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Today's Afc Playoff Game

January 05, 1997|STEVE SPRINGER

PITTSBURGH (11-6) at NEW ENGLAND (11-5)

9:30 a.m., Channel 4

Rain and strong winds are forecast for Foxboro, Mass. Bad news for Patriot fans who have waited 18 years to get a home playoff game and might like to see it without getting pneumonia. Worse for those fans if the elements prove to favor the Steelers. That would certainly appear to be the case as far as the wind is concerned since New England's hopes will probably ride on the right arm of quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Steelers, on the other hand, are more effective staying on the ground. But a rain-soaked field could make it extremely difficult for running back Jerome Bettis, who is already listed as 50-50 because of a bad groin pull. Pittsburgh also must depend on its strong pass rush to nullify Bledsoe, though defensive end Brentson Buckner is questionable because of an injured ankle, and the sacks could be difficult to come by if Chad Brown and company have to pick their way around mudholes.

--Say what: The Steelers have won four Super Bowls. The Patriots have won only four playoff games in their 36 years of existence. This is Pittsburgh Coach Bill Cowher's fifth season and he has led his Steelers to the playoffs in each of those years, including a trip to last year's Super Bowl. This is New England's second trip to the playoffs in Bill Parcells' four years as coach. But there are a few numbers that favor New England. Though 8-1 at home this season, including last week's playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers were 3-5 on the road, and were 2-3 on natural grass, the surface they'll find at Foxboro.

--Player to watch: Kordell Stewart, the most unique quarterback in the game, is the wild card in Cowher's hand. Cowher starts Mike Tomczak at quarterback. But when the Steelers get to the opposition's five-yard line, Cowher turns the controls over to Stewart, a quarterback in his collegiate days at Colorado but primarily a wide receiver with the Steelers. Stewart is a superb runner and a decent passer. Every time he fades back, opposing defenses feel as though they are looking at a halfback option play. Against the Colts last week, Cowher sent Stewart in on a two-point conversion attempt and he responded with a completed pass to tight end John Farquhar.

--Finally: The Steelers gave up 257 points in the regular season, fewest in the AFC, while the Patriots scored 418, most in the AFC.

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