For the fifteenth time since 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) are playing in the AFC Championship game with a chance to play in their eighth Super Bowl. Standing in their way are the New York Jets (13-5) returning to Heinz Field just one month removed from a 22-17 victory. The Steelers will look to even their record in championship games at Heinz Field to 2-2, while avenging their earlier loss, and here are the keys to victory:
Turn Sanchez Over
On three of four possessions in the third quarter, the Steelers defense forced Raven turnovers last week, fueling their comeback from a 21-7 deficit. Mark Sanchez has thrown only one interception and been sacked just once this postseason and the Steelers defenders will need to get in his face, make him uncomfortable, and make him commit turnovers. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn’t show all his cards last game and he has a Joker in his deck, safety Troy Polamalu, who missed last game due to injury.
Keep Ben Upright
Pittsburgh survived six sacks to Ben Roethlisberger, including a fumble returned for a touchdown, and still found a way to beat Baltimore. They don’t want to take that chance this week. Pittsburgh’s young receivers are coming into their own as a group, and Ben threw for 266 yards last game, but he can’t find open guys from his backside. The offensive line must protect Ben or it could be a long day.
Tight end Heath Miller missed the first game between these two teams with an injury but he is back, and scored a key touchdown last week against the Ravens. The Jets are thin at safety so the middle of the field should be open for Ben and Miller to expose.
Pittsburgh is a -3 ½ point favorite and, if they can protect Ben and force a turnover or two, they will be celebrating at Heinz Field for the second time in three years.
Pittsburgh 27 New York 17
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