Here are five things to look for in the upcoming AFC Championship Game:
• New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, Jan. 23, 6:30 p.m.)
1. How Ben Roethlisberger bounces back from one of his worst games as a starter is key. Roethlisberger wasn't himself against the New York Jets on Saturday. He overthrew a number of passes and seemed to have trouble gripping the ball even though this was his fifth game using gloves on his right hand because of the cold. He was 17-of-30 passing for 181 yards and had two passes intercepted, one for a touchdown and another in the final two minutes of regulation that could have resulted in a game-winning field goal for the Jets. The Patriots are masters of confusing veteran quarterbacks, and they will do everything in the world to confuse Roethlisberger even more. Though the Patriots reserve most of their funky defenses until the game is secure in the second half, the Patriots will try to fool Roethlisberger with blitzes and fake blitzes. Roethlisberger is a classic play-action passer, and the Patriots usually do well against these types of quarterbacks. On Sunday, they seemed to have figured out how to stop Edgerrin James off most of the play-action fakes by Manning. When Roethlisberger fakes to a run and tries to pass, he usually goes deep. The Patriots will try to take that away by dropping into zones and then trying to pressure him with some zone blitzes.
2. The Patriots will try to pick on Steelers cornerback Willie Williams, who starts ahead of former first-rounder Chad Scott. Scott missed most of the season with a knee injury and is currently being used as a third cornerback. Williams was signed as an insurance policy and he has delivered all season. Williams, though, is 34, and he's only 5-foot-9. The Jets attempted to attack him Saturday, trying to match him up deep with the taller Justin McCareins. Williams made two saves on deep passes into the end zone, but Chad Pennington threw on him so often that Williams ended up leading the team with 11 tackles. Williams understands he will be the one the Patriots test. The question will be whether the Patriots do it with David Givens or Deion Branch. Williams is a little shorter than Givens (6-0), but both Givens and Branch have good speed. Tom Brady is getting the ball downfield deeper this season and will try to go long on Williams. On the other side of the field, cornerback Deshea Townsend won't be able to play much press coverage because he's wearing a cast to protect broken bones in his hands. No problem. The Steelers don't do a lot of man-to-man. They are a zone team that relies a lot on the zone blitz.
3. Patriots cornerbacks will expect a more physical game than what they received from the Colts. The Colts lack size at receiver. The Steelers have size and toughness. Hines Ward is one of the most physical blocking receivers in football. He is the receiver who gets Roethlisberger out of trouble by getting open. Plaxico Burress is a tall, physical receiver and he will be hard to match up against for the injury-depleted Patriots secondary. Burress is 6-5. The tallest Patriots cornerback is 5-11. The Patriots have survived all season with a patchwork secondary. Even against the Colts, they didn't need to move Eugene Wilson, a 2003 second-round choice, to cornerback from his spot at the safety position. Instead, they managed with Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland and Troy Brown, who also plays wide receiver. Until someone beats them bad, it appears coach Bill Belichick isn't going to tinker with a winning hand. Think about it for a second. The Patriots have survived most of the season without their starting cornerbacks -- Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. They didn't have Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour against the Colts. During the regular season, opponents completed only 58.6 percent of their passes and had a horrible 75.2 quarterback rating against the Patriots. No one knows how they do it, but the coaching staff keeps getting solid pass coverage despite major missing parts.
4. The game doesn't figure to be as one-sided as Pittsburgh's 34-20 win over the Patriots on Oct. 31. The Steelers jumped to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter and that changed the way the rest of the game was played. Brady, generally one of the best quarterbacks at protecting the ball, was forced to pass the ball 45 times and threw two interceptions. As hard as he tried against the league's No. 1 defense, Brady couldn't cut the deficit lower than 14 points. Trailing most of the game, Brady faced a fierce pass rush and was sacked four times. There was no running game. The time of possession was 43 minutes for the Steelers and only 17 for the Patriots. This game will be on more of a level playing field, so the Patriots will be able to work most of their offense, and it's not out of the question for the Patriots to have a lead at some point in the first half. That makes it a different game for strategy because the Patriots won't have to work out of panicky no-huddle calls to try to cut a big deficit.
5. The Steelers won't have the edge at kicker they used to advance to the AFC title game. Adam Vinatieri doesn't figure to blow two kicks in the final two minutes of regulation. He's one of the greatest clutch field-goal kickers of his generation. He thrives in big games like this. Sure, Heinz Field is a tough place to kick, but is it any tougher than Foxboro, where Vinatieri has ice in his veins? Jeff Reed, though, has been a pleasant surprise for the Steelers because of his consistency regardless of the conditions. He's made 19 in a row. He made two in the playoffs. For the season, Reed is 28-of-33. He's missed only two inside 40 yards. Vinatieri's better. He's missed only 2-of-33 attempts during the regular season. If this game figures to be similar to the Jets game and comes down to the wire, Vinatieri is the kicker who could take the Patriots to the Super Bowl again. The Doug Brien advantage won't be there for the Steelers in this game. Plus, the Patriots may have a slight edge on kickoffs with Vinatieri.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.