The AFC Championship Game is not alien territory for either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots, and once again we are looking at either Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady being in the Super Bowl.
The Pats are here for a sixth successive season and either they or the Steelers have been at this stage in 12 of the past 14 AFC Championship Games after the two met in this round back in the 2001 campaign, with New England coming out on top then, as they did three years later in another clash between the pair during Roethlisberger’s rookie season.
New England are 9-2 against Pittsburgh with Brady under centre and will have home advantage this weekend as they try to reach the big dance for a staggering seventh time under head coach Bill Belichick’s watch.
“They are the best in the world,” said Roethlisberger. “They are the gold standard, if you will. You want the opportunity to go up and play the best. It will be an awesome challenge for us.”
And all signs point towards them heading on to the Super Bowl again. They were below par last week in beating Houston, and yet they still did so by a margin of 34-16 as Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman stepped up while Brady, by his own lofty standards, struggled.
Brady will not be as bad this week, and neither will the Pats. A mean pass rush is the only way to disrupt him and the Steelers defence has not shown it can produce like the Texans unit which ruffled Brady last weekend.
Pittsburgh are on a nine-game winning streak and pulled off a plucky victory on the road against Kansas City last week, where all 18 of their points came from Chris Boswell field goals, and both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, their terrific playmakers, are in fine fettle.
Yet Roethlisberger is not. Since November, he has tossed nine picks to eight touchdowns, and he has three turnovers in the post-season so far. Sure this has developed into Bell’s team now but can Pittsburgh really afford to have an average Big Ben when faced with the greatest quarterback of all time on the other side of the ball?
Brady can pick apart the Steelers’ young secondary, which features two rookies in Artie Burns and Sean Davis, and New England can cover the -5.5 spread in the process.