Sunday’s game a test for Patriots, Steelers

Pro Picks

Posted: Friday, September 23, 2005

There’s still a lot of respect in Las Vegas for the Patriots.

Yes, New England is a 3-point underdog as it goes to Pittsburgh on Sunday for a replay of last year’s AFC title game. But that’s simply the home-field edge, reflecting as much what the Patriots did in the past as what they didn’t do last week.

The past: The Patriots played the Steelers twice at Heinz Field last season, both games decided by two touchdowns. Pittsburgh won the first 34-20, a victory that got it home-field advantage for the AFC title game. But what counted was the title game, won 41-27 by New England, which then went on to win its third Super Bowl in four seasons.

The present: The Steelers have beaten Tennessee and Houston by a combined 61-14; the Patriots are 1-1, having lost 27-17 last week in Carolina after a 30-20 win over Oakland in their home opener. Both games have demonstrated that New England finally lost a player it apparently can’t replace — Tedy Bruschi, whose absence for this season due to a stroke has forced coach Bill Belichick to favor the 4-3 defense over his preferred 3-4.

To beat the Steelers, New England probably will have to do to Ben Roethlisberger what it did to him in the title game, when it got three interceptions. First, it will have to stop Willie Parker, who took over at running back with Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis injured and has 272 yards in his two games as a starter.

Ben and Willie do just enough ...

STEELERS 25-21.

Jacksonville (plus 2 1/2) at New York Jets

Regardless of health issues, Jacksonville’s defense is just too good.

JAGUARS, 14-6

Kansas City (plus 3) at Denver (Monday night)

The Chiefs look like a legitimate contender. Denver doesn’t.

CHIEFS, 27-20

New York Giants (plus 5 1/2) at San Diego

The Giants are 2-0, the Chargers 0-2, but this spread isn’t out of line.

The Chargers get after Eli Manning for spurning them.

CHARGERS, 24-16

New Orleans (plus 4 1/2) at Minnesota

Daunte Culpepper has thrown eight interceptions in two games; the itinerant Saints had six turnovers in their ‘‘home opener’’ at the Meadowlands last Monday night.

The Saints may have spent too much energy — physical and emotional.

VIKINGS, 22-17

Cleveland (plus 14) at Indianapolis

This could be the week Peyton Manning gets going.

COLTS, 35-13

Oakland (plus 8 1/2) at Philadelphia

Randy Moss vs. Terrell Owens.

T.O. has a better supporting cast.

EAGLES, 37-18

Atlanta (plus 3) at Buffalo

Game-time decision on Michael Vick’s playing status could change things, but ...

BILLS 13-7

Cincinnati (minus 3) at Chicago

The second time in three weeks the Bengals are favored on the road. The Bears revert to form.

BENGALS, 20-9

Carolina (minus 3 1/2) at Miami

Dolphins still lack offense.

PANTHERS, 17-10

Tampa Bay (minus 2 1/2) at Green Bay

No reason to think the Packers will get better in a week.

BUCS, 29-13

Dallas (minus 6 1/2) at San Francisco

The Niners have their win.

COWBOYS, 28-14

Tennessee (plus 6 1/2) at St. Louis

A replay of the 2000 Super Bowl.

At a much lower level.

RAMS, 24-20

Arizona (plus 6 1/2) at Seattle

Does anyone consider the Cardinals a playoff contender now?

SEAHAWKS, 31-20

LAST WEEK: 5-11 (spread) 7-9 (straight up)

SEASON 14-18 (spread) 16-16 (straight up — OUCH!)



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