Heinz Field is the setting for the latest meeting between two dominant AFC powerhouses. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
PITTSBURGH — The 5-1 Patriots will have to deal with some wind as they visit the 4-2 Steelers at Heinz Field in a battle of AFC division leaders.
The forecast is calling for partly cloudy skies and relatively mild temperatures in the low-to-mid 60s for the 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff. By the end of the game, the temperatures should be in the mid-50s.
It could be gusty at times with winds averaging around 11 MPH out of the southwest.
That wind is always a factor for kickers who kick into the south end of Heinz Field, the end closest to the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, forming the Ohio River.
Those conditions could provide an added challenge for Stephen Gostkowski, who comes into the game in one of the very rare slumps of his career. He missed his first extra point of the season last week against the Bengals and he is 9-for-12 this year in field goals.
The Steelers are playing this game without several key players on offense, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (knee surgery), receiver Markus Wheaton (shoulder) and DeAngelo Williams (knee). On defense, the Steelers will be without left defensive end Cameron Heyward (hamstring) for a second straight week.
In Roethlisberger’s place, Landry Jones is making his third career NFL start. He lost the only game he’s finished as a starter. Against the Browns last season in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger came on in relief and threw three touchdown passes in a 30-9 win.
The Patriots are in much better shape. Jamie Collins (and his hair) made the trip to Pittsburgh Saturday and figures to be active for the game after missing last week with a hip issue. The Patriots did rule out defensive linemen Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder) and Vincent Valentine (back) Saturday night, leaving the Patriots with just three healthy true interior linemen in Alan Branch, Malcom Brown and Anthony Johnson. But Jabaal Sheard and Trey Flowers do have experience on the inside and likely could fill in in a pinch.
The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 29th time overall. The Steelers lead the regular season series, 14-10, while the Patriots have won three of the four meetings in the postseason. The two teams have met six times previously at Heinz Field, including twice in the playoffs. The teams have split their four regular season meetings at Heinz while the Patriots have won both in the playoffs, the 2001 and 2004 AFC championship games.
The Steelers allowed Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi to run for 204 yards on 25 carries last week and Chris Price notes that in the scouting report on the game. Ryan Hannable has 10 fun facts to consider entering the game.