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What to Watch For: Patriots vs Steelers

Sunday, December 17, 2017

 

Rob Gronkowski

The New England Patriots (10-3) will play their biggest game of the season on Sunday when they visit the  (11-2) Pittsburgh Steelers. 

A Patriots win would give them the inside track clinching the number one overall seed in the AFC.

A Patriots loss would mean the Steelers would clinch the top seed. It could also mean that the Patriots drop out of a first-round bye if Jacksonville wins. 

"If you pick this game and you lose every game before it, it won't matter much if you win or lose, I think. Obviously, we've done some good things throughout the season, and this is the next game against a very good football team, AFC opponent. So this time of year, each game's the biggest game that you've played thus far, and this one's no different. It's a huge game for us, and we've got to be prepared and try to go out there and play well," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. 

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick added, "They've been playing well all year but especially over the last couple of months. They've put a lot of big wins together, played a lot of good football at the most critical times of the game when they needed to. It's a well-balanced team, very explosive on offense, good on defense, good in the kicking game, have a lot of great players, well coached, tough, hard-nosed, physical team. We've had a long history of great competitive games with them."

Game time is set for 4:25 p.m. 

Patriots vs Steelers 

This week's matchup will be the 31st meeting overall and the third straight year that the Patriots and Steelers will play in the regular season.

Last season,  New England went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 27-16 in October. The Patriots beat the Steelers again later that season in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots have won the last four meetings overall with wins in the regular season in 2013, 2015 and 2016 and the 2016 AFC Championship Game.

Pittsburgh leads the regular season series 14-11 overall.

The Patriots are 3-2 all-time at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001.

 

Related Slideshow: 5 Things to Watch For: Patriots vs Steelers

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Tom Brady

Tom Brady has thrown one touchdown pass and three interceptions in his last two games. he has also appeared on the injury report with an Achilles injury over the last couple of weeks. 

He will look to get back on track against the Steelers, a team he has had success against historically. 

In 9 career regular season games against Pittsburgh, Brady is 7-2 with 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. 

He has an additional three wins in the playoffs with five touchdowns and no interceptions. 

"For us, it's just being on alert. We're going to try to go out and play the way we play, too, and that's what makes for a good game. They've had a lot of good teams over the years. These are always pretty big matchups and this is a big one for both of us," said Brady. 

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Malcolm Butler

In the last three meetings, Malcolm Butler has been the man to cover Pittsburgh receiver, Antonio Brown. 

Last season against the Patriots, Brown had seven catches for 106 yards in the regular season game and seven catches for 77 yards in the AFC Championship. 

This season, Brown has 99 catches for 1,509 yards and nine touchdowns. 

In Pittsburgh's last game against Baltimore, Brown had 11 catches for 213 yards. He has had at least 100 yards receiving in each of Pittsburgh's last four games. 

Butler has had an inconsistent season to this point. Pro Football Focus gives him a grade of 78.6 for the season, ranked as an average cornerback. 

Following the Dolphins game, Butler retweeted a tweet that showed how Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler torched the Patriots defense. 

When asked about it earlier this week, Butler said, "it was a misunderstanding." 

Look for Stephon Gilmore to cover Martavis Bryant and Patrick Chung to see time on tight end Jesse James. 

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Trey Flowers

Trey Flowers returns to the Patriots defense after missing two games with a rib injury in hopes of helping the Patriots run defense. 

So far this season, the Patriots give up an average of 120 yards per game and five touchdowns. 

All of the Patriots defensive efforts concerning the run game will be focused on Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. 

In last year's regular season game, Bell was held to 81 rushing yards on 21 carries. He did not play in the AFC Championship due to injury. 

So far this season, Bell has 283 carries for 1,105 yards and seven touchdowns.

"He's really good. He's a tremendous player. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage and that's about really all you need to know. He's a receiver when he's out of the backfield. He can run any run you want - inside, outside, runs with power, runs with a lot of skill and quickness in the open field," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Wednesday. 

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Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski returns to the Patriots after serving a one-game suspension for a cheap shot on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre' Davious White. 

In Gronkowski's last five games against Pittsburgh, Gronkowski has lit up the Steelers defense, hauling in eight touchdowns. He also averages six catches for 100 yards against Pittsburgh. 

"I mean, he's a great player, so he's a great matchup for us in the passing game. He's a great blocker in the run game. His size, speed is good, so they've got to really factor him in. He's obviously a big part of our offense and gets a lot of targets and he makes a lot of big plays," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his Thursday press conference. 

Gronkowski's return will also open up room for the wide receivers, who had a total of eight catches last week. 

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Running Game

Last week the Patriots ran the ball only 10 times for 25 yards. 

This week, the Patriots will look to run the ball on a Pittsburgh defense this is ninth best in stopping the run, but has allowed 282 yards rushing in their last two games. 

Dion Lewis leads the Patriots running backs with 117 rushes for 607 yards. He also has 20 catches for 137 yards and one touchdown. 

Prior to the game against Miami, Lewis had recorded at least ten carries in each of the previous seven games. 

 
 

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