Since the schedule was released early this year, the week 15 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots has been circled by every football pundit. The matchup has lived up to all its billing as Sunday’s affair will have major playoff implications. With home field advantage throughout the playoffs at stake, here are the numbers that are shaping Sunday’s clash of the AFC’s two biggest teams.
Last time the Steelers met the Patriots, running back Le’Veon Bell was held to just six carries due to a groin injury. Without Bell, the Steelers were embarrassed 36-17 in the 2016 AFC Championship game. Now 12 months later, Bell figures to play a huge role in the AFC’s battle for supremacy. Over the last three games, Bell has totaled 490 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. With Bell hitting his stride, the Steelers will finally be able to utilize a game plan centered around the running back.
In his first taste of football action in over two and a half months, linebacker Sean Spence posted a less than ideal 29.1 Pro Football Focus grade. Spence struggled to replicate the success and speed of injured linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Baltimore Ravens targeted Spence and the Steelers’ linebacking crew, running for over 150 yards. With maestro Tom Brady looming, the Steelers will need Spence and the rest of their inside linebacking crew to elevate their game.
No team has been better at converting third downs over the last three weeks than the Steelers. The Steelers have converted 55.8-percent of their third downs over this span, tops in the NFL. As for their opponent Sunday, the Patriots find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, converting just 28.6 percent of their third downs over the last three weeks, fourth worst in the NFL. With the Steelers channeling their third down resiliency and the Patriots struggling to move the chains, Sunday’s affair could be prime for the taking for Mike Tomlin and company.
The Patriots are coming off their worst offensive showing in two years, putting up only 248 yards of offense against the Miami Dolphins last Monday. The Patriots have not put up under 248 yards of offense since January 3rd 2016, yet again to the Dolphins. With the Dolphins demonstrating the game plan for how to limit the Patriots offense, you can bet the Steelers were paying very close attention. Now all that is left for the Steelers to do is execute.
To say Brady has had the Steelers number over his career would be one of life’s biggest understatements. Brady has a career 10-2 record against the Steelers, throwing for 29 touchdowns to just three interceptions. In fact, the last time Brady has thrown an interception against the Steelers was 12 years ago, in 2005. The Steelers will have to change their fortune this Sunday if they wish to have any chance at slaying the Patriots reign. Brady has posted a passer rating over 100.0 in nine of his career 12 games against the Steelers, another trend that must come to end this weekend.