Quick slants

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

PATRIOTS WIN IF ... Keys to victory for New England

New England must do its thing -- control the ball on offence to keep Steelers off the field. Eventually the Pats will wear down the defence to set up a strong second half. Belichick must devise a way to stop the run but also make sure Roethlisberger doesn't have too easy a time getting the ball to receivers Burress and Ward.

STEELERS WIN IF ...

Keys to victory for Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh must get out to an early lead as it did in their first meeting in October. Defence messed with Brady that day, forcing three turnovers. The offence is efficient if Roethlisberger isn't asked to win games. He'll need the occasional completion to his two receivers but will need Jerome (The Bus) Bettis to drive this offence.

STACK 'EM UP

How the Patriots and Steelers compare in key positions

QB

*Tom Brady is the master of efficiency, the perfect QB for the playoff-tough Patriots.

Ben Roethlisberger struggled badly last week but it's all about the run for the Steelers.

RB

* Corey Dillon was absent in the first meeting but is back, better than ever now.

Jerome Bettis is an aging workhorse but has fresh legs behind him in Duce Staley.

WR

* Troy Brown is just one of 10 who caught balls last week. How do you defend that?

* Hines Ward forms a nice one-two punch with Plaxico Burress should Ben be up to it.

DEFENCE

Tedy Bruschi is the emotional leader of a Pats defence that plays to kill.

*Joey Porter is part of a linebacker crew that will be blitzing to stop the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS

* Adam Vinatieri has ice in his veins -- as two Super Bowl winning kicks attest.

Jeff Reed nailed the winner in OT last week. Unit gave up punt return for TD to Jets.

COACHES

* Bill Belichick is 13-0 when meeting a QB who beat him earlier in the season.

Bill Cowher can get his team here but has struggled in past AFC title games.

KEY MATCHUP

RB Corey Dillon vs. Steelers defence

Pittsburgh had the league's top run defence during the regular season and is particularly tough in the red zone. It is vulnerable, however, as the Jets ran for 110 yards against it last week. Dillon, who missed the first meeting, can carry the offence as he did last week against the Colts, running for 144 yards. He'll also give Brady options he didn't have in that 34-20 Halloween horror show loss.

BOTTOM LINE

Rob Longley predicts the outcome

Rookie Ben Roethlisberger has yet to lose as a pro and Tom Brady has yet to lose a playoff game. Brady was at his efficient best last week while Big Ben almost bombed. You can bet the Patriots coaching staff will seize on that and exploit the youngster's weaknesses. The home-field advantage is not insignificant for the Steelers and this game could be as physical as they come. Whoever wins will appreciate the two-week break before the Super Bowl.

Patriots 17, Steelers 10

NUMBERS GAME

Notable statistics and records

Head-to-head record

Steelers lead 13-7 overall.

Patriots lead 2-1 in playoffs.

Last time they met

Steelers won 34-20 on Oct. 31, 2004

Last week

Patriots beat Colts 20-3.

Steelers beat Jets 20-17 in OT.

Patriots offence

Overall (7), Rush (7), Pass (11)

Patriots defence

Overall (9), Rush (6), Pass (17)

Steelers offence

Overall (16), Rush (2), Pass (28)

Steelers defence

Overall (1), Rush (1), Pass (4)

BOOKIE SAYS

Some betting Numbers for the game

Both teams have been huge moneymakers for bettors -- Patriots are 12-4 vs. the spread, Steelers are 10-6 ... Rare to see a road favourite in a championship game, especially against a team that is 15-1 ... Patriots are the 7-5 choice to win the Super Bowl at this point, followed by the Steelers at 11-5 ... The Super Bowl champs have not been underdogs all season. Early lines should New England win here -- 7 1/2-point favourites over Atlanta or five-point picks over Philly.

EAGLES WIN IF ... Keys to victory for Atlanta

Michael Vick has the savvy to get rid of the ball quickly and beat the Eagles D in single coverage. An early score would help settle the crazy Philly crowd and allow him to do his thing. Defence has to pressure Donovan McNabb like it did to the Rams QB Marc Bulger. Deep defensive line can make up for that suspect secondary.

FALCONS WIN IF ...

Keys to victory for Philadelphia

The pressure of losing a fourth consecutive NFC Championship game doesn't get to them and if they can make life miserable for Michael Vick. Even without Terrell Owens, Philadelphia's receivers can take advantage of a weak Falcons secondary if QB Donovan McNabb can get them the ball.

STACK 'EM UP

How the Falcons and Eagles compare in key positions

QB

Donovan McNabb can make plays but is limited with Terrell Owens on the sideline.

* Michael Vick may be the most feared QB in the NFL because of his running ability.

RB

* Brian Westbrook often lines up as a receiver making him a versatile threat.

Warrick Dunn but gets opportunities because of the attention paid to his quarterback.

WR

* Freddie Mitchell stepped up against the Vikes last week but he is still no T.O.

Peerless Price has yet to meet high expectations since arriving from Buffalo.

DEFENCE

Jevon Kearse should help Eagles duplicate last week's success on defence.

* Patrick Kerney is a faster version of Kearse and will put pressure on McNabb.

SPECIAL TEAMS

David Akers is one of the more efficient kickers and won't be rattled by snow.

* Allen Rossum is an explosive returner that can change a game in a single play.

COACHES

Andy Reid is calm, collected and is one of the best-prepared coaches in league.

* Jim Mora has made a nice splash getting to the NFC title game as a rookie coach.

KEY MATCHUP

Eagles pass rush vs. Michael Vick.

The Eagles have the edge in experience and talent in most key areas but they need to dominate here. The hunch is they will load up the box to hem Vick in the pocket. The Falcons QB will still escape at times, but when he doesn't he'll have to show how accurate his strong left arm is while on the run and eyeballing an open man.

NUMBERS GAME

Notable statistics and records

HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD

Eagles lead 12-10-1, 1-1 in playoffs.

LAST TIME THEY MET

Eagles won 23-16 on Nov. 2, 2003.

LAST WEEK

Falcons beat Rams 47-17.

Eagles beat Vikings 27-14.

FALCONS OFFENCE

Overall (20), Rush (1), Pass (30)

FALCONS DEFENCE

Overall (14), Rush (8t), Pass (22)

EAGLES OFFENCE

Overall (9), Rush (24), Pass (7)

EAGLES DEFENCE

Overall (10), Rush (16), Pass (12)

BOTTOM LINE

Rob Longley predicts the outcome

The loss of receiver Owens masks the fact that the Eagles are actually much healthier than they have been the past three years. McNabb is relaxed and makes fewer mistakes now as well. It also helps that the defence has played more in attack mode. Both offences are quarterback driven and the Falcons have the confidence and looseness to keep it close. Their time will come, perhaps soon, but not today.

Eagles 24, Falcons 17

BOOKIE SAYS

Some betting Numbers for the game

Eagles opened as four point favourites and were bet up as high as 5 1/2 during the week ... Over/under for Vick's rushing yards is 68.5 and 166.5 for passing yards ... Of the four remaining QBs, McNabb is the 5-6 favourite to have the most passing yards today ... At 8-1, Falcons are the longest shot to win the Super Bowl. Patriots are favoured at 7-5 ... Eagles are 6-3 vs. the spread at home ... Talk of blizzard conditions dropped over/under from 42 to 38 ... Eagles won 2002 playoff meeting, 20-6.


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