That’s the discussion when we talk about the Patriots and Tom Brady right now, right? Forgive me, you probably don’t know what that number refers to: that’s the combined won-lost record of their opponents this season in games that Brady has played. Now the Patriots can only play the teams in front of them, but one also has to look at all of the information, and that number isn’t impressive.
This does not mean what Brady and the Patriots have done in earning the AFC’s number one seed is less valid. It just makes me wonder something as they prepare to welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers (whom they beat in week 7, 27-16). It makes me wonder if having played such a lackluster schedule to this point will matter come Sunday.
My conclusion is no, but Pittsburgh and what they’re going to bring on Sunday will be a different animal than (wait for it) they’ve faced a majority of this season.
The Patriots have become the masters of what I like to call “empty numbers”. What that means is instead of taking away what the opposing team does best (as is always said of New England) they tend to limit the impact of the statistics they do give up. For instance in that week 7 game against the Patriots, Le’Veon Bell had 149 total yards from scrimmage, Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 106 yards, and Landry Jones even had a respectable 281 yards, one touchdown and one interception (there’s always an interception with Landry Jones). Had Ben Roethlisberger played it might have been a different outcome, but the more telling part of that game was that neither Brown nor Bell scored a touchdown. That makes the 255 yards of total offense produced by them “empty”.
Harsh? Yes, but without points you’re essentially watching a pro day. Pittsburgh has to change that on Sunday, and having Roethlisberger for this game will certainly help with cashing in on those opportunities. And I think that will be the difference on Sunday.
Patriots fans probably don’t want to hear that, but as much as foolish as I feel going against Tom Brady the Steelers are peaking at just the right time. Discipline, of course, will be a huge part of it for Pittsburgh; but we saw last week that if you go against New England with an offense that’s capable of keeping up, you have a shot if your defense can limit even some of the damage (like Seattle did in week 10). Houston didn’t have the offense, Pittsburgh does. There will be no empty numbers with Roethlisberger leading the Steelers offense.
It will be close, but I’m picking Pittsburgh to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 51.