The Steelers play the next three games on the road. Any time an NFL team goes on the road for that long, it's usually quite pivotal. It's pretty rare to have three straight road games, but the league will make up for it later in the year when Pittsburgh hosts three straight opponents at Heinz.
But that's then and this is now. I'm pretty excited for these three games because if Pittsburgh can get on the other side of these games with 2 wins, that could prove to be a huge determining factor for not only making the playoffs, but playoff seeding.
But how they get those 2 wins will be even more crucial, at least in my opinion. The Steelers are at Miami today and then New Orleans next Sunday night and they cap off the road trip with a big Monday night game in Cincinnati two weeks from tomorrow night.
I know the marquee match-up for the three games will be next Sunday night's contest against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Big Ben vs. Drew Brees. Halloween night in New Orleans. The NBC game of the week. I mean, wow! Right?
Well, in my book, that's the least important of the three. Yes, it would be nice to go to the Big Easy and defeat the champs in front of a national television audience, but it's an NFC game, and what always seems to come up and bite the Steelers come playoff tie-breaker time is their AFC record. If my math is correct, the Steelers are 26-11-1 against NFC opponents since 2000, but NFC games are way down there in the tie-breaking pecking order. Tie-breakers are all about AFC records. Head-to-head is the most important tiebreaker, but if there is a three or four-way tie, the AFC record is usually the determining factor in breaking the tie for a playoff spot.
In 2000, the Steelers missed the playoffs by a game. What was their AFC record? 8-5, including 5-5 in their own division.
In 2005, the Steelers obviously won the whole thing, but they barely got in and if they would have fallen into a tie with Kansas City, they would have missed out on the postseason. Why? Well, their AFC record was a pretty average 7-5. Last year, their 9-7 record caused them to miss out on the playoffs because the Jets and Ravens both had better AFC records.
I know right now the Steelers are sitting pretty at 4-1, but you never know what the second half of the season may bring, and who might get hurt. I would like to see the Steelers defeat the Dolphins today and the Bengals in two weeks. If they beat the Saints, well, that would be gravy.
Downing Miami and Cincy would give the team at least 6 wins in the first half, and more importantly, a 4-1 record in the AFC (including 2-1 in the division.) That's enormous. And after the road trip, they face three straight AFC teams in New England, Oakland, and Buffalo. Two of the three look to be gimme wins. Now, if they don't fall on their faces like they did last year, the worst they could be with only five games left would be 8-3 with a 6-2 record on in the AFC. They would be sitting in great shape with the crucial divisional road game against Baltimore and then those three straight games at Heinz Field.
So, I think this upcoming stretch of games will be what we look back on at the end of the season. It could prove to be the most critical part of the schedule.