Cincinnati.com
National Football League
Preview
Pittsburgh at New England
When: 6:40 PM ET, Sunday, January 22, 2017
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are in familiar territory as they prepare to clash in Sunday night's AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Both franchises are used to playing with the stakes so high -- the winner of the matchup will establish an NFL record by becoming the first team to advance to the Super Bowl for the ninth time.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a pair of Super Bowl rings but knows the challenge presented by the Patriots, who beat Pittsburgh in the AFC title game after both the 2001 and 2004 regular seasons on their way to championships. "You are going up to the lion's den, the dragon's lair," Roethlisberger told reporters. "They are the dragon. We are trying to slay them. It doesn't matter who it is, but they are the gold standard." New England, the first team since the 1970 merger to advance to six consecutive conference championship games, won at Pittsburgh 27-16 in Week 7 - a game Roethlisberger missed due to injury. "I think the game earlier in the season is not really that relevant," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, instead pointing to the Steelers' nine-game winning streak. "What the Steelers have done in the last 2 1/2 months is really what we're probably going to see Sunday night, and that's what we've got to be ready for."

TV: 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -6. O/U: 50.5

ABOUT THE STEELERS (13-5): Roethlisberger has one of the league's top receivers at his disposal, but Pittsburgh is centering its offense around running back Le'Veon Bell, who has set franchise playoff records in back-to-back games by rushing for 167 yards against Miami and 170 at Kansas City. Bell has rushed for at least 118 yards in seven of his last eight contests but was limited to 81 on 21 carries by New England while making 10 catches for 68 yards. Antonio Brown has racked up 481 receptions over the last four seasons, including seven for 106 yards in Week 7, while going over 100 yards in both postseason wins. The defense has shown the most improvement for the Steelers, who have permitted an average of 16.6 points and registered 31 sacks during their winning streak.

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (15-2): After throwing for 28 touchdowns against only two interceptions, Tom Brady matched the latter total by getting picked off twice during a pedestrian performance in last week's 34-16 victory over Houston. Brady, though, routinely has carved up Pittsburgh's defense, throwing for 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last six matchups, and for his career has 26 scoring passes versus three picks while posting a 9-2 record against the Steelers. Running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Week 7 meeting, but Dion Lewis did the bulk of the damage against Houston with three TDs - including one on a 98-yard kickoff return. The Patriots' defense led the league by surrendering 15.6 points during the regular season.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Belichick is bidding to become the first coach to lead one team to seven Super Bowls.

2. Roethlisberger owns a 13-6 postseason record heading into his fifth AFC title game.

3. New England is 16-3 at home in the playoffs since 2001.

PREDICTION: Steelers 26, Patriots 23
Stats and Records
Team Comparison
  W‑L Strk PF PA Home Away Grass Turf OT Div Conf
Pittsburgh 13-5 W9 24.8 19.7 7-2 6-3 10-4 1-0 - - 11-3
New England 15-2 W8 27.9 15.6 7-2 8-0 6-0 1-0 - - 12-1
Last Meeting
Pittsburgh New England
Date Away Home Tot Rus Pas Tot Rus Pas
10/23/16 NE 27 PIT 16 375 94 281 362 140 222
Player Stats
Previous Matchup
Passing Player COMP % YDS TD INT
Pittsburgh L. Jones 61.7 281 1 1
New England T. Brady 73.1 222 2 0
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
Pittsburgh L. Bell 21 81 3.9 0
New England L. Blount 24 127 5.3 2
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
Pittsburgh A. Brown 7 106 15.1 0
New England R. Gronkowski 4 93 23.2 1
Touchdowns Player TD
Pittsburgh D. Heyward-Bey 1
New England L. Blount 2
Season (Regular Season and Playoffs)
Passing Player COMP % YDS TD INT
Pittsburgh B. Roethlisberger 64.7 4240 31 16
New England T. Brady 65.7 3841 30 4
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
Pittsburgh L. Bell 320 1605 5.0 9
New England L. Blount 307 1192 3.9 18
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
Pittsburgh A. Brown 117 1516 13.0 14
New England J. Edelman 106 1243 11.7 3
Touchdowns Player TD
Pittsburgh A. Brown 14
New England L. Blount 18