Patriots - Steelers Game May Impact Playoffs

AFC battle between the Patriots and the Steelers could have a far-reaching postseason impact. Winner gets homefield advantage in head-to-head ties.

Battle with Steelers could help shape AFC playoff picture
The Sports Xchange

 The Patriots return from a bye this week to face an opponent that is on the rise.

   For a while, it looked as though the Steelers wouldn't be much of a threat to get back to the Super Bowl in 2012, but, as they always seem to do, they've righted the ship just as quickly as everyone had written them off.

   After looking mediocre through four weeks, Pittsburgh has now won three consecutive games, and it plays host to New England this weekend in what could be a critical intra-conference game.

   The Patriots are all too familiar with what losing tiebreakers can do to a team's championship hopes, as was the case in 2008, when they missed the playoffs due to their poor record against common opponents in the AFC.

Ben R.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger under pressure from New England Patriots OLB Tully Banta-Cain Nov 14, 2010.
   While teams always preach the important of winning division games, it has become equally important to beat anyone and everyone within the conference, especially if a team finds itself battling for a wild-card berth down the stretch.

   The Patriots are a well-oiled machine offensively, and they're finally developing some balance in their attack, but the Steelers boast the league's No. 1 pass defense, and they're pretty stout against the run, too, ranked 11th in fewest rushing yards allowed.

   The key, as is always the case against the Steelers, is winning the battles in the trenches, such as controlling the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively. Pittsburgh is also susceptible to big passing plays.

   The Steelers like to run the ball behind their massive offensive line. The numbers don't show it (15th overall in rushing), but they're still capable of executing a ball-control offense that can wear down an opposing defense. They've been forced to come from behind a lot this year, so no lead is safe -- not with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fresh off a game in which he threw for 361 yards and three touchdown passes.
   Once again, the Steelers find themselves right back in the hunt at 5-2, while the Patriots are alone atop the AFC East at 5-1 following their comeback win over the Cowboys two weeks ago. This game could come back to haunt the loser in the event of a late-season tiebreaker.

Exclusive News & Notes: Insider's Lounge

Steelers News
Patriots Newswire

HOT TOPIC: Patriots - Steelers Game Talk

Patriots Insider Top Stories