Patriots vs. Steelers Game Preview: History Shows Brady Rules Rivalry

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 14: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots waits in the tunnel to lead his team onto the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 14 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The two teams have met eight times since 2002, and it is considered one of the most exciting inter-divisional rivalries in the league. But when you really break it down, this game swings heavily in favor of Tom Brady and his Patriots.

In a highly-touted battle of the AFC titans, the New England Patriots head to Heinz Field this Sunday to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two teams each sit atop their respective divisions and have their eyes set on the postseason, and this game could be decisive in their chances for home field advantage in the playoffs.

The two teams have met eight times since 2002, and it is considered one of the most exciting inter-divisional rivalries in the league. But when you really break it down, this game swings heavily in favor of Tom Brady and his Patriots. 

Brady is 6-1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, including a 41-27 bashing in the AFC Championship game in 2005. His only loss came that same Super Bowl winning season when he threw his only multiple interception game against the Steelers in the regular season, going 25-43 for 271 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. But at first glance, it's extremely hard to tell why the Tom Brady-era Patriots have had the Steelers' number this decade.

The Steelers and Patriots are inarguably the two most dominant AFC teams of the 21st century, so it only makes sense to compare them. Brady has played in four Super Bowls and won three; Ben Roethlisberger has played in three Super Bowls and won two. There have only been three Super Bowls played since the 2001 season that have not featured either New England or Pittsburgh. The Patriots have played in 19 playoff games since 2001, going 14-5. The Steelers have played in 17, going 12-5.

In their seven games played with Brady against Pittsburgh, the Patriots have averaged 344.1 total yards, and in those same games the Steelers have averaged 337.6. That's a difference of just 6.5 yards per game. Unsurprisingly, the Steelers have won the rushing yards battle, averaging 121 against New England in those games while the Pats averaged just 66. But nevertheless the two teams have exactly the same number of rushing touchdowns against each other: five.  

As difficult as it is to tell these two teams apart on paper just by their records separately in both the regular and postseason, it is obvious that this 21st century "rivalry" has been won by the Pats nce you compare their head to head records.

Here are a few things to consider:

The scoring between the two teams has been uncannily and consistently similar when spread across the averages, but going through the box scores of each game reveals that the Patriots are a team of two halves. When they get up early on the Steelers, they always maintain their lead. And if it is a close game, they pull away in the fourth. The only game that Brady lost to them, he threw two interceptions.

That two interception game was also the only of the games in which the Patriots lost the turnover battle. The Brady-Patriots have only surrendered 8 turnovers to Pittsburgh's 16. The turnovers will be a major element to watch this week because the team that wins the turnover battle in these New England-Pittsburgh games is the team that wins. Currently the Patriots are at an unimpressive +1 turnover ratio, but the Steelers are at an atrocious league-worst -9 turnover ratio. Brady is certainly less likely to throw a pick than Roethlisberger is, and the Patriots also fumble less than most of the league.

This is not to say that Roethlisberger isn't a very capable quarterback that should always be considered a threat. This matchup is perennially seen as a tale of the two quarterbacks; and rightfully so. When you look at Big Ben's numbers against the Pats, you see that they are actually quite good. It's just that Brady's are better.  Here's a look at their stats in the five games they have played against eachother:

QB Matchup: Brady against Roethlisberger

Total Completions

Total Attempts

Overall Completion %

Average yards per game

Total TD

Total Interceptions

Roethlisberger

93

157

59%

242.4

10

4

Brady

132

194

68%

319.8

11

3

 

 The Patriots have not stifled Roethlisberger so much as Brady has consistently and effectively defied the Steelers' defense like no other quarterback in the league can. Essentially, the Patriots' defense is more capable of stopping Roethlisberger than the Steelers' defense is of stopping Brady. They are certainly not alone in that plight.

So what does this all mean for this week? It means the Steelers will lose.

Passing game: Advantage Patriots

Both star wide out Hines Ward and their leading tackler, linebacker James Farrior, are questionable to play in Sunday's game. Missing Farrior will make things even easier for the Pats' offensive line, and with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and even Deion Branch all playing at the level they have been playing at, the Patriots offense should be potent as usual. Obviously the threat of Troy Polamalu patrolling the field is a big one, but the Patriots have too many weapons to have him slow them down too much; especially if Brady avoids any bad passes in his direction. Here's a quick breakdown of their receiving advantage:

The Patriots definitely win the leading receiver matchup between Welker and Mike Wallace, although Wallace could definitely pop off against the Patriots' weak secondary, now further weakened by the confusing release of Leigh Bodden this week. Wallace has caught 36 balls on 50 targets for 730 yards and 5 touchdowns (in 7 games); Welker has caught 51 balls on 74 targets for 785 yards and 5 touchdowns (in 6 games.)

Even beyond those two, the Patriots have much more reliable 2nd through 4th options than the Steelers. Gronkowski, Branch and Hernandez  have combined for 1,059 yards on 82 catches and 10 touchdowns. Compare that to the Steelers' Antonio Brown, Heath Miller and Ward who have had an extra game and still combined for an inferior 898 yards on 74 catches and 6 touchdowns.

Running Game: Advantage Patriots

Surprisingly, the Patriots are even poised to win the matchup in the running game as well. They have a better defense against the run, ranked 8th allowing 101.5 rushing yards per game, whereas the Steelers are allowing over 107 yards per game. That's pretty close, but New England's run defense has only been getting better as the season progresses. Plus BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Rashard Mendenhall have had almost exactly the same amount of carries, with 91 and 94 respectively; only Green-Ellis has 5 touchdowns and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and Mendenhall is averaging 3.7yards per carry with 3 touchdowns.

Historical Precedence: Advantage Patriots

The record obviously speaks for itself. But New England also hasn't lost a game coming off their bye week since 2002; basically the entire time Brady has been the starting quarterback. Additionally, the Patriots are in a great position to continue and build off of their ability to limit giveaways and maximize takeaways with the Steelers, especially considering their current ratios for the 2011 season.

Score prediction:

The Patriots are looking ahead to probably their toughest month of the season in November, with games against the New York Giants, the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles. This win against the Steelers is crucial to ensuring a comfortable AFC East lead as they head into that tough stretch. I don't see Brady, Belichick and crew blowing this chance to capitalize on extra preparation against a familiar opponent.

Steelers: 21 Patriots: 34

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