Pittsburgh Steelers: Still the Team to Beat in the AFC

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Still the Team to Beat in the AFC
PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23: Troy Polamalu #43 and Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate after they defeated the New York Jets 24 to 19 in the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Let's face the facts. The national media, especially ESPN, loves the New England Patriots.

It's not that hard to figure out why. They have won three and played in four Super Bowls in the last 10 years. They have a star quarterback in Tom Brady, who may be the best player in the league, and he is married to a supermodel. And they play in a big market that is close to the ESPN headquarters. 

So of course ESPN is going to shove the Patriots down our throats. 

Earlier this month, ESPN released its "power rankings" ranking every team in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the defending AFC Champs and Super Bowl runners-up, were ranked fifth in the NFL and were the second AFC team on there behind the Patriots.

My question is: Why is that? The Steelers were 12-4 last year and made it to the Super Bowl, they have all of their starters back on defense and their offense should be improved by default because Ben Roethlisberger isn't facing a four-game suspension to start the season.

Yes, Brady is probably the best quarterback in the league. However, what has he done in the playoffs lately? He's 0-3 in his last three starts in the playoffs and has just five touchdown passes to four interceptions.

The Patriots last won a Super Bowl in the 2004 season. Since then, they've played in one Super Bowl and lost. Brady and the Patriots are 5-5 in the playoffs since they last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

Who should be favorite to win the AFC?

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The Steelers, on the other hand, have won two Super Bowls and played in another since then. Ben Roethlisberger, entering his eighth season, is 9-2 in the playoffs since 2005 and has 19 total touchdowns to just 11 interceptions in those games.

Not saying Big Ben is better than Brady, but he has been in the postseason.

It makes zero sense to make the Patriots the favorites, other than deeming it a "sexy pick" by the media.

The Steelers have the superior running game, the superior defense and they have a quarterback who at least deserves to be in the same sentence as Brady—unlike Eli Manning.  

The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Yet this rule doesn't seem to apply to the Patriots.

2004 is a long time ago. Since then, the Steelers have been the powerhouse of the AFC. Three Super Bowl trips in six seasons, two Super Bowl victories, nine playoff wins. 

If anything, the Steelers could be a better team than last year. Willie Colon being healthy and Maurkice Pouncey having a year under his belt should make the offensive line better. Roethlisberger is entering the prime of his career and has looked great in preseason. 

The receiving core is as good and as deep as any in the league. Mike Wallace is an emerging superstar, Hines Ward is still Hines Ward and Antonio Brown is an emerging talent. 

Are the Pittsburgh Steelers the team to beat in the AFC?

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The defense is still going to be the best in the league. Troy Polamalu's health will determine how good it is.

If anything, the Steelers actually have more depth than they did last year, and they went to the Super Bowl.  

So how are they not the favorites?

To quote a famous wrestler: "To be the man, you've got to beat the man." 

Right now in the AFC, the Steelers are still "the man." Until they get dethroned, they're still the team to beat in the AFC.

This article also appears on the very popular Pittsburgh blog: 412sportstalk.

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/Madchad1187

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