Two consecutive wins have righted the ship for the Pittsburgh Steelers after a bad home loss to the struggling Saints, and now with two games left to play they control their own destiny in the AFC North. The wins have come against, most recently, the Atlanta Falcons and current division leading Cincinnati Bengals; the Bengals win being a blowout in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh has two games remaining against two teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals, who are very much in the AFC playoff race.
Sitting at 6-3 after week 9 the Steelers looked ready to take control of the AFC North. They had just come off of a huge three game home stand that produced wins over the Texans, Colts and Ravens and had a favorable matchup against the Jets up next. At this point in the season the offense had looked unstoppable at times and the defense was doing enough to win games, but in the next three games the stability Pittsburgh had seemingly built completely fell apart.
A week 10 loss in New York to the then 1-8 Jets shocked the football world because of the run that the Steelers had been on in previous weeks. Experts and fans alike were just about ready to name Pittsburgh among the NFL’s elite teams before this loss, but after they were back in the middle of the pack of teams in the minds of the experts. A grind it out 27-24 win over the lowly Tennessee Titans in the following week did not help Pittsburgh’s reputation in a time of the season when the AFC North was forming into the most competitive division in football.
Usually a bye week late in the season is a good thing for NFL teams as it presents an extra week for players to get healthy and gives the coaching staff an extra week to prepare for the next game. This logic seemed to have failed the Steelers coming out of their week 12 bye, as they lost their next game at home to the struggling New Orleans Saints. Pittsburgh did get a chance to get some of their players back from injury especially on defense, but the game plan was not prepared well considering how bad the Saints have historically looked on the road and in cold weather cities.
Something about that home Saints loss must have righted the ship for this team because over the next two weeks they got crucial victories. The first came against the division leading Bengals and not only was it a needed victory but an impressive one at that. In the third quarter the Bengals completed a huge pass to AJ Green to take the lead in what could have been a game breaking play, but the Steelers responded with 22 unanswered points to win 42-21. This victory is partly why Pittsburgh now controls their destiny in the division because even though the Bengals currently have a half game lead the two teams face each other again in the last game of the regular season. A week later in Atlanta the victory over the Falcons did not come as easy with Atlanta nearly coming back, but the Pittsburgh offense effectively ran out the clock through LeVeon Bell and held onto a 27-20 victory to improve to 9-5.
Now the playoff push gets really tough for Pittsburgh with games against the Chiefs and Bengals. Luckily for the Steelers both the games are at home where their offense has looked nearly unstoppable at times this season, of course it is also the site of bad losses to the Saints and Buccaneers. The Chiefs come in at 8-6 and currently sit on the outside looking at the six playoff spots so they need to win this game if they are to have any hope of getting into the playoffs. Just like the Steelers the Chiefs have had an up and down season with a 2-3 start leading to a 5 game win streak and then followed by a three game skid. At this point in the season Pittsburgh looks to be stronger and will be favored by three and a half points, but with how inconsistent both teams have been there is no way to predict what will happen.
Along with some other big division matchups the Steelers Bengals game in week 17 will be one of the most crucial games of the entire regular season. The Bengals have a very tough game in week 16 against the Broncos on a Monday night that may shuffle the division standings depending on how the Steelers and Ravens do. If both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati win in week 16 their week 17 matchup will be to decide who wins the division.
With two games left to play in the regular season the Pittsburgh Steelers control their own destiny in the AFC North. If they win out against the Chiefs and Bengals they will be the division winners and likely be the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs. Considering their inconsistency throughout the regular season how the Steelers fare in the playoffs will be very interesting to watch.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Photo Courtesy of Alex Abbound – Creativecommons Flickr License