Brady, Patriots betting favorites hosting Steelers in AFC Championship game

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The feeling that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have one creaky effort out of their system spurs the idea they can continue to be nearly automatic at home. The Patriots are listed as 5.5-point betting favorites against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 50.5-point total for the AFC Championship Game, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Not only has New England long enjoyed the upper hand against the Steelers – 10-3-1 against the spread in their last 14 matchups – but they are also 9-2 ATS on the NFL betting lines in their last 11 home games at Gillette Stadium and 8-1 SU in their last nine home games against teams with winning records.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, who are 13-5 SU and 11-6-1 ATS, are on a nine-win streak thanks to building their offense around shifty and tireless RB Le’Veon Bell. New England’s run defense is far stronger than what Pittsburgh has seen so far in the playoffs, but it’s doubtful Bell’s production will completely dry up since the Patriots are too smart to over-commit to stopping him.

While WR Antonio Brown can be nightmarish to cover, the Steelers’ lack of receiving threats beyond him might make it tough for Roethlisberger to pick apart the Patriots’ pass defense, although his offensive line should be able to give him time to throw.

Having success as an underdog in January is not a role in which the Steelers historically thrive; they are 3-10 SU in their last 13 playoff games as an underdog according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Patriots, who are 15-2 SU and 11-6 ATS, have only been stopped this season when Brady and the offense encounter a dominant pass rush. After a slow start in that phase, Pittsburgh has improved immensely due to the trio of OLB Bud Dupree, ageless OLB James Harrison and DE Stephon Tuitt, who will have to get by the strong pass protection of Patriots RT Marcus Cannon and LT Nate Solder.

The Steelers pass defenders have occasionally been beaten deep. Among the Patriots’ speed receivers, Chris Hogan (thigh) seems more likely to be 100 percent than Malcolm Mitchell (knee). Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman also offer the potential to spread the Steelers thin.

New England, the Super Bowl 51 betting favorites, used leading rusher LeGarrette Blount sparingly in the Divisional Round, which could have been a factor in the Patriots’ offense being sporadic. Blount has had a full week of practice this time.

The visiting team is 0-6 SU and 1-5 ATS in the last three years in conference championship games. The total has gone under in the Patriots’ last six AFC Championship Game matchups. The total has gone under in nine of the Steelers’ last 11 games as an underdog.

Vince Young wants to play again, hires agent Leigh Steinberg

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Vince Young is hoping his football career isn’t over.

Young has hired agent Leigh Steinberg, who announced on Twitter today that Young has a “dream of playing more football.”

That Steinberg used the word “dream” suggests that he and Young realize it will be an uphill battle to get back to the NFL. Young hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2011, when he threw four touchdown passes and nine interceptions for the Eagles. He has spent time with the Bills, Packers and Browns since then but never made it past the preseason.

The fledgling Spring League has already said it would be interested in Young, so he’s got someone interested in him. But the Spring League is a long, long way from the NFL. It’s highly likely that Young has played his last NFL game, even if, at age 33, he’s not quite ready to say definitively that he’s done.

Report: NFL invited Chad Kelly to Combine, then rescinded invitation

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Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was not invited to the Scouting Combine. Or perhaps he was invited, only to later learn it was a non-vite or an un-vitation.

According to Bill Polian of ESPN, Kelly initially was invited to the Combine, only to have that invitation rescinded by the league office. Polian, who signed Chad’s uncle Jim Kelly in 1986 and has been close to Kelly’s family for decades, indicated that the family isn’t sure why the invitation was rescinded.

It’s obvious why Kelly won’t be at the Combine: The NFL implemented a new rule this year that players who have been convicted of violent crimes won’t be permitted, and Kelly pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct two years ago as part of a case in which he was initially accused of punching two people, threatening to shoot up a bar with an AK-47 and resisting arrest.

What’s unclear is why the league would initially invite Kelly, only to rescind that invitation later. It may be that this new policy hasn’t been thoroughly considered, and the league is still deciding which types of offenses merit exclusion from the Combine. A disorderly conduct plea might not necessarily keep a player from the Combine, but when that plea stemmed from an incident in which the player was initially accused of violence and serious threats, the NFL steers clear.