Steelers like matchup with Pats

The Steelers travel to Foxboro on Sunday in a quest to end the New England Patriots' undefeated season. They're optimistic of their chances, however long.

PITTSBURGH – Pending their health coming out of last night's game, the New England Patriots are poised to open as 14-point favorites over the Steelers in Sunday's game at Foxboro, Ma.

It would be the longest odds the Steelers have faced in at least 35 years -- or since the early days of the Chuck Noll era.

The Steelers were 12.5-point underdogs on Sept. 6, 1992 in Houston for Bill Cowher's head-coaching opener, and the Steelers won, 29-24. That stands as the biggest pointspread against the Steelers in at least 35 years (or as far back as records indicate).

The Patriots were favored last week by a non-expansion team record 23.5 points against the Philadelphia Eagles, and were 18-point favorites last night in Baltimore, where the Patriots entered the game unbeaten.

Not only do the Steelers think they can beat the Patriots, they were hoping – after beating the Cincinnati Bengals -- that the Patriots will still be undefeated.

"Absolutely," said Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. "I have a lot of faith in our team. I especially have a lot of faith in the defense I'm on, and the way we play the game. We've been tested a lot this year and for the most part I think we've stepped up."

The Steelers have the NFL's top defense: No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 against the run. The Patriots are the NFL's top offense: No. 1 against the pass. They went into last night's game on pace to score 643 points this season, which would smash the record of 556 points by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.

Bookmakers cite "The Belichick Factor" as they set the pointspreads on Patriots games at record highs.

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was caught cheating by the NFL this year and, oddsmakers say, leaves in his starters and runs up lopsided scores as a form of revenge.

Keisel cites another factor.

"Chuck it up to Randy (Moss) and let Randy, who's triple-covered, jump up and make the play," Keisel said.

Is that defendable?

"Absolutely," he said. "Get to (quarterback Tom) Brady. We've got to get to Brady."

The Steelers sacked Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer only one time Sunday night, but the good news is that the Steelers' offensive line didn't allow a sack.

"I like our chances," said Steelers tackle Max Starks. "I think we match up well against New England. We do have a nice little history with them so it's going to be an interesting game for the first time going to Gillette (Stadium), especially now that they have an artificial field. We're not going to get the same conditions we have here at beautiful Heinz Field."

The Steelers lead the all-time series with the Patriots, 13-10, but have won only one of the six meetings this decade, which includes two AFC Championship losses at Heinz Field.

The Steelers beat the Patriots, 34-20, on Halloween in 2004 to end the Patriots' NFL-record 21-game winning streak.

"That was my rookie season," Starks said. "Any given Sunday anything can happen. I like our chances. I think we match up very well, so it'll be an interesting game."

As a rookie, Starks was an extra tackle in short-yardage situations. It appears he'll be back in that role Sunday with the expected return this week of left tackle Marvel Smith.

The Steelers won their last two games with Starks at left tackle. He played so well, in fact, that he could find himself at right tackle against the Patriots.

"Some teams might be star struck by them," Starks said. "Some defenses might be like, ‘Okay guys, we're going against Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth. Oh my gosh, Tom Brady's the quarterback.' Some people might get enamored with that. But I definitely don't see that with our defense. Our defense really, really doesn't care who's across from them."


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