By Abe Gutierrez
For the first time in eight years, the Miami Dolphins are going to the playoffs. Miami finished the regular season 10-6 to earn them the sixth seed in the AFC playoff standings. So what is the Fins’ prize for punching their ticket into the postseason? A trip to the Steel City to take on Mike Tomlin’s Steelers in the Wild Card Round.
Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will be the site for what most experts are expecting to be a lopsided match-up. Opening kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET and it will be broadcast live on CBS.
The last time these teams met dates back to Oct. 16 of this year in South Florida. Led by running back Jay Ajayi’s 204 rushing yards, Miami stunned Pittsburgh 30-15 in a game in which Ben Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury that forced him out of the game.
Sunday’s game marks the 27th time these storied franchises have met on the gridiron. Although they come in knotted up at 13 wins apiece, Miami has won two in a row in the head-to-head series. This includes a 34-28 win in Pittsburgh during the 2013 NFL season, as Tannehill (20-33, 200 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) and Roethlisberger (23-39, 349 yards, 3 TDs) both had solid ballgames, but Miami’s running game was once again unstoppable and that ultimately made the difference.
Pittsburgh Steelers record: 11-5-0
With an 11-5-0 record, the Steelers captured the AFC North crown and the third seed in the AFC playoff standings. This season, Pittsburgh went 6-2 at home, 5-3 on the road and 5-1 versus AFC North opponents. The Steelers were also very successful against the AFC, posting a record of 9-3 on the year and closing out the regular season on a seven-game winning streak.
Steelers on offense
Offensively, the Steelers operate under the supervision of seasoned offensive coordinator Todd Haley. This season, Pittsburgh’s offense ranks fifth in passing yards per game (262.6), seventh in total yards (372.6), 11th in points scored (24.9) and 14th in rushing yards per contest (110).
With a balanced offensive attack that features quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (509/328, 3819 yards, 29 TDs) under center and running back Le’Veon Bell (261 carries, 1268 yards, 7 TDs) in the backfield, this team has the ability to win ballgames in a number of different ways.
Steelers on defense
During the Mike Tomlin era, defense has been a staple of this organization. However, this season, the Steel Curtain struggled to remain in the upper echelon among defensive units in the NFL. Luckily for Pittsburgh, things came together at the right time for Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, and thus, Pittsburgh’s D was able to close out the year with respectable numbers.
Heading into the AFC Wild Card Round, the Steel Curtain ranks 10th in points per game (20.4), 12th in total yards allowed (342.6), 13th in rushing yards (100), and 16th in passing yards surrendered per game (242.6). Leaders in tackles include Lawrence Timmons (114 tackles), Ryan Shazier (87 tackles) and Mike Mitchell (78 tackles). Meanwhile, team-sack leaders consist of James Harrison (5 sacks), Bud Dupree (4.5 sacks) and Stephon Tuitt (4 sacks).
Steelers players to watch: Antonio Brown, James Harrison
Arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL today, the Steelers’ offensive player to watch is none other than Antonio Brown. In his seventh season out of Central Michigan, the five-time Pro Bowler leads the team in receiving yards with 1,284 yards (106 receptions), which is god enough for fifth place in the league. Brown also closed out the regular season with 12 touchdowns grabs, which is tied for second-best in the NFL for his position.
On the opposite side of the rock, the Steelers defensive player to watch is another household name. In his 14th season out of Kent State, James Harrison is still causing chaos in opponents’ backfields, which is something the Dolphins must keep an eye on. Despite starting in just seven games this season, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year leads the team with five sacks to go along with his 53 tackles, two forced fumbles, a pass defended and an interception.
According to NFL oddsmakers, the Miami Dolphins come into this contest listed as double-digit underdogs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. NFL playoff point spreads have the Dolphins as +10-point road dogs and the Steelers as -10-point favorites. The OVER/UNDER is set at a combined total of 47 points and straight-up money lines go as follows: Miami (+380) vs. Pittsburgh (-480).