By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The thing with sports media these days, and particularly with debate shows, is that there’s a pressure to step out on a limb, to say something totally crazy, in order to generate a certain level of attention for yourself and your program. From Skip Bayless to Stephen A. Smith to Max Kellerman to Chris Simms to Colin Cowherd, the recipe is tried and true: say something, make people mad, reap the rewards.
An up-and-comer in this category is Nick Wright, who co-hosts “First Things First” with Cris Carter on Fox Sports 1. And on Tuesday morning, Wright showed his promise in the line of work by stating that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a better football team than the New England Patriots.
To be honest, it’s not that crazy of a statement. Both teams are 9-2, after all. But Wright exposed his intentions a bit when, in the middle of his statement, he uttered: “I know this will shock America.”
Anyway, here’s the full quote from Wright:
The Steelers have a better roster. The Steelers have more dynamic playmakers. The Steelers absolutely have a more consistent defense. The Steelers have more dynamic weapons. The Steelers are the better football team. The Steelers are the team this year that has not concerned you against their best competition. The Steelers are a team that has the Week 15 game at home.
I know this will shock America, but the Steelers — the woebegone Steelers, the up-and-down Steelers, the can’t-trust-’em Steelers — have the exact same record as the ‘steady and unbelievable’ New England Patriots.
Both of these teams are really good. … It’s now a two-team race [in the AFC]. It’s between these two teams, and the Pittsburgh Steelers by the statistical measure or by the eye test, are the best team in the AFC.
Again, it’s pretty fair, though it was delivered with perhaps an over-the-top sense of doom. Better roster? You could make the case. More dynamic playmakers? You could argue that Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell make for a more dynamic duo than the trio of Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks and Dion Lewis, I suppose. More consistent defense? You bet. And that Week 15 meeting will indeed take place in the city of Pittsburgh.
It’s not that wild of a point, yet it did generate the typical social media buzz you might expect from such a statement. And that’s because Wright’s case overlooked a few critical areas.
Like, for instance, the quarterback position — a rather important spot! There, the Patriots have what some would consider to be a distinct advantage. Tom Brady leads the league in passing yards with 3,374. He leads the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio at 8.7-to-1. He leads the NFL in passer rating at 111.7. He leads in the league in yards per pass attempt at 8.27. He’s second in the league in touchdowns with 26.
Ben Roethlisberger ranks seventh in yards with 2,948. His TD-to-INT ratio is 1.7-to-1, more than five times worse than Brady’s. He’s 18th in passer rating at 89.9. He’s 12th in yards per attempt at 7.44. And he’s tied for fifth in the league with 20 touchdowns.
Quite obviously, Brady’s been much better. You’d think it might factor in to the evaluation of the teams.
Another important matter? That would be the head coach. And for evidence of how poorly Mike Tomlin has managed his team’s games against the Patriots, look only at Brady’s stats vs. Tomlin-coached teams: In six games, Brady has thrown 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions while averaging more than 375 yards per game. The Patriots have won five of those games.
A good coach — or at least a coach who is paying attention instead of fantasizing about AFC Championship Games — might have made an adjustment or two over the years to try to limit Brady’s dominance. Tomlin instead kept the defensive game plan the same. It has yet to work. Maybe it will this time, though.
By comparison, Ben Roethlisberger has won just three of his 10 games against Bill Belichick-coached teams in his career. In his rookie year, when the Steelers went 15-1, he threw three interceptions in an AFC Championship Game loss. In 2016, Roethlisberger’s 13th NFL season, he posted an 83.1 passer rating in another AFC Championship Game loss. Maybe he will be better this time, though.
And while the point on the Steelers’ defense being more consistent was more or less on the money, it came less than 48 hours after Brett Hundley threw for three touchdowns and no picks against Pittsburgh. Prior to that game, Hundley had thrown two touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. Maybe he was just overdue, though.
The Steelers overall have been sputtering a bit, too, barely beating the terrible Colts with a last-second field goal, sandwiched around a blowout of the Titans with the narrow win on Sunday over the Packers. Maybe they just lacked some focus against lesser opponents, though.
The Patriots’ defense has been better lately, but really won’t be tested at Buffalo and at Miami in the next two weeks. The only real test left on the schedule is that fateful date with Pittsburgh on Dec. 17.
And the beauty of all of this? Well, it’s sports, so no statement is objective fact, and we’ll actually get to see what’s correct when these two teams take the field in a few weeks.
For now, we’ve got bold proclamations that are neither right nor wrong yet can get the people talking. Not bad, Nick Wright. Not bad at all. Now just dump the “this will shock America” line, and maybe drop the delivery style like you’re telling a patient that his disease is terminal, and we’re really cooking with gas.