When the NFL released the official regular season schedule back in April, Sunday's matchup between the New England Patriots and long time rival Pittsburgh Steelers looked like another classic matchup of two AFC title contenders. Fast forward six months though, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is already putting the game in the "must win" category for his squad, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
At 2-5, the Steelers have had uncharacteristic problems on both sides of the football. Averaging fewer than 18 points per game, and unable to consistently run the ball behind a shaky offensive line, Pittsburgh has rushed for just under 69 yards per contest-good for third worst in the league. With Cincinnati falling to the Miami Dolphins Thursday night, and the defending super-bowl champion Ravens struggling to replace key playmakers on defense, the AFC North crown remains up for grabs. While one can argue whether the outcome of a week 9 game is actually do-or-die, notching six losses at this point in the season would be extremely difficult to overcome, especially in a historically competitive division.
At 6-2, the Patriots look like heavy favorites to take care of business Sunday; 11 of 13 ESPN analysts have predicted that the Pats will advance to a very solid record of 7-2.
But fans who have watched the Patriots carefully this season know that easy victories have been hard to come by. For a Brady-led offense that has been unable to find a groove early in games, the Steelers still have enough big names on defense to make this yet another fourth quarter nail-biter.
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