Are We Ready to Take Pittsburgh Seriously?
For the last two years, the Steelers have gotten to the playoffs, only to lose to the eventual Superbowl winner. Both New England, and previously Denver knocked them off in January. That’s the past. You could argue that they are better equipped to beat anybody in 2017. So, why are we still not sold on the Steelers?
Well, maybe it’s the manner in which they’ve been winning – grinding out results and small margin wins. But isn’t that what great sports teams do? Win when they aren’t at their best? Win when it seems there is no coming back? We praise the Patriots when they come back against opposition saying “that’s just belichick”, but it seems that when Tomlin’s boys win in the last minute against Baltimore, Green Bay or Cincinnati, it’s labeled as a game they should’ve won “comfortably”.
Well, maybe they should have, but the fact of the matter is that the Steelers are 11-2 and if they beat the Patriots in Heinz Field on Sunday, they all but guarantee the number one seed.
The two losses that the Steelers have this season came at the hands of the Jags and the Bears. Every year the Steelers lose one road game to a blatantly inferior team. Not that it’s acceptable, but it’s almost a gimme in recent times. As for the Jags loss, it doesn’t seem so unforgivable now, seeing as the Jags are playoff bound themselves, with a Superbowl caliber defense.
Now, as we approach the final three games of the season, Pittsburgh have the best chance in years to clinch the first seed. If they do, all roads to the Superbowl go through Heinz Field, and when that crowd gets going, it’s hard to rival that atmosphere. You have to think beating New England would make them favourites to reach the summit, but who would be their biggest challengers? I feel these three sides make up the AFC’s ‘four to watch’ in January.
Even if Pittsburgh wins on Sunday, you have to feel that New England are still the cream of the crop. They’ve had the Steelers’ number over the past ten years, and usually come out on top. That being said, they normally have home-field advantage. This feels like the inevitable AFC title game, but it’s been a funny season plagued with injuries, maybe there’s more to come. I wouldn’t read into the Miami loss much either. Just like the Steelers lose a strange game a season, so have New England managed to lose to Miami a good few times recently.
I wrote about how impressive this group of players have been in 2017. A remarkable turnaround from seasons gone by, and if Bortles can play well in the new year, then they’ve got the recipe to go all the way. They’ve beaten Pittsburgh once too, and that was on the road.
While the Rams get all the plaudits for the stellar season to date, it is the Chargers who have been sneaking up the table since week five. Once 0-4, the Chargers have shown their true colours since then, going 7-2. Nobody wants to face them, if they make it into the playoffs. You have to wonder how they were 0-4 in the first place, and hope that it’s not too little, too late.
Indeed, while the AFC does not necessarily have the same depth as the NFC in 2017, it does possess some teams that strike fear into the rest of the league. As for personnel, we talk about Brady, Wentz and Wilson for MVP. But are we overlooking the league’s best WR?
Antonio Brown has 1509 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. That’s 116 yards per game. I often ponder on who the league’s best WR is. Julio Jones is an animal, Beckham is a game changer, but Brown is so consistently elite that it becomes mundane.
It’s easy to overlook his stardom because of ‘louder’ players around him. His QB has been below his standards this season, but still has the second most yards in the league because of Brown! He’s on track to trump his best season (2015), when he had 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Oh, and they have Le’Veon Bell too, by the way. He’s leading the league in rushing yards. I guess Roethlisberger doesn’t have to play lights-out football when he has these guys to rely on. They’ve the fourth best offense, with 381 yards per game, and they’re the second best passing team with 281.5 per game.
On defense, they’ve given up the sixth least amount of total yards per game (303), the fourth least passing yards (200.8), and the ninth least rushing yards per game (102.9).
Top ten players and units in nearly every phase of the game. A pretty well balanced team, right? Maybe we should take them seriously this year.
This OTI piece was written by Matt Carolan. Matt is a New York Football Giants fan from Co Wicklow, and is currently working in marketing. Matt can be found on twitter at