By Matthew Cunha
On Sunday at 4:25, the Patriots and Steelers will play the regular season game of the year. With home field advantage essentially on the line, the game has meaning. Lots and lots of meaning. It’s a regular season game that could be one for the ages, which is saying something with the history of these two franchises.
In my first drive blog ,about 14 months ago, I wrote about how last year’s edition of Pats-Steelers also could have been one for the ages if not for the injury to Ben Roethlisberger. This year, the teams with 11 combined championships, meet with both of their Super Bowl winning quarterbacks at the helm.
In last year’s blog, I talked about the elite offense prowess of these teams making for great theater. When else can you see two multi-super bowl winning quarterbacks, the best running back in the game, (Le’Veon Bell), greatest wide receiver in the game, (Antonio Brown) and the greatest tight end in the game (Rob Gronkowski). Add in Tom Brady (the greatest quarterback in the game) and you have the best player at each skill position in the NFL on the same field on Sunday.
A Pittsburgh win all but seals home field advantage for the Steelers, what with a two game lead and the tiebreaker over New England with only two games to play. A Patriots win does likely the same thing, because both teams would have 3 losses but New England would hold the tie-breaker over Pittsburgh because of Sunday’s win. Meaning the Patriots would only need to beat Buffalo and New York at home to finish 13-3 with home field throughout the playoffs.
A Jacksonville win and a Pats loss this week would move the Pats out of a bye (wow, the Pats not having a bye is a very strange thing to think about). If you argue that a home field is not a necessity for the Patriots, just remember the playoffs in 2016 when the Pats lost game to the Dolphins, Eagles, and Jets and had to take a trip to Denver for the AFC championship game. Yup, that didn’t end so hot.
It would be hard to find a more meaningful and anticipated game in the regular season in the Brady-Belichick era. Any Peyton Manning vs Tom Brady game was big, but none decided home field advantage. The 2014 Packers game felt special but more so to see Brady at Lambeau Field, but the game itself did not hold that much meaning. A couple games vs Peyton’s Broncos had home field implications, but never occurred this late in the season. In 2012, the 11-1 Texans came to Gillette to take on the 9-3 Patriots, but it didn’t swing home field towards the Pats plus no one took that Texans team seriously.
Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin made a comment about the Patriots after an overtime win versus the Brett Hundley led Packers three week ago. The Steelers eked out wins the next two weeks on two late field goals by Chris Boswell. It’s clear the Steelers forgot they first had a couple of division games vs the Bengals and Ravens before the Pats showdown. However, they kept their win streak intact before the game. Something the Pats could not do with their horrendous looking Monday night loss versus the Dolphins.
The Pats will travel to Heinz Field on a short week, after a loss, as a motivated team with their goofy match up nightmare returning from suspension. The Steelers have been basically looking ahead at this game since the preseason. With two motivated teams, offensive legends, and a much easier road to the Super Bowl at stake, Sunday’s game has all the makings of an instant classic.
Perhaps the important regular season game in a legendary run.
Matthew Cunha is a producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.