AFC Championship: 10 Reasons Pittsburgh Steelers Will Beat New York Jets
On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Steelers came back against their AFC North rivals, beating the Baltimore Ravens 31-24.
Then on Sunday, they found out who they would be playing in the AFC Championship when the New York Jets upset the New England Patriots 28-21.
The two teams will meet up next weekend and the winner will earn a trip to Dallas, Texas and the Super Bowl.
Read on for 10 reasons why the Steelers will be the team that advances.
Ben Roethisberger Is Having An Excellent Season
Despite sitting out for the first four weeks of the season due to a suspension, Ben Roethlisberger still enjoyed a stellar season.
Over the course of the regular season, Roethlisberger completed 240 of his 389 passes for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns. Along with those impressive stats, Big Ben was only picked off five times.
Then in the divisional round of the playoffs, Roethlisberger completed 19 of 32 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns against the rival Ravens.
As the season progressed, it seemed as though Roethlisberger was just getting better and better. That continued against the incredible Baltimore defense and should carry over into the AFC Championship.
Big Ben's Clutch Factor
If you could pick any quarterback in the league to lead your team in the playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger may very well be your top choice. Sure, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning would be up there too, but the fact that you'd have to stop and consider Roethlisberger says a lot.
He's made so many huge plays at the end of tough games. Just look at his pass to Santonio Holmes at the end of the Super Bowl he won.
How about the incredible deep pass he made just this last weekend against the Baltimore Ravens in a high leverage situation?
If this game is close, I'd much rather have Big Ben at the helm than Mark Sanchez.
Even though I've spent the past two slides discussing the greatness of Ben Roethlisberger's right arm, it isn't what most people associate with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Instead, the concept of tough, hard-nosed, physical defense is synonymous with the AFC North powerhouse. It's been true for as long as the Steelers have been around.
This year, the yellow and black-clad players boast the No. 12 passing defense and No. 1 rushing defense, allowing just 214.1 yards per game and 62.8 yards per game through the air and on the ground, respectively.
The Steelers have even held opponents to two touchdowns or less on the scoreboard nine times in their 17 games.
New York hasn't faced too many defenses quite like the Steelers.
Troy Polamalu Is Healthy
Without a doubt, the most important member of the Pittsburgh Steelers is star safety Troy Polamalu.
He of the long flowing locks is a great barometer for the Steelers' success. When Polamalu is playing well (which is basically whenever he's on the field), the Steelers tend to win games. When he's injured, they struggle.
Polamalu had to deal with a plethora of injuries throughout the year, but it appears as though he's recovered from an Achilles injury and is back at full strength.
That does not bode well for Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense.
Steelers Have a More Balanced Offense
The Pittsburgh Steelers rushing offense has produced an average of 120.3 yards per game on the ground, the 11th highest figure in the NFL.
Rashard Mendenhall has been the primary ball-carrier, and he ran 324 times for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns over the course of the regular season. Last game, against the Ravens in the playoffs, he only gained 46 rushing yards, but scored twice.
The passing game has been great thanks to Ben Roethlisberger, as described earlier.
On the other hand, the Jets are great at moving the ball on the ground (although I'm worried for them that LaDanian Tomlinson may be running out of steam at this point in the season) but they struggle through the air.
While they're rushing offense is ranked fourth, the passing offense struggled to the 22nd most yards through the air.
Jets Emotionally Drained
It's hard to imagine the man in the picture ever being emotionally drained, but Rex Ryan very well could experience that problem this week, as could his team.
With the constant trash-talking and pumping up for the game against the hated New England Patriots, the adrenaline may have worn off a bit after the win.
I don't think I've ever seen a team as excited to play as the Jets were this week. There is no way that they can maintain that level of intensity against the Steelers.
There isn't hatred between the two squads quite like there was between the Jets and their last opponent.
Jets Offense Looked Good Because They Were Playing the Patriots
The Jets offense has struggled mightily at the end of the season, but somehow they rolled over the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Three reasons exist to explain this.
The first is the message from the previous slide: the massive amount of billboard material and hatred motivated them towards an extraordinarily good performance.
The second is that the New England Patriots defense simply isn't that good. Jerod Mayo may have a billion tackles, but that's only because no one else on the team is great at tackling. New England has struggled to stop the run all year and the pass defense hasn't been too great either.
The third is that the Jets have seen the Patriots defense twice already in the 2010-2011 season, so it was easier to gameplan for it. That intimacy will not exist with Dick LeBeau's defense.
Mark Sanchez doesn't have too much experience on this big of a stage and he certainly hasn't proven to be a prime-time player yet.
The memory of the 45-3 drubbing at the hands of the New England Patriots during Monday Night Football is still too fresh for me to fully endorse the Jets quarterback.
How about Shonn Greene? When was the last time he played in a game this big?
On the other hand, Ben Roethlisberger and the experienced team has been here many times before. Roethlisberger has quarterbacked his team to a Super Bowl.
Do you think Hines Ward is scared of the national stage? Absolutely not.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the invaluable advantage of experience on their side and that should not be discounted as a major factor in the AFC Championship.
Rex Ryan has yet to play in the big one, but Mike Tomlin has.
Ryan, while a great head coach, has yet to put his money where his mouth is. Maybe it's too full of toes and feet?
Tomlin, on the other hand, has become one of the NFL's premier coaches. He's overcome so much this season: injuries to his best defensive player, fines and threatened suspensions/retirements related to another defensive star, a four-game suspension levied upon his quarterback and unquestioned leader and more.
Yet Tomlin has still gotten his team into this position.
Also on the coaching staff is the league's best defensive mind. Dick LeBeau perennially has this team amongst the top defenses in the NFL.
Ryan may call himself a great defensive coach, but he's got nothing on LeBeau.
We saw revenge come into play just this week when the New England Patriots got knocked out by the New York Jets.
Back in Week 13, the Patriots embarrassed the Jets by beating them 45-3 on Monday Night Football. You have to believe that part of the motivation for the inspired play and the relentless trash talking was the revenge element.
When someone embarrasses you, or even just beats you, you want nothing more than to beat them when you get another opportunity. Turning the other cheek doesn't work in the cutthroat world of sports.
Unfortunately for the Jets, that same revenge thing is going to bite them in the butt during the AFC Championship.
In Week 15, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a 17-10 lead against the Jets during the fourth quarter but a seven-yard touchdown run by Mark Sanchez tied the game up.
The fourth quarter saw the Jets score a field goal and a safety en route to a five-point victory.
Don't think for a second that Pittsburgh doesn't want to avenge that loss.
They both want to and will.