The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers will square off for the 12th time in the Bill Belichick era. Tom Brady holds an 8-2 record against the Steelers with 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. In his last five starts against the Steelers, Brady has 17 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Which leads us to our bold predictions…
1) The Patriots will continue history
New England is one of only three teams in NFL history, along with the 2008 Washington football team and the 1960 Cleveland Browns to not throw an interception through its first 6 games. Only those Washington and Cleveland teams have extended the feat through the first 7 games of the season as well. Brady has been spectacular this season, completing 57 of 75 passes (76 percent) and zero interceptions. Look for that streak to continue against a Steelers pass defense ranked 30th in the NFL, allowing 293.7 passing yards per game. Pittsburgh only has 3 interceptions through six games as well.
2) Antonio Brown catches his first touchdown not thrown by Ben Roethlisberger
Yes, all 43 of Brown’s career touchdown catches have come from passes thrown by Big Ben. Brown caught passes from both Michael Vick and Landry Jones last season, but in the four games Roethlisberger missed due to injury, Brown totaled just 17 receptions for 235 yards and zero touchdowns. With the Steelers likely playing from behind most of Sunday, it’s safe to say Jones will be targeting the league’s arguably best wide receiver often enough to find the end zone.
3) New England holds Le’Veon Bell to less than 100 total yards
In each of the Steelers’ star running back’s first three games since his season-opening, three-game suspension, Bell has surpassed 100 total yards from scrimmage. The Patriots are ninth in the NFL in allowing opposing rushing yards, forfeiting only 92.0 on the ground per game. The Patriots have not allowed a 100-yard rusher yet this season, although David Johnson, Lamar Miller and LeSean McCoy all eclipsed the 100-total yard threshold. However, since Brady’s return, the Patriots have prevented all opposing backs from reaching that milestone. Look for the trend to continue Sunday.
Players to watch
1) James White
The stats regarding the Steelers passing defense makes for a very tasty matchup for the Pats offense, one of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL. The Steelers have also allowed 386 receiving yards to opposing running backs through six games. Look for White to add to that colossal number.
2) LeGarrette Blount
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin referred to the Patriots backs as “thunder and lightening” in a conference call earlier this week. Expect White and Blount to bring the storm to Heinz Field on Sunday. The Steelers have allowed the third-most rushing touchdowns to opposing backs this season while Blount has already totaled 6, second in the NFL. Expect the bruising back to find the end zone once again.
3) Landry Jones
The fourth-year quarterback held his own during his two starts last season. During Jones’ seven appearances in 2015, he completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 513 yards, 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Sure, the touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t sparkling, but Jones looked comfortable in the pocket. Likely trailing for most of the game, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove he can air it out at this level. The Patriots pass defense has been sub par this season, too. The team has allowed 1,530 yards through the air, its highest mark at this point of the season since 2012.