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Brady vs Roethlisberger as Patriots, Steelers clash

© GETTY/AFP/File / by Rob Woollard | Tom Brady of the New England Patriots looks to pass in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, on December 11, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - 

Tom Brady will aim to extend his record of dominance over Ben Roethlisberger as the New England Patriots face the Pittsburgh Steelers in a pivotal clash between the two NFL heavyweights on Sunday.

For the first time in the history of the NFL, two starting quarterbacks will have a combined total of seven Super Bowl titles between them when the AFC clash kicks off at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.

Brady, 40, owns five of those Super Bowl crowns against Roethlisberger's two, a margin of superiority that is echoed in the two veterans' head-to-head record. In nine previous meetings, Brady has won seven times, Roethlisberger twice.

In their most recent encounter, during last season's AFC Conference championship, the Patriots romped to a 36-16 win in Foxborough, their fourth straight victory over the Steelers.

This season, Brady and Roethlisberger are leading the league in passing. Brady has 3,685 yards and 27 touchdowns while Roethlisberger is just behind on 3,744 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Roethlisberger was in no doubt about Brady's place in the pantheon when asked about his long-time adversary this week.

"He's the best in the world," Roethlisberger, 35, said. "Maybe the best who has ever done it. I'm happy to be part of this game."

Yet despite Brady's winning record, the Steelers will head into the game as the form team. With 11 wins and only two defeats this season, a victory for Pittsburgh on Sunday will guarantee Roethlisberger's men home-enjoyedfield advantage throughout the playoffs.

As well as the evergreen Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh have enjoyed dazzling seasons from their other two offensive linchpins -- running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown.

Bell leads the league with 1,105 rushing yards while Bell heads the receivers rankings with 99 catches for 1,509 yards.

The Patriots meanwhile were jolted this week by an upset defeat to the Miami Dolphins on Monday. The Super Bowl champions fell to 10-3 with the loss, meaning Sunday's game is a virtual must-win if they are to have any chance of taking home-field advantage for the postseason.

- 'A lot of urgency' -

"We have to figure out a way to play a lot better and I am confident we will put out a good plan," Brady said.

"There will be lot of urgency. We know what we're up against and we will try to put out our best game of the year."

In the National Football Conference, meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) can lock up homefield advantage through the playoffs with a win at the New York Giants (2-11).

Philadelphia clinched the NFC East last weekend but now must readjust after star quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Back-up Nick Foles will start in Wentz's place. "My job now is to step in that huddle and keep this thing rolling," Foles said. "That's what I plan on doing."

Elsewhere on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers will make a dramatic return from injury as the Green Bay Packers (7-6) aim to keep their season alive with victory over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (9-4).

The Packers could be eliminated from the playoff picture if they lose to the Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons defeat Tampa Bay on Monday night.

The Los Angeles Rams (9-4) meanwhile can put one foot in the playoffs if they defeat the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) in a crucial NFC West divisional battle.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll has been forced into a reshuffle after an injury crisis that has potentially sidelined as many as five defensive Pro Bowl players.

"We have to do everything right to have a chance and that's what we're preparing to do," Carroll said.

The Dallas Cowboys meanwhile travel to California to face the Oakland Raiders with their season hanging by a thread.

A victory over the Raiders would keep the Cowboys (7-6) in the chase for a wildcard berth, and with Ezekiel Elliott due to return from suspension after Sunday, Dallas could yet push for the playoffs.

by Rob Woollard

© 2017 AFP