It’s here… The final game before the Superbowl, by the time these guys kick off they’ll already know their opposition in Houston for Superbowl 51. As expected the Patriots won against the Texans, although the manner of their victory has raised questions amongst certain people who considered it less than impressive. Saying that, they still won by 18 points, beating the -16pt handicap set by Vegas. They were facing one of the best pass rushes in the league, and they did allow some big hits on Brady, for pretty much the first time this season, so there is weakness there. The Steelers won a weird game in KC, the first time a team has allowed 2 TDs more than they scored and won a playoff game. 6 Field goals from Chris Boswell earnt them an 18-16 win against a tough Chiefs side, although if it hadn’t been for Travis Kelce being a tool the result may have been different.
All year there have been ‘experts’ debating on which teams could possibly stop the Pats reaching that final match, and the one team that keeps rearing it’s very ugly head is the Steelers. They are one of the few teams who SHOULD be able to keep pace with the Patriots should it turn into a shootout. A shootout is exactly what you would expect with these two teams. But look just a little closer and you may see it another way. Both these teams are basically bend but don’t break offences, they give up yards, but stop players when it’s needed. The Patriots are the number one defence in the league when it comes to points allowed, and the Steelers lead the league in sacks since week 11. That pressure will be essential for them to keep it close with the Pats this weekend, with those things in mind, I’m thinking the unders could be the bet here. The line is set to 50.5, that’s pretty high and is obviously taking into account the offensive nature of the teams, so i’m not going to lie, it will be a bit of a risky bet, and I can’t imagine a whole lot of places taking it on. But with Big Ben not very good away from home, or in general in recent weeks, and the Steelers defense performing at their best level in years, I think this will be tighter than Vegas expect. – Ok, saying that, the stats suggest unders is the way to go here, the Steelers have gone under in 16 of their last 22, and the last 6 Championship games NE have been involved in have all gone under, and even oddschecker are recommending the under, so may not be quite as contrary as I was thinking!
So, as alluded to, Big Ben really hasn’t done much recently. He dumped off a couple of screen passes and Antonio Brown did the rest against Miami, taking 2 50+ yd TDs to the house, he threw for 10 yards in the second half of that game, and 124 of his 197 yards were received by Antonio Brown. He threw for a couple of yards more last week against KC, 108 of his 224 yards were again to Antonio Brown. Although he did finally use Eli Rogers, and Jesse James against the Chiefs for the other 100. However, while this is all against Big Ben, it’s tough to put up the numbers when you’ve got probably the best RB in the league (I hate admitting that) and can let him take 30 and 29 carries in the playoff games (over/under on the commentators mentioning how patient he is, set to 12), then you can’t blame him too much for his below par number. Leveon Bell has racked up a record (I’d imagine) 167 yds with 2TDs, and 170 yds against the Chiefs, I can’t imagine there has been many more RBs with those stats over 2 playoff games. His yards are set to 103.5 on bet365 (4/6), and 125.5 on WilliamHill (10/11) that gives a nice 23 yards in the middle for a double win, otherwise a slight loss on any other yardage. My lean would definitely be towards the under 125.5 market, that’s way too high, and Bill Bellichek has a knack of taking away the thing that teams want to do, and the Steelers definitely want to get Bell running all the time, my thought would be that the Pats will stack the box, and either double team Antonio Brown, or put Malcolm Butler on him, then leave it to Ben to beat them throwing to the supporting cast. It won’t be as easy as that because Lev is just as adept catching out of the backfield, so if you stack the middle, they’ll move him out wide.
If Brown is shadowed by Butler, you would fancy his chances of breaking off at least one big catch, it’s safe to say he’s a talented guy. I’m not even going to go into the whole Facebook live thing that narrative writers all over the states have been smashing all week. The Patriots defence has succeeded all year by allowing very few yards after catch, they’ll need to keep that up this week to stop the Steelers. The supporting cast looks like it will be mainly Eli Rogers, and Jesse James, unless Ladarius Green somehow pulls through and gets into the game, which seems unlikely given his problems with recovering from concussions, he was however in light training this week. James was the guy last week, he and Ben have a good relationship, and they like using the tight end. He went for 83 yards last week from 5 catches, I’d be surprised to see that kind of production again, but it could happen. To me, this seems like a completely random Xavier Grimble touchdown kind of game (9/1 on WillHill), or at least someone that very few of us expect to get into the end zone. Rogers without Green there had some good numbers, but hasn’t put much up in the playoffs to date, just the 27 yards last week and less than that against Miami in the wildcard game. Others to note, Sammie Coates, although he’s dropped off the radar since injuring his hand during the regular season, this has led to “more” for Cobi Hamilton who pops up with 1 or 2 catches each week.
So, you may be aware of the guy behind center for the Patriots, he’s been around for a while now, and has built himself quite a reputation for being pretty good. Tom Brady is probably the best the game has ever seen, definitely the best in my viewing time anyway. He holds the records in all playoff stats that count. No.1 in Yards, Wins and TDs, he and coach Bellichek are 16-3 at home in the playoffs since he arrived on the scene, and at 39 is showing no signs of slowing down. He faced probably his toughest test of the year last week against the good Texans pass rush, and it showed. He threw 2 INTs (one bounced up off Floyds hands), that’s as many as he’d thrown all season and took a huge hit from Merciless during the game, his stats weren’t great, and led to all the talk of the Pats “being found out” but he still threw for 287 yards and 2 TDs on the night. This week he’s facing probably the best line backing corps in the league at the moment, Shazier has accounted for an INT in each of his last 4 games (I’m actually not ashamed to say he’s a very good player), James Harrison is some kind of cyborg, and Bud Dupree is looking great after having the start of the season off with injury, and Timmons is playing well too, as mentioned at the start, they lead the league in sacks since week 11, and that will be a critical factor in this game. If they can get pressure up the middle they will cause Brady issues.
