The last thing AFC playoff bound teams wanted to see was the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the AFC North Division.
Now, the six-time Super Bowl champions are in the party once again. And, they go in as one of the most dangerous teams in not just the AFC, but the NFL. Riding a six-game winning streak, the Black and Gold would ease up at Heinz Field against the 1-14 Cleveland Browns to wrap up the regular season. And still, make it seven straight.
There is nothing more desired in Steelers Nation than a seventh Lombardi Trophy. With their six prior triumphs, no team holds more. The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys each own five. The Patriots, Giants and Packers are close behind with four.
Interestingly enough, all aforementioned teams—excepting San Francisco—are all in the tournament this season. Pittsburgh fans certainly do not want anyone to tie their record. But Dallas holds the top seed and the best record in the NFC.
The Patriots are the prohibitive favorite to win the AFC title. And with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the road to Houston runs through New England. What will it take for the Steelers to get to Super Bowl LI? Only the top two seeds get a bye, so that means the other four teams aside from New England and Oakland (granted they win the No. 2 spot), will have to play three games before advancing to the big dance.
Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Tomlin would prefer having Cameron Heyward healthy. As well as Markus Wheaton. And it’s unfortunate that Martavis Bryant has been out this entire season. Moreover, it remains to be seen if DeAngelo Williams will be ready in two weeks for the wild card. Williams would miss most of the second half of the season after having minor knee surgery.
Here’s how the Steelers return to Pittsburgh in February with yet another silver trophy. It begins with playing mistake-free football, which any team will admit they need to do. Discipline and avoiding stupid, unnecessary penalties comes next. Ben Roethlisberger simply cannot throw interceptions as he did in the Baltimore game. A team like New England will beat you down on turnovers.
For the Steelers, their success rides almost entirely on the fortunes of the offense. If they can get Le’Veon Bell running downhill, it’s all downhill from there. A solid running game always opens up the passing game. The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of—if not the most—dangerous passing attack in the NFL. Antonio Brown is a machine. He’s not just talented, he’s smart.
The Black and Gold are loaded with talent on offense at the receiving position. That is what they must make the most of to get to Houston. Jesse James, Ladarius Green, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey—even Bell out of the backfield make up what amounts to a weapon at every turn.
At times, Pittsburgh opponents have been surprised as well by little used targets like Cobi Hamilton, Xavier Grimble (who had the first touchdown in the Baltimore game), or David Johnson. The offense is expected to produce. But the last thing anyone in Steelers land wants is a shootout.
A shootout can happen if the Pittsburgh defense does not play as it should. During the current win streak, the defense would step up to the challenge. During the first half of the season, the Steelers defense would surrender 34 points to Philadelphia, 30 to Miami and 35 to Dallas.
Then the winning streak began. And, the Black and Gold would not yield more than 30 points since the Dallas loss. In fact, Baltimore’s 27 would be the only total over 20 in their six victories until Cleveland this past weekend.
While this Pittsburgh team is very young, they are extremely talented on both sides of the ball. But the key is always “Big Ben.” Roethlisberger holds two rings and has been to the NFL title game three times. This season he would set his personal low mark for sacks (17). That’s a credit to the offensive line. And if they continue this in the postseason, you can rest assured that the Steelers will go deep into the playoffs. And moreover, could easily be one half of the combatants in Houston on February 5.
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