Week seven in the 2016 NFL season comes with a plenty of intrigue, though fans of teams other than New England or Pittsburgh probably think this game will be over at halftime. With the laundry list of injuries to the Steelers, it has the potential to be a blow out in favor of the Patriots. I’m going to walk through some potential scenarios and outcomes for this game.
Why the Steelers will win: Mistake-free football. No injuries affect the Steelers’ chances more than those to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive end Cameron Heyward. With them in the lineup, some mistakes on both sides of the ball can be overlooked because these two just make plays. Without them, the Steelers will have to be fundamentally sound. Landry Jones has to show a higher level of confidence and knowledge of the playbook as he did at times last year. Defenders need to know their assignments, not get caught out of position and remember how to tackle. The offensive line needs to look more like the squad that played against Kansas City and the Jets, and nothing like the group that showed up against Miami.
Win the turnover battle. This will start with some help up front. If the pass rush can get any type of pressure on Tom Brady, they might be able to force some errant throws and just maybe the secondary can catch an interception that hits them right on the numbers. On the flip side, Landry Jones has to maintain his focus and in the face of a solid Patriots pass rush. If he forces throws or panics and just heaves up there, this will be a very long afternoon.
Large doses of Le’Veon Bell. He’s back, healthy, looks just as dangerous as he was in 2014 and motivated. The Steelers got away from the run too early last week, and that was a mistake. This kid makes plays. Get him involved early and often and keep the Patriots offense off the field for long stretches.
Why the Patriots will win: Tom Brady, Gronk and Martellus Bennett. Every week I see highlights of Patriots tight ends making plays, breaking tackles and putting points on the board for New England. The Steelers defense needs to be ready for Brady to throw to these two and make sure there’s actually a defender (or two) covering the big physical tight ends, or they will make the Steelers pay. If Brady and his tight ends get into a rhythm early, the Steelers will be playing from behind all game.
Landry Jones. Jones has shown that can make some plays. He’s also shown that he can throw a ton of interceptions. If the mistake prone Landry Jones shows up, there will be lots of Pittsburgh Steelers fans purchasing new televisions before week nine, due to blunt force trauma on their current model. Monday morning’s garbage run may see lots of HDTVs on the curb with objects protruding from the display, if Jones gives possessions and points away to the Patriots in bunches.
At the end of the day, there are a laundry list of reasons why the Patriots could get the win at Heinz field today. History has shown that Brady and company seem to have the Steelers’ number. They’re hard enough to beat with a healthy defense and a healthy franchise quarterback. But, I believe that the Pittsburgh defense is going to show up today with the determined look of a wounded, cornered badger after last week’s display. The stench from the loss, and the way Miami ran and threw all over them is still fresh on their minds and they are determined to get back to Steeler football. I also believe that Todd Haley puts in the right game plan, and Landry Jones does his best imitation of Ben Roethlisberger (on a good day) and makes just enough plays to keep the Steelers in this game. I hate close games against teams like the Patriots, but I think that Jones has a solid—if not spectacular outing, the defense makes some splash plays and a late Chris Boswell field goal could be the difference in favor of the Steelers today.