New England at Pittsburgh

4:15 p.m.

[WUSA-9, WJZ-13]

32

Total wins by Pittsburgh and New England in their past 36 regular season games The Steelers head into this marquee matchup having won 16 straight regular season games, two short of the NFL record. That, you'll recall, was set in 2003-04 by today's opponent, the Patriots, whose string ended against, yes, the Steelers, last Halloween.

But the other story of today's game centers less on such stat-geekery as it does on the teams' last meeting -- last year's AFC title game, when New England stormed into Pittsburgh, forced four turnovers in a 41-27 win and rolled on to the Super Bowl title.

There are more immediate concerns, particularly for the Patriots: The Steelers have so far looked like a monster, boasting the league's highest-rated passer (Ben Roethlisberger with a near perfect 153.6), its No. 2 rusher (Willie Parker, with 272) and a defense that ranks second in points allowed and fifth in total yards allowed.

Roethlisberger, for one, is paying respects to the Patriots, particularly quarterback Tom Brady. "To me, he's the best quarterback in the league, hands down," Roethlisberger told reporters. "It's like he's got some special powers."

Perhaps Brady can turn back the clock to last season. Last week the team looked uncharacteristically sloppy in a loss to the Panthers. RB Corey Dillon, coming off his best season, has 99 yards and 2.7 yards per carry in two games. Now he faces a defense that has allowed 87.6 rushing yards per game over the past five years.