New England at Pittsburgh Steelers
When: 4:25 PM ET, Sunday, December 16, 2018
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers appeared to be en route to another high-stakes collision course in the season’s final month, but recent stumbles by both teams have changed the dynamics. While the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC may be out of reach, the Patriots and Steelers try to move closer to wrapping up division titles when they meet in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Steelers overcame a slow start to the season by ripping off six consecutive victories, but they are in the midst of a three-game skid that has cut their lead over Baltimore in the AFC North to one-half game. “We realize what’s at stake,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters. “No panic. We still control our destiny, but it’s not going to get any easier.” The Patriots, who are coming off a stunning last-second loss at Miami, have won five in a row against the Steelers but don’t expect to see an opponent lacking for confidence after losing three straight. “I don’t give that any credibility at all,” New England coach Bill Belichick told reporters. “Competitive people compete. That’s what they do, and certainly that’s what the Steelers are. So, I’m sure we’ll get their best. I think they’ll get our best. We’ll see what happens.”
TV: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -2.5. O/U: 52
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (9-4): Tom Brady threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns at Miami, but New England failed to take advantage of three prime red-zone opportunities in which they came away with a total of six points. Rob Gronkowski scored for the second time in three games and had his first 100-yard performance since the season opener while Josh Gordon continues to become a bigger option in the passing game, matching his season high with five receptions for 96 yards. Rookie running back Sony Michel has been inconsistent since returning from injury and averaged less than three yards a carry in road losses at Miami and Tennessee. New England is permitting an average of 31.3 points in its four losses – all on the road.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (7-5-1): Roethlisberger sat out much of the second half of last week’s 24-21 loss at Oakland due to a rib injury, but he was a full participant in Thursday’s practice. The same could not be said of starting running back James Conner, who missed last week’s game due to an ankle injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday , resulting in the team ruling him out for Sunday. RB Jaylen Samuels rushed for only 28 yards on 11 carries in place of Conner last week, but Roethlisberger has perhaps the league’s best wideout tandem in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, who have combined for 177 receptions and 18 touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s defense has been burned for 39 fourth-quarter points during the three-game skid.
1. Brady has thrown 25 touchdown passes and four interceptions in career 10 games against Pittsburgh.
2. Brown has registered 487 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his last five home contests.
3. Gronkowski has scored eight touchdowns in six games versus the Steelers and made nine catches for 168 yards in last season’s matchup.