Patriots vs. Steelers: Why This Is an AFC Championship Game Preview

Andrew McCluskeyCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 14:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots calls out signals during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 14, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

This Sunday, the New England Patriots will travel to the Steel City to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Patriots are currently sitting atop the AFC with a 5-1 record, with their only loss coming to division rival Buffalo Bills. The Steelers are second in the conference with a 5-2 record after winning their last three in a row. 

This is the highlight matchup of Week 8, as it could very well be a preview of this year's AFC Championship game. Both teams are once again asserting their dominance over the rest of the conference. 

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense have been lighting up defenses across the league, as they are first in total passing and 10th in total rushing. The hard-nosed Steelers defense has been a little softer at times this year, but they are still second in passing yards allowed and 12th in rushing yards allowed. 

While it hasn't been difficult for these two teams to make playoff runs year after year, this year more than ever it is looking as if New England and Pittsburgh are destined to meet in the game that will punch one team's Super Bowl ticket. 

The AFC is simply weak this year. 

It is clear that other division leaders—the San Diego Chargers and the Houston Texans—are not on the same level as the Steelers and Patriots. 

The Chargers have struggled to a 4-2 record, with both the Raiders and Chiefs breathing down their necks in the AFC West. Their normally impressive passing game has struggled with Philip Rivers's disappointing season thus far. 

The Texans are the best of a bad bunch. The Colts without Peyton Manning are a non-factor and the Jaguars just don't have the talent to be a playoff team yet. The Tennessee Titans are in second with a 3-3 record, but it is clear that they are not an elite team by any means. 

This leaves the division rivals of the Steelers and Patriots. 

All three AFC North teams are technically still in the hunt, but each has major holes. The Ravens are the most likely challenger to the Steelers, as they hold a victory over them already this season, but their offense seems too inconsistent to threaten a deep playoff run.

The Bengals have been a great surprise this year, and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has exceeded all expectations. However, their only win against a team with a winning record was Week 4, when they pulled off a narrow win over the Bills. I don't see them having the talent to challenge the best of the conference come playoff time.

The pool is a little more shallow in the AFC East. Buffalo is the only team to defeat the Patriots this year, but they have slowed after a scorching hot start.

The Jets are lurking in third with a 4-3 record. The normally tough Rex Ryan defense has been inconsistent and their offense has seemed to regress from last year. Without a dominant defense, this team doesn't have enough scoring power to beat the Patriots or Steelers. 

It all comes back to New England and Pittsburgh. 

Both teams have been there and done it multiple times. They have experienced coaching staffs and veteran leadership with loads of big-game experience. 

The odds certainly appear stacked in their favor to make the AFC Championship game. 

There is plenty of season left, but don't be shocked to see a rematch of this Week 8 matchup come January.