The Pittsburgh Steelers got a bit of a treat last night with the Miami Dolphins handing the New England Patriots a loss on the eve of their own big showdown with the Goliath of the NFL. The Steelers only narrowly avoided a disappointing division loss of their own this week, as well.
But truly, the most important thing, if any, that they gained last night was some visual confirmation of strategies that can work to beat the Patriots on both sides of the ball. Tom Brady did not convert a third down all game, and the defense gave up its most points in months. The tape will show how that happened.
While New England’s loss is beneficial to the Steelers, however, it’s not quite as significant as it might seem. Ultimately, they will still be staring down the number two seed if they are unable to beat the Patriots. But the stakes have been raised for a win.
In conjunction with a Jaguars loss, a Steelers win over New England would actually lock up the top seed in the AFC, and homefield advantage throughout the postseason. With two weeks yet to play after that, it would truly be a significant luxury.
Of course, the Steelers wouldn’t seriously rest all of their key starters for three straight weeks. That would be absurd, especially for a team that has talked openly about having rust coming out of their scheduled regular-season bye week. Taking three weeks off would not be ideal.
But it would be a good problem to have, and Pittsburgh would love to be in position to even talk about that decision. The only thing they can control toward that end is beating the Patriots, who once again looked quite beatable last night, on both sides of the football.
The Patriots trailed throughout nearly the entire game, only briefly taking a 7-6 lead in the first half before the Dolphins responded with a matching touchdown drive. While their running backs looked dynamic, their wide receivers were largely absent, and Rob Gronkowski was clearly missed, which is something the Steelers will have to address.
Brady only averaged 5.4 yards per pass attempt with one touchdown and two interceptions, taking two sacks and facing frequent pressure throughout the night. The Dolphins dominated time of possession, clocking over 36 minutes on offense, utilizing Kenyan Drake on 25 carries for 114 yards.
The Patriots’ secondary also looked like one that could be beaten in one-on-one matchups, and the Steelers, particularly the way they have been playing, are an offense that can win those matchups.
Much as this might be painful for some to read, yes, the Steelers very much have a great chance of beating the Patriots on Sunday night, with an outside chance of locking up homefield early. If they win and the Jaguars fail to oblige, then they could lock up homefield on Christmas night.