Pittsburgh has won eight straight but cannot afford to fall behind early and try to recover against this New England team. Add to that, the Patriots are 40-11 following a loss since 2001. Brady has won 10 of his 12 career games against the Steelers and the past four straight.

An early lead by Pittsburgh could keep New England from playing the game it wants. Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, this game should be an insight into a likely meeting between the same two teams in January’s AFC title game.


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