The Patriots and Steelers will battle it out for the AFC Championship on Sunday evening and this is the way it should be. Back in September, many people had these two teams meeting for the championship and that is exactly the way it played out. And it is no surprise that the teams with the best balance and quarterback play are still standing in the end.
Despite what the NFL would have you believe and through their best efforts about parity in the NFL, this still is a quarterback driven league. Since 2003 the AFC has been represented once in the Super Bowl by a QB not named Brady, Roethlisberger or Manning. That was in 2012 with Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.
For the fans sick of seeing one of those three in the big game, it isn’t going to change because either Brady or Roethlisberger will be representing the AFC again as the two teams clash in New England despite Manning hanging it up this season.
Brady missed the first four games of the season but then proceeded to set a new standard for Touchdown to Interception Ratio by throwing 28 TDs to just two INTs. Brady completed 67.4 percent of his passes and finished with a QB rating of 112.2 which is ridiculous for a QB at the age of 39.
Roethlisberger shook off an injury in the middle of the season that caused him to miss two games but still threw for 3819 yards and 29 touchdowns with a QB rating of 95.4. With him under center, the Steeler offense is a balanced juggernaut that can score points in a hurry.
And balance is why both teams are here at the end. The Patriots and Steelers remain balanced in the running and passing games on both offense and defense to keep their opponents off balance.
New England had the 7th ranked rushing offense in 2016 averaging 117.0 yards per game. Their passing offense was 4th with 269.3 yards per game. Overall the unit was 4th in the NFL averaging 386.3 yards per game. Pittsburgh’s offense had the 14th ranked rushing attack with 110.0 yards per fame. The Steelers had the #5 passing offense averaging 262.6 yards per game. Overall Pittsburgh was the 7th ranked offense in terms of yardage with 372.6 yards of offense every week.
That balance doesn’t allow opponents for keying on any one specific area of the offense to stop. If a defense tries to load the box and bring eight men up to stop the run, then they’ll burn you with a pass. Want to drop six defensive backs in the dime to slow down the passing game? Then they’ll hit you with a run and make you pay.
This competitive balance carries over to the defensive side of the ball as well. The Patriots and Steelers have the most balanced defenses of the four teams left in the Super Bowl hunt.
New England was the #3 rush defense in the league in 2016 allowing just 88.6 yards per game. The pass defense checked in at 12th with NE opponents passing for just 237.9 yards per game. The Patriots defense was1st overall in points allowed and 8th overall in yards allowed with 326.4 yards per contest.
Pittsburgh’s defense allowed just 100.0 yards per game on the ground (13th) and 242.6 yards via the air (16th). Their 342.6 yards per game allowed on average per game was 12th best in the NFL. Neither team has a particular glaring weakness on the defensive side of the ball.
Looking at the NFC’s two finalists, Atlanta’s run defense is rated 28th in the NFL and the Green Bay pass defense is the 31st in the league. While much of the time, you can throw many stats out the window once the playoffs begin, the two AFC teams have the better balance on each side of the football to carry them to a Super Bowl victory in Houston.
Does it guarantee success? Not hardly. But I’m going out on a limb here and saying the winner of the AFC’s championship game on Sunday will win Super Bowl LI in Houston. Just what the fans of 30 other cities want, another Brady/Roethlisberger championship.