So “the team no one wanted to play in the playoffs” is still alive. Even though that same team managed to lose in Baltimore. Played substandard football for 45 minutes in Cleveland. And blew a late lead in Cincinnati.
Yet Denver now has to host “the team no one wanted to play in the playoffs.” Also known as the Pittsburgh Steelers. How concerned do you think the Broncos are?
Probably not very concerned if Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and DeAngelo Williams are all playing at less than 100%. Which likely will be the case.
Somehow “the team no one wanted to play in the playoffs” needed the Jets to collapse to get into the playoffs. And then they needed the Bengals to meltdown down in order to stay alive in them.
Let’s be honest. The Steelers are still playing because the Jets became the Jets once more. And the Bengals became the Bungles as they so often do in the post season. The reasons why the Steelers still have a pulse underscore the complex story of how they got this far in the first place.
This was a club that headed out to Latrobe with every reason to think that a 10-12 win season was likely, and another division championship was possible. But a few injuries and suspensions later, and the franchise was looking like one that should be planning for the draft instead of the playoffs.
Upset the Cardinals. But jump start win streaks for Seattle and KC. Light up the scoreboard against the Colts, Bengals, and Broncos. Lose an ugly home game to Baltimore. Win a thriller in San Diego. Vick wins. Vick loses. Landry wins. Landry Loses. Ben comes back. He wins and loses. He comes back again. He wins and loses some more.
Yet we were lead to believe most of the NFL was scared to play the Steelers in January. That theory was pretty much shot to hell the minute DeAngelo Williams was stuffed on an early 4th and 1 in Baltimore on 12/27. Since then, it’s been rubbing rosary beads and charging up the shock paddles to stay alive. That formula has worked. But if this “dancing through the rain drops” routine ends in Denver Sunday at 4:40, how should we feel about this 2015 Steeler season?
On the one hand, frustration is warranted. Steeler fans likely didn’t want this much help to stay alive. Winning with their team’s own style points would feel more rewarding than relying on the disintegration of some AFC rivals. They weren’t able to see the whole team click for the first ten games of the season, only to get a tease between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then a plummet back to feeling like an also ran that needed charity to keep playing.
On the other hand, this team has showed us tremendous guts. It’s gone four QBs deep, four kickers deep, and five running backs deep. Yet it still is alive.
So when it comes to a public perception standpoint, is the team playing with house money as of now?
Yeah. It probably is. Last week, some were making that suggestion going into Cincy. I didn’t buy it then. It felt like pre-emptive excuse making seeing as how the Steelers would be facing a perennial playoff loser with a back up QB in a building the Steelers own more than Heinz Field itself.
But this week, yeah. The Steelers are playing with house money. Because it’d be tough to say Steeler fans should be EXPECTING a win in Denver with the prospect of Landry Jones, Jordan Todman, and Martavis Bryant carrying the load on offense against the Denver defense. Meanwhile the Steelers own defense is going to have to contend with a rested (and allegedly healthy) Peyton Manning.
Given all the choppy seas Pittsburgh has navigated, a win in Denver would put a stamp of success on this season that still may not feel appropriate as of yet. But don’t count on it. Even if Roethlisberger, Brown and Williams all play.