Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady can add to his incredible legacy Sunday night by beating the Steelers to earn his seventh-career trip to the Super Bowl.
To do so, Brady may have to outduel another long-standing elite quarterback in Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.
As such, as much as Sunday's battle for a trip to Houston and the Super Bowl LI hypes up as a matchup of franchise quarterbacks and their offenses, the game may end up being decided by how each team's defense performs with the season on the line.
The Boston Globe says that the Patriots know the Steelers are coming, and that they are coming right up the middle. Conversely, the Globe expects Brady to challenge a Pittsburgh secondary that includes two rookie starters. The Globe Patriots notebook says the New England defense has transformed itself into an edgy group. The Globe Steelers notebook writes about Roethlisberger's struggles on the road this season. Globe columnist Chris Gasper says what Antonio Brown should have apologized for is being self-absorbed. The Globe notes the Patriots had another full roster on the practice field on Thursday, even if seven guys remained limited due to injury.
The Globe notes that president-elect Donald Trump wished the Patriots luck on the eve of his inauguration. The Globe also passes along police warning fans of the potential for fake tickets on the market for Sunday's AFC title game. The Globe talks to CBS analyst and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher about dealing with locker room distractions.
Boston Herald columnist Ron Borges writes that it "hasn't been an easy ride" for the Patriots to get to this point in another impressive season. The Herald declares that Patriots vs. Steelers is simply a worthy matchup for the title game. The Herald *also notes Trump's shoutout to Robert Kraft and the Patriots during a Thursday evening speech at a donor dinner in Washington with the New England owner in attendance. The *Herald explains how cornerback Logan Ryan works to make the big play. The Herald Patriots notebook looks at Alan Branch's key role in trying to stop Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. The Herald notes that Martellus Bennett is bringing an "even-keel" to the AFC Championship Game after the tight end's disappointing performance against the Texans to open the postseason. The Herald delves into the key role that a youth movement has played on the Pittsburgh defense.
The Providence Journal says the New England defense carries a chip on its shoulder heading into Sunday's AFC title game. The* ProJo writes that a surging Julian Edelman will be a handful for the Steelers to deal with this weekend. The ProJo* also notes Bennett looking for better production this time around.
ESPNBoston.com reveals how some unique decorations got into LeGarrette Blount's locker at Gillette. ESPNBoston.com notes that as the 2016 season plays out, New England made a move for 2017 by signing a veteran tight end to a futures contract. Edelman was mic'ed up for last Saturday night's win over the Texans, and ESPNBoston.com relays the receiver's humorous interaction with an official in the game.
WEEI.com notes that Trump also revealed that he'd had a recent phone call from Brady. While the Patriots seem rather healthy for this point in the season, WEEI.com writes that the Steelers are dealing with a flu bug in the Pittsburgh locker room. WEEI.com has Ryan talking about how the Patriots were doubted earlier this year. WEEI.com looks behind the curtain at the unique story of the Patriots team magician – yes, team magician. WEEI.com writes about "how the Patriots are much better than (and kinda the same as) Donald Trump."
CSNNE.com declares that Sunday's battle is not a legacy game for the Patriots, but it is for the Steelers. CSNNE.com has Malcolm Butler talking about the importance of tackling to the Patriots secondary. CSNNE.com passes along Edelman and Bennett marveling at the longevity of Steelers linebacker James Harrison. CSNNE.com notes that Bell has missed two straight days of practice for "personal reasons."
From Bill Belichick (No. 2) to Ernie Adams (No. 45), the Patriots are well represented in NFL.com's list of the 51 most important people left in the playoffs. NFL.com says that former New England linebacker Jamie Collins is set to sign a contract extension with the Browns. NFL.com predicts a tight win for New England on Sunday. NFL.com recalls when Russian president Vladimir Putin stole one of Kraft's Super Bowl rings. NFL.com has a full game primer for the AFC title tilt.
The New York Times sat down for an exclusive interview with Kraft and says the Patriots owner is still "sore at the NFL" after Deflategate. "Sometimes, the league really messes up, and I think they really messed this up badly," Kraft told the Times.
The* New York Post* breaks down why Patriots vs. Steelers has the makings of a classic playoff game.
USA Today trollingly says Bennett sounded off on the Steelers and Antonio Brown.