New England Patriots: Eye on the Competition: the AFC Contenders in Week 14

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Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers crushed the Bengals 33-20 and knocked Andy Dalton out for the likely the rest of the regular season. Once again Ben Roethlisberger and his trio of receivers are difficult to slow down. Cincinnati is one of the few teams with a secondary talented enough to be capable of matching up with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton.

Throw in the ageless tight end Heath Miller and resurgent running back DeAngelo Williams and the Steelers offense has all the makings of the most explosive unit in the NFL. Roethlisberger continues to play at a high level–when healthy. If not for having to start Michael Vick and Landry Jones five games, the Steelers may be in first place rather than on the outside looking in.

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The defense continues to gel in Pittsburgh as their secondary and linebackers improve. Ryan Shazier (who is healthy at last) and Bud Dupree (who was injured Sunday) have keyed a defense which is quietly 11th in the NFL in points allowed. Other than shootouts against Oakland and Seattle, the Steelers’ defense has been consistently strong.

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    Oddly enough, the Patriots will be rooting for Denver next week against the Steelers. The Steelers are behind the Jets and Chiefs in the wild card race and if the playoffs started next week they would be on the outside looking in. Pittsburgh is looking like the 2008 Patriots who were one of the best teams coming down the stretch but missed the playoffs due to tiebreakers. That Patriots team would have been interesting to see in the playoffs.

    Pittsburgh would have to go on the road and play three road games even if they did make the playoffs (unless Cincinnati completely collapses). Ben Roethlisberger is one of the few quarterbacks who could roll into Foxboro in the playoffs and not be intimidated. Keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs sounds good to the Patriots.