The New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers meet for the second time in five weeks when they battle in the AFC Championship Game
on Sunday evening.
Bookmaker.com has Pittsburgh as 3 ½-point home ‘chalk’ with a total of 38 ½-points. The Jets are plus 165 to pull off the upset.
New York (13-5 straight-up, 11-7 against the spread) is still riding the emotional high of its 28-21 win at New England as 9 ½-point ‘dogs. All the pre-game trash talk done by coach Rex Ryan and the players seem destined to blow up in their face, but they backed up every word.
The 49 combined points went ‘over’ the 45-point total. The ‘over’ is 9-1 in New York’s road games this year.
The Jets are building a reputation as road warriors (8-2 SU, 7-3 ATS this year). They’re looking to pull off the road trifecta by beating elite quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in consecutive weeks. They will certainly have earned their Super Bowl berth if they do.
New York is 4-1 SU and ATS in road playoff games over the last two years. It led at halftime (17-13) in last year’s AFC title game in Indianapolis before losing 30-17 as eight-point underdogs.
The Jets are trying to become the third wild-card team to win the Super Bowl recently in addition to Pittsburgh (2005) and the New York Giants (2007).
Pittsburgh (13-4 SU, 11-6 ATS) also beat a fierce division rival last week, 31-24 over Baltimore as 3 ½-point home favorites. The game swung on turnovers with Baltimore building a 21-7 halftime lead thanks to two Pittsburgh miscues. The Ravens returned the favor (and more) with three second-half turnovers leading to the stunning comeback.
The Steelers may have been somewhat fortunate, but they helped create the mistakes and are a ferocious team defensively. Pittsburgh is now 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS in its last eight games, only losing outright to the Jets (22-17 as 3 ½-point favorites). More on that game below.
Pittsburgh is playing in its third AFC title game in six years (winning the Super Bowl the two previous times). It won and ‘covered’ the conference title game at home against Baltimore two years ago, 23-14 as six-point favorites. Ryan was the Ravens defensive coordinator in that game.
During the 2005 season, Pittsburgh won in Denver 34-17 as three-points ‘dogs to advance to the ‘Big Game.’
The first meeting between New York and Pittsburgh was back on December 19. The Jets were reeling after consecutive losses at New England (45-3) and home to Miami (10-6). There was even talk that Ryan’s bunch could slump its way out of the playoff picture.
Instead, the Jets got an opening kickoff return for a touchdown from Brad Smith, giving them instant confidence. Pittsburgh battled back for a 17-10 lead in the third quarter, but New York scored 12 unanswered points to end the game. Roethlisberger and company were stopped at the Jets 10-yard line at the final gun.
Pittsburgh lost despite having the advantage in rushing (146-106) and total yards (377-276). It was playing without safety Troy Polamalu and the rushing yards allowed were way above its top-ranked regular season average (62.8 YPG). Baltimore rushed for just 35 yards last week.
Mark Sanchez threw for only 170 yards against Pittsburgh, but that’s an acceptable figure as long as he doesn’t turn it over and the rushing game is working. Sanchez has been held just under 200 yards in both playoff contests, but had a 127.3 quarterback rating last week in badly outplaying Tom Brady.
The Jets defense is feeling very good about itself after its last two games, but Roethlisberger provides a different challenge than Manning or Brady as he’s strong enough to break away from the pass rush and still make plays down the field.
Interestingly, the Jets have publicly said they’re not trash talking this week. Perhaps they don’t want to rattle the cage of a team they recently beat at home.
Brad Smith (groin injury) is questionable this week. His ability to run the wildcat wasn’t missed against New England, but could be a factor this week. Pittsburgh has a lot of players banged up, but only defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps) is expected to be out. He hasn’t played since October.
Kickoff from Heinz Field will be 3:30 p.m. (PT) on CBS. Early weather reports have it windy and temperatures only in the high teens.