We were spot on with the Dion Lewis call last week, he ran riot over the Texans, 3 TDs (which i’m informed was available at 150/1 when I posted about the 55/1 2 or more tip!) He became the first player in playoff history to record a rushing, receiving and a kick return TD in one game. But… the cat is out of the bag with him now, so it’s a lot more difficult to call how the Patriots will come into this game, my thoughts are that they will try the smash approach a bit more, using Blount to grind away and take up some clock, but with Lewis’ ability to make players miss and the Steelers super physical “snap the guy in half” approach to tackling, he may well be able to make some hay in Foxborough, Shazier especially is an all or nothing type player. If Lewis is restricted then James White may take up some of the open field run attempts.
The passing game has revolved around Julian Edelman, he doesn’t get a lot of scores, but he leads the league in yards in the last month or two, he racked up 137 against the Texans last week and will, as always, be key to the Patriots offence, he’s the man who makes them tick without Gronk there, and he’s definitely the most trusted of Bradys options. He’ll probably be facing William Gay in the slot, either him or Artie Burns, whoever it is, it will be a challenge, since Nov.20 the Steelers have only allowed 250 yards passing once, and that was Alex Smith last week, it’s safe to say they’ve become a very good defense. On the outside, and the main downfield threat you’ve got Chris Hogan, who can blew apart a teams defense in one play. He got himself nearly 100 yards on 4 catches last week, and that’s been his job all season. Michael Floyd turned up in the final game of the regular season, but cost his team a turnover last week (the throw was a little behind him in fairness) and that may have lost a bit of trust with Brady who needs to know he can rely on his guys. Danny Amendola was back last week, and looked good despite only getting the one catch. Michael Bennett only had the one catch as well, for a whole 4 yards. I’d imagine he will get a lot of snaps this week to counter the Steelers defence, and if he blocks James Harrison there could be seismographs going off all over the US. If the Pats get into the red zone though, he always provides a threat. I haven’t even mentioned Malcolm Mitchell who had a great rookie season for the Pats, he’s listed as questionable, but is expected to play, he’s a good weapon for Brady, and one that he trusts in the passing game. If he does play, then either Amendola or Floyd will probably miss out. I would imagine it would be Floyd they’d leave out, that INT last week added to the fact he’s only been on the team a month would suggest they’d play Amendola instead, in my eyes anyway, who also adds punt returns to the team if they don’t want Lewis to take them. (Although interestingly Jay reckons it would be Floyd if it comes down to those two)
It’s not often anyone talks about kickers, but they need a small mention. Chris Boswell for the Steelers is the only reason they’re here. He kicked all the points for them last week against the Chiefs. But Mike Tomlin is a strange man when it comes to trying to predict what he’ll do in any situation. He loves going for 2 point conversions, despite his team not being very good at them, but has times where he’s ultra conservative and goes for field goals on 4th and goal. I was originally looking at total field goals in this game. With bend don’t break defences, the yards will be there, but the 6 points may not. The Patriots have a top notch kicker themselves in Gostkowski, so you’d imagine they may get at least a couple as well. You can get o3.5 at 11/10 in quite a few places. First scoring play to be a Steelers field goal is 5/1 on 32Red, 17/4 on 365 is the best of the mainstream bookies. I believe most home teams defer the kick so they can start the second half with the ball… So if the Pats win the toss then it seems likely the Steelers will start with the ball. You know what, i’m going to chuck a point on Steelers field goal being the first score. “teams that won the coin toss have deferred their decision in 91 of 119 games, or 76.4 percent of the time. (The New England Patriots, one of the pioneers of deferring…)”
So, a 1,000 words less than Jays brilliant write up, and a lot less structure, but hopefully it will prove to be accurate at least!
Picks for the last match before the Superbowl…
- Under 50.5 points – 10/11 pretty much everywhere – 3pts
- Bell o23.5 rush attempts – 10/11 (2/2 of the double with Cook yards) – 3pts
- Cook and Bell double – 2.43/1 – 3 pts
- First scoring play – Steelers field goal – 17/4 (365) – 1pt
- Xavier Grimble anytime – 9/1 (WillHill) – 1pt
- Under 55.5 points, L.Bell to score a TD, over 3.5 FGs, over 2.5 turnovers & Pittsburgh defence over 2.5 sacks 20/1 – Skybet – 1pt
12 points outlay here
So quite a few picks, a few long shots. I’m not sure which way either of the games will go. I mentioned on the NFC write up that Paddypower had Packers v Steelers at 7/1… Don’t bother with that, the moneyline double on Packers and Steelers is 8.6/1 so if you did fancy the two underdogs to make it then that’s the way to go.
For what it’s worth, i’d be leaning Steelers and Packers on handicaps, however i’m not going for either of them as i’m not confident enough on either of these games! Can you ever bet against the Patriots, or a team that’s scored 30 points in their last 5 games? I definitely can’t.
Good luck if you follow any of our suggestions, and thanks for reading. Hopefully we’ll have another good week!
Not sure what we’ll do next week with no game, but Jay and I will have a conversation and we’ll get something together for the bye week before the Superbowl.