What experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game

“The Steelers are getting the worst possible team at the worst possible time.”

Patriots-Steelers
The Patriots line up against the Steelers during the second half at Heinz Field on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. –The Associated Press

Normally I might scoff at the fact that a team’s fourth-string running back is looking to enact revenge on his former employer. But if Brandon Bolden is going to go ripping off 54-yard touchdowns, then who knows what Stevan Ridley has in store.

It hasn’t been a kind year for the New England Patriots facing their former running backs on the road this season. Last week, Bolden was the latest to play a pivotal role in beating his former team as one of the building blocks to the Dolphins’ Miami Miracle. Before the game, the only people who knew that Bolden was even on the Dolphins included Bolden and … probably someone else. Maybe.

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Dion Lewis managed only 57 yards against the Patriots, but used the platform of the Titans’ win over New England to criticize the “cheap” Patriots. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 48 yards against the Patriots in the Lions’ win during Week 3. All told, the Pats are 0-3 on the road this season against teams that employ their former running backs.

And here comes Ridley.

Ridley, he of all 23 rushing attempts this season, may see some playing time this weekend when the Patriots and Steelers meet in Pittsburgh, but considering he only carried the ball five times last week in Oakland without James Conner available, that likelihood seems limited.

Then again, Bolden came into last week’s game against New England with one rushing attempt all season.

Now he has three. And two touchdowns.

So, is Stevan Ridley going to do damage against the Patriots?

“I’m very open and I have to be real: I want this game more than any other game, man,” Ridley told The Boston Herald’s Kevin Duffy. “That’s just the bottom line to it. And it’ll be that way from this year until I go in the grave. I’m just that kind of person.”

Might as well add him to the list as Andy Reid presumably continues scouting Shane Vereen, Mike Gillislee, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in case the Chiefs end up meeting the Patriots in the playoffs.

This week’s picks:

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Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Patriots 30, Steelers 28. “The Patriots and Steelers are a pair of would-be favorites in the AFC who aren’t playing like it right now. The Steelers have lost three in a row, all on the final play. If they can’t solve their mental block in Oakland, how do they think they can beat Tom Brady?”

Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Steelers 31, Patriots 27. “‘AAAWWWK!’ blurts the Upset Bird. ‘Another loss for Tom Braawwk and Bill Belichaaawwwk!’ Pats still trying to nail down the AFC East title, but Pittsburgh has the more pressing need here, after three losses in a row have rendered postseason hopes dicey. Steelers haven’t been invincible at home, but they’ve been better by the Rivers Tres than Patriots have been on the road (3-4). Pitt also owns the vengeance edge, having lost five in a row to its hated occasional rival. Big Ben Roethlisberger should put up big numbers on NE’s secondary, especially if RB James Conner (ankle) is out again. Tom Brady is 23-1 on TDs/picks vs. Pitt in the Mike Tomlin era, but blitzy Steelers lead NFL in sacks and could make a hectic day for the G.O.A.T. This pick hopes so, at least! Expect a playoff atmosphere. “Belichick keeps sitting bolt-upright at 3 a.m. from a recurring nightmare starring Dolphin Kenyan Drake,” notes U-Bird with a crocodile grin. ‘Kenyan Draaawwwk!’”

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Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 31, Steelers 23. “This is the game of the week, and both teams need it badly – the Pats for seeding and the Steelers to keep pushing for a division title. New England has owned the Steelers and Tom Brady has been sensational against them. With Ben Roethlisberger hurting, I think the Patriots will win another as Brady has a big day.”

CBS Sports staff: Seven out of eight pick New England (Pittsburgh +2.5). Seven of eight like the Pats to win straight-up.

Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Patriots (-2). “The Steelers are in freefall. By the end of Sunday, the AFC North will go through the Ravens.”

Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Patriots. “Just imagine how mad Coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are after the Patriots (9-4) lost ground in the race for home-field advantage in the A.F.C. playoffs by having the Dolphins execute a miracle play in the closing seconds of last week’s game. All of that fury should pour out against the Steelers (7-5-1), who appear to be in free-fall after a nice middle part to the season. New England can clinch a playoff spot by beating Pittsburgh and having Tennessee lose to the Giants, and can clinch the A.F.C. East if it wins or ties in combination with a loss by Miami.”

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MMQB staff: Everybody likes New England. (Pittsburgh +2 1/2).

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots (-2). “Many will call this a rivalry game, but is it really a “rivalry” when one team completely dominates the other? Tom Brady has owned the Steelers over his career, winning 8 of 10 games against them, with 25 TDs vs. 4 INTs, and a passer rating of 111.8.”

David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 27, Steelers 25. “Two traditional powers that managed to out-think themselves the week before … except that one, the Steelers, are starting to make it a habit. The Patriots really do have to win out to earn a bye and avoid going on the road as long as possible. The Steelers just need to win after three straight losses and four straight awful performances. They also had better play some semblance of defense; as leaky as the Patriots have been surprisingly often, the Steelers can’t be counted on at all to stop anyone when they have to.”

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 38, Steelers 34. “The Patriots and Steelers both suffered brutal losses in the final seconds against opponents they should have blown out last week. New England, though, is in better position to rebound; it owns this matchup, and that includes Rob Gronkowski, who despite the Miami Miracle looked his best all season last week. Pittsburgh will be stuck in one-dimensional mode, and Tom Brady will outplay a banged up Ben Roethlisberger. Either the Patriots’ road woes or the Steelers’ home struggles will give, and history says go with Bill Belichick over Mike Tomlin.”

Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots (-2). “Goodness, do I love this line. My fear was that the line would be something like seven or eight points, because the Steelers are in disarray and the Patriots generally own the Steelers. But two points? TWO POINTS? Come on. Is Plax playing defense?”

SB Nation staff: Five out of seven pick the Patriots.

Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 27, Steelers 17. “The Steelers are getting the worst possible team at the worst possible time.”

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 20, Steelers 17. “Both teams are reeling after disappointing losses on Sunday. I trust Bill Belichick more than Mike Tomlin to get his team back on track.”

MassLive staff: All Pats (New England -1). “The Steelers have lost three straight and play New England and New Orleans next. A loss could take the Steelers from atop the AFC North to the wrong side of the playoff bubble. The Patriots need a win to clinch the AFC East and they need it to stay in the hunt for the No. 2 seed. The result here will have reverberations throughout the AFC.”

FiveThirtyEight: Pittsburgh with a 51 percent chance of winning.

Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Steelers 28, Patriots 27. “The Jesse James revenge game. You remember last year, when James’ catch vs. New England late in the fourth quarter, initially ruled a touchdown, was overturned after review in the did-he-secure-the-catch-nebula. The controversy marred what was a Steelers-Patriots contest for the ages, or at least since Y2K, and a game that helped New England secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Now Pittsburgh is merely trying to hold on to its postseason reservation. They were thought to be a sure thing a month ago. After dropping three straight games, including two on the road to lesser opponents, the Steelers cling to a half-game lead in the AFC North. If they lose this home match versus Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, they could be done. New Orleans pops up next on the Steelers’ schedule, with it quite possible that the Colts and Dolphins pass them in that maelstrom for the AFC’s sixth seed. Taking Pittsburgh over New England, solely because they are at home and in desperation mode. They can’t fall behind early, though, because after last week, Brady and the Pats’ defense won’t be in any mood for blowing leads.”

It says here: Steelers 38, Patriots 33. The Patriots have one win on the road this season outside of Buffalo and the Meadowlands. The Steelers may be a mess, but there’s not a whole lot of reason to be confident in the Patriots playing away from Gillette, either. Even at Heinz Field. Even against Mike Tomlin.

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