By Will DePaoli
Photo: David Hague – Inside Pittsburgh Sports
The Road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the New York Jets next Sunday night at Heinz Field in the AFC Title game. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. Pittsburgh will make their 15th AFC Championship game appearance.
The Jets on Sunday stunned the Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots, defeating the Patriots 28-21 and advancing to their second straight AFC Championship game.
The Jets came into the game 9.5 point underdogs and have knocked off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive games. They will now aim to knock off Ben Roethlisberger next weekend.
The Patriots entered playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC and consensus favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
After winning his first 10 playoff games, Brady is 4-5 in his last 9 playoff games with 13 interceptions during that span.
New York is 1-7 all-time in Pittsburgh.
A look ahead to the AFC Title Game
Just like 2008, things have fallen into place for the Steelers to host another AFC Championship Game against a team that the Steelers matchup well against.
The Steelers have the most crucial advantage at the quarterback position, however, this is a Jets team that doesn’t fear anyone and will be coming into Pittsburgh with a ton of confidence and the belief that they can win in Pittsburgh, which is what they did on Dec. 19, defeating the Steelers 22-17.
The Jets fuel off of being the underdogs and will be in that position once again next Sunday night.
Here are some things to ponder & what favors the Steelers
*What should worry Steelers fans is the Jets playmaking ability in all three phases. On defense, the Jets appear to have their swagger back and on offense the Jets have two game changers at the wide receiver position in Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.
For the Steelers, special teams most notably their coverage units is a concern going into this game and an area that is getting exploited of late and was exploited on the first kickoff of the game during the team’s previous meeting on Dec. 19.
*The Steelers come into this game with the obvious advantage at the quarterback position but more reasons to be very optimistic is that this offense is peaking.
The Steelers racked up over 400 yards against the Jets in their previous meeting and the Jets are vulnerable against the run, which is something the Steelers will look to exploit and should be able to have some success.
What the Steelers are doing now on offense is finishing plays in the redzone and turning field goals into touchdowns.
The Jets locked down against the Patriots receivers and the lack of deep threat played into Jets hands. Pittsburgh though has the ability to stretch the field with the likes of Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and now Antonio Brown.
What’s going to be interesting is how the Jets defend Wallace and Ward with Cromartie and Revis. Last game, the Jets went with Revis on Ward for the most part, totally taking Ward out of the game and the Steelers were only able to get Ward away from Revis on “pick” plays.
*Like on offense, the Steelers on defense are also peaking, most notably their key playmakers like James Harrison and some under-rated guys like Ryan Clark and Ziggy Hood who are playing their best football of the season.
No team has been able to run on the Steelers and it’s unlikely the Jets will be that team to break the Steelers. That will put the offensive load on Marc Sanchez…..This time around Troy Polamalu will be roaming the field.
One mistake the Steelers made against New York in their first meeting was being too conservative with their defensive scheme and not being aggressive enough against Sanchez. Not having Troy might have played a factor in that but don’t look for that to happen again.
*It is often forgotten that Heath Miller also didn’t play against the Jets in the first meeting.
*I heard a local radio host say on air this morning that if the Steelers luck out and the Patriots lose, then fans should put an asterisk next to the Steelers if they go on to win the Super Bowl without having to go through Brady and the Patriots. Most ridiculous thing I’ve heard.