The Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly desperate to get a win as they invite the New England Patriots to Heinz Field in Week 15. The Patriots are currently 2.5-point road favorites.
After Pittsburgh’s stunning loss to the Raiders last week, the Steelers have lost three games in a row to drop to 7-5-1 on the season. That record puts them just half a game ahead of the Ravens for first place in the NFC North. With a road trip to New Orleans next week, the Steelers could potentially lose five straight games and lose their hold on a playoff spot if they don’t find a way to beat New England.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have to rebound after being on the losing end of a miracle ending last week in Miami. The good news is that the 9-4 Pats still have a two-game cushion atop the AFC East. With a win and a Miami loss this week, the Patriots can secure yet another division title. Of course, they’d like to get the bad taste of last week’s loss out of their mouths as soon as possible.
Missing during Pittsburgh’s loss last week to Oakland was running back James Conner, who sat out with an ankle injury. Without him, the Steelers managed a meager 40 yards rushing against an Oakland defense that’s been torched on the ground by just about every other team this season. Obviously, Conner’s absence was a significant blow to the Steelers. More importantly, he’s listed as questionable and may not be ready to go on Sunday.
If Conner can’t play, even more pressure would fall on the shoulders of Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh passing attack. Of course, Roethlisberger is also battling a rib injury that kept him out for a significant chunk of last week’s game. It’s worth mentioning that the New England defense looked a little vulnerable last week, making Ryan Tannehill look like a borderline Pro-Bowler. However, with Conner and Roethlisberger both dealing with injuries, the Steelers may not be in a position to take full advantage.
Back to the Ground
When the Patriots have been at their best this season, they’ve gotten steady production out of Sony Michel and the running game. However, aside from their win over the Jets, Michel has been a non-factor over the past month. With New England losing two of their last four games, they need their running game to provide a little more. After all, they’re going to need a reliable rushing attack when they get into the playoffs and play more cold weather games.
Running the ball will also be critical this week against the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s pass rush is among the best in the game. Even if Tom Brady excels at getting the ball away quickly, they can’t afford to abandon the run and allow the Steelers to go after Brady. Remember, when the Pats lost to Tennessee a few weeks back, they managed just 40 yards and saw Brady get sacked three times.
It’s hard to remember the Steelers ever being this desperate to win a regular season game. It doesn’t matter that they’re playing the Patriots, a team they haven’t defeated since 2011. Pittsburgh needs this game, and they’ll find a way. Bet on the Steelers as 2.5-point underdogs to beat the Patriots on Sunday.