Jesse James

Patriots rally behind Gronkowski, edge Steelers 27-24

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did it to the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

One questionable decision by Ben Roethlisberger helped.

Brady fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis‘ go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.

The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

It briefly looked like it wouldn’t be enough.

The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not “survive” the completion of the catch.

Roethlisberger hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a short gain but stayed in bounds. With the clock running and no timeouts left, Roethlisberger hurried to the line. Rather than spike it to set up a short kick that would have sent the game to overtime, Roethlisberger tried to win it.

Instead, he lost it. His pass to Eli Rogers was batted into the air, and New England safety Duron Harmon came down with it. One kneel down later the Patriots had their fifth straight victory over the Steelers.

Roethlisberger completed 22 of 30 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and the pick. Le'Veon Bell ran for 117 yards and added another 48 receiving as Pittsburgh hung in there even with Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, in a hospital having his left calf injury examined.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hardly downplayed the pregame hype, welcoming the moment and the pressure that comes along with it even while facing an opponent that he’s beaten just twice during his 11-year tenure and never in a game of true consequence, including a blowout loss in the AFC championship game 11 months ago.

Pittsburgh received an early emotional jolt when cameras cut to injured linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting in a private box less than two weeks removed from spinal stabilization surgery. The crowd at rainy Heinz Field roared as Shazier, who appeared to be seated, waved a Terrible Towe l. The 25-year-old is recovering from spinal stabilization surgery on Dec. 6, two days after leaving a Monday night victory over Cincinnati on a stretcher following a routine hit on Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone.

The emotional boost of Shazier’s surprise cameo faded quickly. Brady took a snap, and the reality the Steelers face without their most irreplaceable defensive player set in. Brady took the Patriots right down the field, connecting with Cooks for a 43-yard gain that set up Rex Burkhead‘s 1-yard touchdown.

The Steelers answered immediately on an 18-yard lob from Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers. Pittsburgh took its first lead over the Patriots since 2011 early in the second quarter on a Chris Boswell field goal, one that came at a possibly heavy price. Brown left in obvious pain after getting his left leg tangled up with a pair of New England defenders. He was helped to the medical tent then taken to a hospital for further examination.

Still, Pittsburgh hung around thanks to the depth they didn’t have while getting rolled by New England the last time the AFC superpowers met.

Bryant, suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, made a pretty one-handed touchdown catch late in the first half that put Pittsburgh up 17-10 at the break. Bell, limited to just 11 snaps in Foxborough last January, churned up clock and yards. Smith-Schuster, the ebullient rookie, caught six passes for 114 yards, including a 69-yard catch-and-run that put the Steelers in position to at least tie it.

Roethlisberger opted to go for the wind instead, a decision now that could have ramifications in January.

UP NEXT

New England: Host Buffalo on Christmas Eve. The Patriots handled the Bills 23-3 in the first meeting of the season earlier this month in Buffalo.

Pittsburgh: Visits Houston on Christmas Day.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Steelers betting favorites over rival Ravens for Sunday Night Football

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Ben Roethlisberger will face a defense that has given him fits without one of his best receivers on Sunday night, while the betting line is set right at the point where the Pittsburgh Steelers cause fits for bettors.

The Steelers are listed as a 4.5-point favorite against the Baltimore Ravens with a 43.5-point total for the Week 14 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Over the last four seasons, Pittsburgh is 7-1 straight-up but 4-4 against the spread when favored by 3.5 to 6.5 points at home. The Ravens have been a consistent cover against AFC North competition, to the tune of 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games vs. divisional opponents. That trend might overlap with the Steelers being 5-0 SU in their last five divisional home games.

The Ravens are 7-5 SU and 6-5-1 ATS, but are 0-3 SU against teams presently in a playoff position. Whether they can rise to meet the level of the Steelers will likely start with whether the offensive line anchored by LT Ronnie Stanley and RT Austin Howard, which has allowed only one sack in the past two games, can shut down DE Cameron Heyward and the Pittsburgh pass rush (which is second in the NFL with 40 sacks).

If they hold up, QB Joe Flacco and targets such as WR Breshad Perriman and WR Mike Wallace could exploit a Steelers pass defense that has been rather generous at allowing long-strike completions since CB Joe Haden (fibula) went down.

Baltimore, through Alex Collins, is solid in the rushing phase. It’s hard to know what to expect from Pittsburgh’s run defense in the team’s first game since a serious injury to ILB Ryan Shazier (spine).

The Steelers are 10-2 SU and 6-6 ATS and Roethlisberger has an ugly 4-to-6 touchdown pass/interception ratio across his last five games against the Ravens. With CB Jimmy Smith (ACL/PED suspension) out of the picture, it is just a matter of when WR Antonio Brown will break off a big play. The Steelers will be counting on Eli Rogers or Martavis Bryant to fill in for the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster (suspension).

Without Smith-Schuster, who is excellent at sealing off defenders as a run blocker, the Steelers might use more double tight-end sets with Jesse James and Vance McDonald. That could serve two purposes: opening lanes for RB Le'Veon Bell, who scampered for 186 rushing-receiving yards against the Ravens in Week 4, as well as seizing on the Ravens’ year-long struggles covering tight ends.

Pittsburgh, second to New England on the odds to win the AFC championship, is 1-3 ATS in its last four games against the Ravens, and 1-3 ATS over its last four, but between Brown, Bell and Heyward they have three difference-makers at key spots.

The total has gone over in six of the Ravens’ last eight games. The total has gone over in the Steelers’ last five games in Week 14.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Chiefs are underdogs against short-staffed Steelers on Sunday Night Football

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With the Kansas City Chiefs’ strong record and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ injuries, the favorites will need be focused to avoid an upset in the Sunday Night Football betting matchup.

The Steelers are listed as 4.5-point favorites at home against the Chiefs, with a total of 47 points, at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Kansas City is 5-2 both straight-up and against the spread over its last seven games, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Pittsburgh, which was blown out 34-3 by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3, is 12-2 SU in its last 14 games after a loss. However, the Steelers will be minus seven starters.

Kansas City, which has lost its only road game and had its 2015 season end with a playoff defeat at New England, is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games on the road after consecutive losses on the road.

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles will reportedly play his first game since tearing an ACL on October 11, 2015, and RB Spencer Ware is also capable. Two of Pittsburgh’s key defenders against the run, ILB Ryan Shazier and SS Robert Golden, will not play.

The Chiefs, however, are 2-8 SU and 4-6 ATS in their last 10 road games vs. AFC North foes.  Pittsburgh, in response to the result against Philadelphia, will likely try to pressure Chiefs QB Alex Smith, which could limit the opportunity for long-yardage strikes to TE Travis Kelce, WR Chris Conley and WR Jeremy Maclin.

The lack of familiarity between Pittsburgh’s new starters on defense might work to the benefit of Kelce, who almost never lines up in the same place twice in a row.

The Steelers are 7-3 SU in their past 10 games, as well as 8-2 SU and 4-5-1 in their last 10 home games against AFC West teams. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have RB Le'Veon Bell back from a three-game suspension to join him in the rushing phase. The Steelers offensive line should also be due for a bounce-back game.

Primary Steelers WR Antonio Brown could have a tough matchup against CB Marcus Peters, which could lead to Roethlisberger seeking out the likes of WR Sammie Coates, WR Markus Wheaton and TE Jesse James. Slot WR Eli Rogers will not play.

Pittsburgh is 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS in its last five home games against Kansas City heading into their matchup on Sunday night. The total has gone under in four of the teams’ last five meetings. The total has also gone under in five of Kansas City’s last seven games, and six of Pittsburgh’s last seven games,