We’ve been robbed, football fans.
This Sunday was supposed to pit the AFC’s two best quarterbacks – and the AFC’s two best teams - against one another. Now, it pits the best quarterback against some guy named Landry Jones. And it remains to be seen if the Steelers are any good without Ben Roethlisberger, who will miss the marquee matchup (and reportedly more than a month) after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee suffered last week.
That is a shame.
Patriots-Steelers was a game that everybody had circled, unlike most of the trash that gets put out on Sundays these days, one reason behind the NFL’s ratings dip in 2016. And a lot of that trash gets sent New England’s way. There’s reason to believe the Pats won’t lose again in the regular season.
A rematch with the Bills awaits a week from Sunday, and then the bye. The Pats come out to host the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football, and then it’s Easy Street to the annual first round playoff bye – 49ers, Jets, Rams, Ravens, Broncos, Jets again, and Dolphins. But first it’s the Jones-led Steelers, and while the game has lost its luster a bit, it’s never easy to win on the road, and it always means more to beat a top-notch organization.
Keeping up with the Jones’
We may never know just how good the Patriots defense really is. They allow 347.0 total yards per game, ranking them 13th in the NFL, and shoot up to second in the NFL in points allowed per game, giving up just 15.2. But those performances are against quarterbacks including Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, and Cody Kessler. On the flip side, they’re allowing third-down conversions at a 44.2-percent rate, 27th in the NFL. So can Landry Jones be effective? Before we completely write him off, just remember he came into a game last season against the Cardinals, went 8-for-12 with two touchdowns, and earned the comeback win. His Steelers teammates believe in him. That said, they’ll probably look to hand off the ball to Le’Veon Bell 30 times.
Brady the MVP already?
Just when you thought Tom Brady couldn’t get any better, he turns another year older. Through two games, Brady has completed 76.0 percent of his passes for 782 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions. And what’s most impressive about that is he’s doing it all with two big middle fingers directed at the NFL offices in New York City. Believe it or not, Brady is already the favorite (+250) to win the NFL MVP Award for the 2016-17 season, and that’s with missing the first four games. The Steelers go into Sunday’s game with the 30th ranked pass defense in the NFL, allowing 298 yards per game. Yeah, that ain’t improving this week. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin understands he has his hands full: “It’s typical New England ball in that you better respect all of the [receiving options] and understand that they’re prepared to stretch the field both horizontal and vertically.”
All Three Phases
Bill Belichick will tell you over and over how important it is to be strong in all three phases of the game. That means special teams. And so far, the Patriots have been very strong. They’re allowing an average of just 16.5 yards per kick return this season, second-lowest in the NFL. They’re allowing an average of just 7.0 yards per kick return, too, ninth-lowest. That’s good, because the Steelers have speedsters Sammie Coates back there to return kickoffs and perhaps the most dangerous player in the league, Antonio Brown, back for punt returns. With Roethlisberger out, the Steelers will look to turn the game on special teams, but if the Patriots continue to play the way they have there, it shouldn’t happen.