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The Steelers are the Team to Beat in the AFC

The Pittsburgh Steelers, not the New England Patriots, are AFC’s best team

Yes, the New England Patriots are the defending Super Bowl Champions. They still have arguably the best Head Coach of all time in Bill Belichik. They are led by five-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady, who some consider to be the G.O.A.T. They did make some moves in the offseason that seemingly made them better. This Patriots team is even predicted to potentially have another undefeated regular season.

But they are not the best team in the AFC.

Steelers vs Patriots 2016

The Pittsburgh Steelers are built to knock off this Patriots team. In fact, they should have done so last season. The Steelers, without Big Ben Roethlisberger, lost to the Patriots in Week 7, 27-16. The Patriots leaned on the bruising running attack of LeGarrette Blount to secure the win. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 81 yards on 21 attempts. He added 68 receiving yards to his stat line. Had Roethlisberger played, the Steelers may have pulled away with a win.

The Steelers would meet up with Patriots in the AFC Championship. Pittsburgh would lose, 36-17. The story behind this game is Bell going down early in the game due to a groin injury. He rushed for 20 yards on six carries and did not play much after the first quarter. Had he been available, the outcome could have been different.

Pittsburgh Playmakers

This season could be Roethlisberger’s last. He’ll want to go out in similar fashion to the Bus, Jerome Bettis. The Steelers have a pretty good offensive line. They have one of the deadliest playmakers in Antonio Brown. Martavis Bryant returns to add his play making skills to the offense. Juju-Smith Schuster’s game is reminiscent to Hines Ward. Jesse James is no Heath Miller, but he and Vance McDonald will be productive enough from the tight end position. This offense has all the ingredients to explode.

Defensively, the Steelers drafted a member of the Watt family. T.J. Watt was electric in the preseason. So much so that he will get the start over veteran pain-enforcer, James Harrison. Pittsburgh’s defense ranked just outside the top 10, sitting at 12. By adding Watt, and hoping the addition of ex-Brown Joe Haden pays off, the Steelers defense has potential to be a top 10 unit.

AFC Championship Rematch?

Head Coach Mike Tomlin has been there, done that. He knows what kind of team he has. The talent can easily win the division, play deep into the playoffs and quite possible represent the AFC in Super Bowl 53. Barring any injuries, at full strength this Pittsburgh team is better than New England.

Belichik knows that. He knows he will not have Blount to pound the ball. He does have other backs capable of producing in his offense, but the Patriots no longer have the “Kraken” in Blount to unleash. Belichik also lost Brady’s favorite target in Julian Edelmen. Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan will fill the void for Edelmen’s loss and should do fine. Brady’s other favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, is health and ready to do some damage.

The AFC Championship is looking like a repeat from last season. However, it all depends on how the playoff picture shapes up. If the Steelers meet the Patriots earlier than the conference championship, Pittsburgh could punch their ticket to Super Bowl 53 by defeating a team not led by Belichik. Hard to envision the Patriots not making it to the AFC Championship.

If Brady’s Patriots meet up with the Steelers prior to the AFC title game, there is no guarantee New England advances.


Stats referenced at NFL.com

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