Pittsburgh Steelers (2015 Record: 10-6)
Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers | Oct. 23, 2016 4:25 P.M. (Patriots win, 27-16)
Pttsburgh Steelers at Patriots | AFC Championship Game Jan. 22, 2017 6:40 P.M.
CURRENT TEAM STATUS:
UPDATED 1/18/17 (Paul Perillo)
Much has changed for the Steelers since the last time the Patriots saw them. Back on Oct. 23 when the teams first played, New England not only left Pittsburgh with a 27-16 win, it also left the Steelers reeling. Playing without Ben Roethlisberger proved fatal, and when the quarterback rushed back into action he was clearly not ready to play. A pair of losses against Baltimore and Dallas followed the Patriots game and the Steelers lost four straight and were in danger of missing the playoffs.
The Steelers haven't lost since. Their 18-16 victory at Kansas City in the divisional round Sunday night was the team's ninth consecutive win and they come to Gillette Stadium for Sunday's AFC title game full of confidence, and unlike the first meeting, realtively healthy.
Not only is Roethlisberger in the lineup, but so too is impressive young pass rusher Bud Dupree, who finished the regular season with 4.5 sacks but has been a monster in the playoffs. Since he returned to the lineup in Week 10, the Steelers defense allowed an average of 17 points and racked up three sacks per game. His pressure during playoffs victories over Miami and Kansas City has been a huge part of the team's defensive success.
But make no mistake, the key to beating Pittsburgh is containing its high-powered offense. That means dealing with running back Le'Veon Belland wideout Antonio Brown, two of the very best in the game at their respective positions. Bell averaged almost 5 yards per carry in the regular season and has been even better in the playoffs, where that number has been closer to 6. Brown has always been a thorn in the Patriots side and is coming off a season in which he caught 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Figuring out how to deal with those two will be a key factor for the Patriots defense.
UPDATED 10/17/16 (Paul Perillo)
All things considered the Steelers Week 6 trip to Miami was an unmitigated disaster. Not only did Pittsburgh, one of the favorites to battle New England for AFC supremacy, get upset by the Dolphins but they also lost All-Pro quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the process.
Roethlisberger injured his left knee stepping out of a tackle attempt by Miami's Jordan Phillips and missed the rest of the first half. He returned after the break but was thoroughly ineffective in the Steelers 30-15 loss. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offered a reason why, reporting that Roethlisberger tore the meniscus in his left knee and underwent surgery Monday morning. He is out indefinitely and Landry Jones is expected to start at quarterback when the Patriots travel to Heinz Field on Sunday (Oct. 23).
The injury represents a huge break for the Patriots defense, which figured to receive its first significant test of the season against one of the best offenses in football. Now the Steelers will hope to tread water until after their bye week and hope Roethlisberger can return in time for Pittsburgh's Nov. 6 showdown against Baltimore.
UPDATED 9/22/16 (Paul Perillo)
The ageless DeAngelo Williamscontinues to be a godsend for the Steelers. He carried 58 times for 237 yards (4.1-yard average) over the first two games, more than capably filling the rushing void left by Le'Veon Bell's suspension.
Pittsburgh has also gotten big contributions from rookie wideout Eli Rogers, who posted seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown over the first two weeks. His production, along with second-year wideout Sammie Coates (four catches, 153 yards) has helped ease the burden from the loss of Martavis Bryant (season-long suspension).
UPDATED 7/25/16 (Paul Perillo)
The Steelers are already without one of their top offensive playmakers with wide receiver Martavis Bryant suspended for the entire season. Now it looks like they could be without another.
Versatile and talented running back Le'Veon Bell faces a four-game suspension for missing multiple drug tests, according to ESPN. Bell plans to appeal, and has been active on social media proclaiming his innocence.
Either way Bell's absence won't have a huge impact on the Patriots since the teams aren't scheduled to play until Oct. 23, three weeks after Bell's suspension ends should he indeed be forced to serve it. However, the Steelers are considered one of the contenders in the AFC, and losing Bell for a month would not be ideal.
UPDATED 7/19/16 (Paul Perillo)
The Steelers are one of a handful of teams using robot tackling dummies during the offseason and training camp this summer. Mobile Virtual Players (MVP) weighing between 160 and 180 pounds and running a 5-second 40 with a cost of roughly $8,000 apiece will be used to help Pittsburgh prepare for the season.
Pittsburgh highlighted the technology on their website in May and now will look to implement them even further during camp. The dummies are the result of an experiment at Dartmouth College in an effort to promote safer tackling techniques.
According to MVP, the company that produces the dummies, they are made of foam rubber and are controlled remotely. The engine is protected by a cushion at its base, under which sit two small "skateboard-like" wheels. The Steelers themselves feel the dummies are easy to control and helped to simulate various formations and plays during the spring.
"It's perfect for such a noncontact setting," linebacker Arthur Moats told ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "It has good speed on it, so you're not running your players to death. You're not going to want to run that fast all practice. It saves players' legs."
UPDATED 05/10/2016 (Paul Perillo)
Pittsburgh can be as dangerous as any team in the AFC when playing up to its capabilities. The problem is, injuries and inconsistency have done the Steelers in more often than not in recent seasons.
Ben Roethlisberger encapsulates those traits perfectly. When he's on and feeling good he leads one of the most dangerous offenses in football. With Antonio Brown (136 receptions, 1,834 yards, 10 TD) leading the way the Steelers passing attack can be lethal. But Roethlisberger is also prone to mistakes (16 picks in 2015), is rarely healthy and now will be without the dangerous Martavis Bryant (50-765-5 in 12 games) due to a year-long suspension. He also will have to make do without his long-time security blanket Heath Miller as the tight end opted to retire after 11 productive seasons.
It's not all bad news, however, as Pittsburgh will welcome the return of Le'Veon Bell, one of the most well-rounded runners in the league, after he was limited to six games due to a knee injury in 2015. The Steelers also signed underrated tight end Ladarius Green as a free agent. Green was stuck behind the incomparable Antonio Gates in San Diego and could be a nice find for Big Ben.
The Steelers are in the midst of a complete overhaul on defense, the results of which started to show positive signs late last season. The Steelers held six of their last nine opponents to 20 points or less, and then followed that up with two solid defensive showings in the postseason against Cincinnati and Denver. Young linebacker Ryan Shazier is the budding leader of a group defensive coordinator Keith Butler hopes continues to develop.
KEY PERSONNEL MOVES:
Free agents signed:
TE Ladarius Green (SD)
T Ryan Harris (Den.)
LB Steven Johnson (Ten.)
DE Ricardo Matthews (SD)
Free agents lost:
T Mike Adams (unsigned)
S Will Allen (unsigned)
T Kelvin Beacham (Jax)
CB Antwon Blake (Ten.)
CB Brandon Boykin (Car.)
NT Steve McLendon (NYJ)
RB Isaiah Pead (Mia.)
LB Sean Spence (Ten.)
RB Jordan Todman (Ind.)
TE Heath Miller(retired)
CB Artie Burns (1st)
CB Sean Davis (2nd)
DT Javon Hargrave (3rd)
T Jerald Hawkins (4th)
LB Travis Freeney (6th)
WR Demarcus Ayers (7th)
LB Tyler Matakevich (7th)
RB Le'Veon Bell is coming off a knee injury that limited him to six games in 2015.