The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are two of the most successful AFC franchises in NFL history, and they are also two of the hottest teams in the league heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
However, the Patriots have been the much better team recently, including this season, which is why the four-time Super Bowl champions are listed as six-point home favorites on the NFL lines over the six-time champion Steelers at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
While New England is making its record sixth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the team has gone just 2–3 straight up and 1–4 against the spread in its previous five dating back to 2012.
The lone cover during that stretch was a 45–7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts two years ago in the infamous Deflategate game that ultimately led to a four-game suspension to start this season for future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
Pittsburgh rides an NFL-best nine-game winning streak into this matchup and will be trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since losing to the Green Bay Packers 31–26 six years ago.
The last win for the Steelers in the series came during the 2011 regular season (25–17 as three-point home underdogs), and the Patriots still managed to overcome that loss and make it to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has lost three straight meetings since then, going 0–2–1 ATS, to fall to 3–10 in the past 13 (3–9–1 ATS) according to the OddsShark NFL Database.
However, in each of the last two meetings, the Steelers have been without one of their best players. Back in Week 7, New England won 27–16 at Pittsburgh as a seven-point favorite with the home team missing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger due to a knee injury.
In the 2015 regular-season opener won 28–21 by the Patriots, the Steelers did not have running back Le’Veon Bell because of a suspension, and he is playing better now than any other player who is not one of the four remaining quarterbacks.
New England’s ability to hold Bell in check will likely be the difference, as the team tied for third in run defense during the regular season, allowing just 88.6 yards per game. The Patriots, the favorites on the Super Bowl 51 odds, also surrendered a league-low six rushing touchdowns this year.