Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers
After struggling against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri, Ben Roethlisberger could play much better in the AFC Championship Game. Getty Images

A win for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game would come as a surprise to many. The New England Patriots are six-point favorites at home, and most experts have picked the conference’s top seed to reach Super Bowl LI.

New England has been favored to win the AFC title since the start of the year, and they led all teams with a 14-2 regular-season record. Pittsburgh, however, has long been considered to have the best chance of upsetting the Patriots before the Super Bowl.

After a slow start to the season that included an injury to Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers entered the playoffs with seven straight victories. Their winning streak is now up to nine games, following an 18-point win against the Miami Dolphins and a road win against the No. 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs.

Can the Steelers pick up their 10th straight win and defeat the Patriots?

Pittsburgh certainly has a much better chance to pull off an upset than the Houston Texans did in the divisional playoffs. Even as Tom Brady threw two interceptions and the Patriots fumbled a kickoff, the Texans still managed to lose by 18 points because of their anemic offense.

If New England plays the way they did a week ago, they’ll have a hard time defeating Pittsburgh. Unlike the Texans, the Steelers usually don’t have trouble scoring points. Pittsburgh finished the regular season seventh in total offense, and they have the NFL’s best wide receiver-running back tandem.

Antonio Brown is probably the league’s best wide receiver, surpassing 100 yards in both playoff games. Le’Veon Bell might be the NFL’s top running back, and he averages more yards from scrimmage per game than any player in history. Even though they are going up against the defense that’s allowed fewer points than any other, there’s a chance that they’ll put up big numbers Sunday.

The AFC title game will undoubtedly be New England’s toughest test to date. The Patriots’ defense has played well, but only against subpar competition. After failing to face a top-10 rated passer in their first 17 games, the Patriots welcome a future Hall of Fame quarterback into Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots have faced only two teams that rank in the top 12 in total offense. New England only defeated the Arizona Cardinals and their No. 9 ranked offense 23-21 because kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal in the game’s final seconds. When Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks’ No. 12 offense visited New England, they won 31-24, handing the Patriots their only loss with Tom Brady under center.

Pittsburgh lost 27-16 when they hosted New England on Oct. 23, but Roethlisberger missed the game with a knee injury. Their offense could perform much better in the rematch, giving the Steelers a chance to steal a win.

Keeping the Patriots below that 27 point total won’t be an easy task. Only two teams scored more points than New England in the regular season, and Brady set a record with a 14:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. There are reasons, however, to believe the Steelers can limit the Patriots’ ability to move the ball.

Rob Gronkowski totaled 93 receiving yards and one touchdown in New England’s victory over Pittsburgh, but the tight end is done for the year with an injury. Brady’s career numbers are significantly worse when Gronkowski is out of the lineup, and that trend has continued this season.

In five starts in which Gronkowski played or wasn’t limited by injury, Brady posted a passer rating of 124.2 or better four times, registering a 90.1 rating in the fifth game. In Brady’s other eight starts, he reached that mark (124.2) just twice, posting a rating of less than 90.0 on three occasions.

The Steelers’ defense is also better than it was at the midpoint of the regular season. Linebacker Bud Dupree has made a major difference since making his season debut in November, and Pittsburgh has allowed 20 points or fewer seven times during their nine-game winning streak. They’ve limited the Dolphins and Chiefs to 28 total points this postseason.

Overcoming the greatest quarterback of all time and the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense on the road will be difficult, but the formula is there for the Steelers to surprise the football world and keep the Patriots out of the Super Bowl.