Sports

AFC championship preview: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

The particulars

  • Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
  • Time: 3:40 p.m., Sunday
  • Line: Patriots by 6 (O/U 50 1/2)
  • TV/radio: Ch. 13 (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms), 1140

Three things to watch

VIDEO BACKLASH?

Most of the early part of the week was consumed by fallout from video of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin using an expletive to describe the Patriots during a postgame speech to his team following its divisional-round win over Kansas City. Unbeknownst to Tomlin, the speech was live streamed on a social media by receiver Antonio Brown. But Patriots special-teams captain Matt Slater said it wouldn’t provide any extra motivation. “We’re playing in the AFC championship game. If you can’t get motivated to play in this game, then you’re in the wrong sport,” he said.

WHO NEEDS GRONKOWSKI?

It always starts with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady for New England. He comes off a so-so (for him) performance against Houston, which will motivate the four-time Super Bowl champion even more. Even without the injured Rob Gronkowski, Brady doesn’t have a problem finding targets: WRs Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and newcomer Michael Floyd. Plus tight end Martellus Bennett, who has capably filled Gronk’s roles. It will be critical for Pittsburgh to create pressure on Brady with the pass rush from linebackers James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Bud Dupree. If Brady gets time, it could mean a long night for cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis, both rookies, and the rest of the secondary.

NO-NAME STEELERS

Pittsburgh reached the AFC title game despite missing wide receivers Martavis Bryant (suspended) the entire season and Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey for long stretches due to injury. In their place are the likes of seventh-round pick Demarcus Ayers, practice squad graduates Xavier Grimble and Cobi Hamilton, as well as undrafted free agent Eli Rogers. “So, we have a lot of guys that I think can make plays for us, outside of the usual suspects,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Even if it is one or two big plays a game, sometimes that can be enough, if the play is made at the right time.”

The Associated Press

Injury report

STEELERS

▪ Questionable: TE Ladarius Green (concussion, illness), LB James Harrison (shoulder, triceps), RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion).

PATRIOTS

▪ Questionable: WR Danny Amendola (ankle), TE Martellus Bennett (knee), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), LB Dont’a Hightower (knee), WR Chris Hogan (thigh), WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee), DE Jabaal Sheard (knee).

Patriots AFC championship history

DATE

OPPONENT

OUTCOME

Jan. 12, 1986

at Miami Dolphins

W, 31-14

Jan. 12, 1997

vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

W, 20-6

Jan. 27, 2002

at Pittsburgh Steelers

W, 24-17

Jan. 18, 2004

vs. Indianapolis Colts

W, 24-14

Jan. 23, 2005

at Pittsburgh Steelers

W, 41-27

Jan. 21, 2007

at Indianapolis Colts

L, 38-34

Jan. 20, 2008

vs. San Diego Chargers

W, 21-12

Jan. 22, 2012

vs. Baltimore Ravens

W, 23-20

Jan. 20, 2013

vs. Baltimore Ravens

L, 28-13

Jan. 19, 2014

at Denver Broncos

L, 26-16

Jan. 18, 2015

vs. Indianapolis Colts

W, 45-7

Jan. 24, 2016

at Denver Broncos

L, 20-18

Steelers AFC championship history

DATE

OPPONENT

OUTCOME

Dec. 31, 1972

vs. Miami Dolphins

L, 21-17

Dec. 29, 1974

at Oakland Raiders

W, 24-13

Jan. 4, 1976

vs. Oakland Raiders

W, 16-10

Dec. 26, 1976

at Oakland Raiders

L, 24-7

Jan. 7, 1979

vs. Houston Oilers

W, 34-5

Jan. 6, 1980

vs. Houston Oilers

W, 27-13

Jan. 6, 1985

at Miami Dolphins

L, 45-28

Jan. 15, 1995

vs. San Diego Chargers

L, 17-13

Jan. 14, 1996

vs. Indianapolis Colts

W, 20-16

Jan. 11, 1998

vs. Denver Broncos

L, 24-21

Jan. 27, 2002

vs. New England Patriots

L, 24-17

Jan. 23, 2005

vs. New England Patriots

L, 41-27

Jan. 22, 2006

at Denver Broncos

W, 34-17

Jan. 18, 2009

vs. Baltimore Ravens

W, 23-14

Jan. 23, 2011

vs. New York Jets

W, 24-19

*Note: AFC championship games started in the 1970-71 postseason

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