When the Steelers have the ball

With rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming off one of his worst games, the Steelers will rely on veteran running back Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley. The Steelers know they can run on New England, gaining 221 yards in the regular-season meeting. Since the loss in Pittsburgh, the Patriots have allowed teams to rush for more than 81 yards only twice in 10 games. But New England could be susceptible without Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury and is considered questionable.

When the Patriots have the ball

The Patriots likely will match strength against strength, running Corey Dillon against the NFL's best run defense. Dillon has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of his past 12 games. New England has to account for inside linebacker James Farrior, who had a team-leading 119 tackles, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. In the previous meeting, the Steelers were able to focus on the pass and linebacker Joey Porter had three sacks and two forced fumbles.

Special Teams

The Steelers' coverage teams have been inconsistent all season and gave up a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown last week. The Patriots also have the edge in the kicking game. Adam Vinatieri, one of the best clutch kickers in postseason history, won't be missing at the end like the Jets' Doug Brien. New England punter Josh Miller has shown better hang time and directional skills than Pittsburgh's Chris Gardocki.

Matchup to watch

Steelers run offense vs. Patriots run defense

New England wants to force Roethlisberger to pass, so it has to be stout up the middle. If the Steelers can have consistent success on the ground, they can control the clock like the Patriots did last week against the Colts.

Key stat


The Steelers' average margin of victory in a 9-0 season at Heinz Field, which included six by double digits.


New England's Bill Belichick is closing in on hallowed ground. With a win, he will tie Vince Lombardi for the best playoff record among coaches with at least six post season games at 9-1.

Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher has a more forgettable playoff record. In 13 years, he is 1-3 at home in AFC title games.


This should be one of the most physical games of the season. It will come down to whichever team can better establish the run on offense and its will on defense. Pittsburgh will be the more dominant team in both facets.


- Jamison Hensley

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