Pittsburgh's offensive line has been a sieve, and due to injuries, it played much of last week's game against the Ravens with four guards on the field. The Steelers' wet curtain surrendered 43 sacks in the regular season, the eighth most in the NFL, and they gave up six last week against Baltimore. That's going to be an issue against the Jets' relentless pressure.
New York, meanwhile, doesn't always know what it will get from second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, who played poorly for much of last week's game against the Patriots despite the relatively gaudy numbers he posted. Credit Sanchez for his 4-1 record in the playoffs, but the Jets' defense and running game deserve the majority of that praise.
Again, though, it's hard to take too much away from a guy who has knocked off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and Sanchez could take down his third Super Bowl champion in as many weeks with a win Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The Jets had a curious regular season, going 2-4 against teams with winning records, including a Week 15 victory in Pittsburgh, but they've risen at the right time in the playoffs. The big question they've got to answer this weekend: How much do they have left after peaking in New England?
The Steelers are resilient, having erased a 14-point deficit against the Ravens, and they've got a ton of Super Bowl experience on the roster, including Ben Roethlisberger's two rings since 2005. Yet, the Steelers weren?t much better than the Jets against stiff competition, evidenced by a 3-4 mark against winning teams in the regular season. (Two of those wins came in the first three weeks of the season, long before the Falcons and Buccaneers hit their stride.)
The team with the better defense will advance to the Super Bowl, and that nod goes to Pittsburgh, which should be able to rattle Sanchez and force some turnovers. The big key for the Steelers will be stopping the Jets' ground game, although the Steelers allowed a season-worst 106 rushing yards against the Jets, who were one of just two teams to surpass 75 rushing yards against Pittsburgh all year.
The Jets' primary objective on defense will be limiting Roethlisberger's time in the pocket, and that will be the Jets' strength against the Steelers' weakness. There's almost no way the Jets can win without giving Sanchez a short field, and that means they've got to force turnovers.
It should be a heck of a game, and we're taking the Steelers 23-17.
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