The last time the Jets and Steelers faced off, it was a blistery late afternoon to early evening in January 2011. Pittsburgh defeated New York, 24-19, to earn the Lamar Hunt Trophy and a berth in Super Bowl XLV to meet the Green Bay Packers two weeks later. While the stakes will not be quite as high, the air not as cool, and many of the faces different, the uniforms will be the same (aside from the Reebok logo on the sleeves being replaced with a Nike swoosh), as will the head coaches, starting quarterbacks, and the overall aura of urgency and intensity in Heinz Field, this Sunday when the two AFC squads go head to head once again.
I expect the game plan for the Jets to be similar to what they utilized Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, and what the Denver Broncos did to attack the Steelers last Sunday night. Head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano will trust an offensive line, anchored by tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard, to protect quarterback Mark Sanchez against a fearsome Pittsburgh front seven, much as they were able to hold a formidable four-man front from Buffalo in check. The deep passing game will be very much in use for New York, as Gang Green attempts to exploit a suspect Pittsburgh secondary, while displaying the newly found game-changing abilities of rookie receiver Stephen Hill and second-year wideout Jeremy Kerley. The running of Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight, and Bilal Powell will be relied on to keep the Steeler defense honest more than anything else.
For the Steelers, a battered backfield that may still be without Rashard Mendenhall, and a shaky offensive line will have their hands full with New York’s imposing front seven. Ben Roethlisberger‘s trademark escapability and penchant for shrugging off would-be sackers must be in full force. Another key development for Pittsburgh will be the possible unavailability of Jets’ All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who suffered a concussion in Week 1. Without Revis, the Jets would have a very tough time covering Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and tight end Heath Miller. Revis’ presence could ultimately be the factor that swings this game in either direction. I expect a low-scoring game that will go down to the wire, but I’m picking the home Steelers to walk out with the victory.