I'm so nervous about the AFC championship game, you'd think I was playing in it. I'm a Steelers fan. I've never been anything else. And I hate the Patriots more than any other team in football. (plus, they play dirty.) I've hated them ever since they beat the Steelers a few years back with an illegal forward lateral that was never called. And I hate the fact that despite the Steelers having home field advantage, a better record, a better defense, AND the fact that the Steelers have already beat them once this year, the Patriots are favored by three points. I don't know how that happens. Oh, sure, everyone says "Well, Roethlisberger played like a rookie last week and they barely beat the Jets, and now the Pats have Corey Dillon back."
Okay, first of all, Roethlisberger did NOT "play like a rookie" last week. He made two mistakes in the interceptions. Otherwise, his stats (17/30, 181yds, 1TD, 2 INT)were pretty similar to Chad Pennington's (21/33, 182yds, 1 INT). And they may have barely beaten the jets, but remember, it was really on two big plays--one of the interceptions, and a special teams return. Other than that, the Jets offense scored all of three points. And yeah, they'll have Corey Dillon back, and he is a good back. But he's not a miracle worker. Week eight, when these teams met, the Steelers defense held New England to five yards rushing. Not one back, mind you, but the whole team. Of course Dillon will do better than that, but the Steelers' Defense is devastating against the run. And even though they have Dillon, they don't have either starting cornerback (which, last time, left Plaxico Burress with a mismatch advantage that gave him two TDs), Defensive End Richard Seymour, Defensive End Rodney Bailey, and possibly Linebacker Ted Johnson. That's a pretty beat-up defense, especially against a Steelers tough offensive line and what could be the best triple set of receivers in the leage in Burress, Hines Ward, and Antwaan Randle El. And if that isn't enough, don't forget they're going to run Jerome Bettis again, and again, and again, until the defense is tired. You say Bettis is tired? Fine, then they'll just run Duce Staley at them...again, and again, and...Tell me again why the Patriots are favored?
Let's face it, it's going to come down to one thing--can Big Ben handle the pressure and keep from turning the ball over? That will make the difference. Here's my advice to Cowher, for what it's worth: I'd come out shooting, trying to take advantage of the second string cornerbacks, especially the Burress mismatch that worked so well last time. If it works, and you take a little lead, then the rest of the day is ball control. Lots of running (you've got two DE's out), and short, inside slant passes because they're quick to get off, and almost impossible to defend. Run the clock down and keep their defense on the field as much as possible. AND NO SPECIAL TEAMS SCREWUPS!!!!!!
Anyway, I believe the Steelers are the better team, and that they can win. I hope they do. I'll probably be miserable for days if they don't. (In that case, I welcome all consoling from female readers.) I remember in week eight, telling a friend that I had a feeling that the Steelers would beat the unbeaten Pats, and that this game might be a precursor to the AFC Championship game. Looks like I was right. The following week, Pittsburgh played Philly--also unbeaten--and I told the same friend that I had a feeling they would win again, and that this game might be a precursor to the Super Bowl. Here's hoping I'll make it two for two.