As the regular season begins to wind down, and after this week’s slate of games teams will have just six more to go, it seems that the focus of discussions is increasingly being narrowed down for the national media. And with the Kansas City Chiefs cooling down of late, two teams in the AFC have come into focus: the New England Patriots, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the Patriots have been the class of the NFL for well over a decade now—that is a true statement whether you accept it or not—many fans have the distinct impression that they have had the Steelers’ number in particular more than most teams. Considering Pittsburgh has not beaten them since 2011, in spite of a number of opportunities, it might be true.
Even though New England seems to be solidifying down the stretch after a 2-2 start, lowering their defensive scoring numbers, for example, however, many still view this year as the Steelers’ best shot of dethroning Tom Brady and the Patriots in several seasons.
Former Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is one of them, and he recently appeared on Sports Nation to talk about the projected matchup of the Steelers and Patriots in the playoffs, as the predictions roll in that the one will have to go through the other at some point to reach the Super Bowl.
Asked if the Steelers are good enough to get past the Patriots, Merriman responded, “yeah, absolutely”.
“They have probably three of the biggest powerhouse guys who can score at any given time on offense in the National Football League”, he said. “The Patriots’ defense this year looks suspect. They look suspect. And I think when it comes down to it, when they get to moving on to the next level, I don’t think the Patriots have enough firepower this year to stop a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers”.
I took a quick look at the Patriots’ recent postseason history. They have scored 30 or more points in eight of their last 15 playoff games since 2011. In their four losses, they have been held to under 20 points.
“Even on defense [the Steelers] were doing something”, he said of Thursday’s win. “They had four interceptions, five sacks, they have done that since like, the early 80s. I think this team right now is—regardless of whether Ben Roethlisberger is going to retire or not; he didn’t look like he’s going to retire at all—I think they’re the team to beat right now in the AFC”.
I certainly hope that he is right. But there is still a lot of football to play between now and then. The Steelers have three more games, and the Patriots four, before they face off in the regular season, which is the only guaranteed match they even have.