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October 30, 2011 - Buck Frank
The early games in the NFL today have brought a few surprises with Arizona leading Baltimore, Miami leading the Giants, and St. Louis beating New Orleans. That may be a good sign for the Steelers as they come into their game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as a 2 1/2-point underdog.
The Steelers will be without Hines Ward and James Farrior, two of their veteran leaders on each side of the ball. Both are inactive due to injuries, along with James Harrison, Doug Legursky, Chris Hoke and Jason Worilds. Quarterback Dennis Dixon is the only non-injured player who will not dress today.
That means recently signed Mortty Ivy will be dressed and wearing No. 57. He was signed to the active roster Saturday when it became clear that Farrior wasn't going to play. Stevenson Sylvester will start at inside linebacker with Larry Foote and will be counted on heavily to help stop the Patriots' young tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Emmanuel Sanders will start ahead of Ward at receiver, opposite Mike Wallace. With Ward out, Jerricho Cotchery will also play an increased role.
The Patriots only have linebacker Dane Fletcher out with an injury. New England activated veteran running back Kevin Faulk earlier this week for the first time this season and could be the type of player who might be a thorn in the Steelers' side if he is utilized.
Brady has owned the Steelers in the past, posting a 6-1 record against them. The Steelers are going to have to find a way to get some pressure on him, which is a tough task going against New England's offensive line. If they can somehow get Brady off his rhythm, they'll have a chance for the upset. If Brady is able to sit back in a clean pocket and pick the defense apart, the Steelers won't have enough offensive firepower to keep up with him.
Many are expecting a high-scoring game, and if that's the case, the Steelers need to get an early lead. They haven't done well offensively whenever they've had to play catch-up against the Patriots in the past. And if they have a lead in the fourth quarter, they better be on top of their game in time management because Brady has rallied his team in the fourth quarter many times, including the Patriots' last game.
My prediction for the game: Patriots 28, Steelers 24.