The New England Patriots have their biggest game of the year on Sunday, when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4:25 p.m. ET.
The 11-2 Steelers are coming off of a 38-39 win against the Baltimore Ravens. The 10-3 Patriots are coming off of an upset loss to the Miami Dolphins. It means this is a key game for playoff seeding. The team that wins is likely to wind up as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, all but locking it up.
That loss to the Dolphins opened the door for the Steelers, who were probably thrilled to see the Patriots fall.
They shouldn’t be. Recent history suggests that the Patriots will bounce back and win. They just don’t drop two in a row all that often.
In fact, they haven’t lost two games in a row since 2015. Those were critical, as losing the last two games of the year to the New York Jets and then the Dolphins meant that the Patriots had to go to Denver to play the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. They lost, and the Broncos went on to win the Super Bowl.
Since then, it hasn’t happened again. They only lost two games through all of 2016, and one was without quarterback Tom Brady. They suffered a bad loss to start 2017 against the Kansas City Chiefs, but bounced back right away to beat the New Orleans Saints. That didn’t look good at the time — the Saints hadn’t been a real threat in a while — but New Orleans is now 9-4 and leading the NFC South. So now, looking back, that’s a high-quality win for New England.
The Patriots also lost to the Carolina Panthers, then came back to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following week.
In short, the Steelers desperately need to take this game. Making the Patriots come to Pittsburgh in the playoffs would be huge. But the very loss that gave them a chance also means they’re going to get a re-focused, angry Patriots team that will be incredibly hard to beat – especially with linebacker Ryan Shazier on Injured Reserve.