The Steelers vs. 49ers tilt set for tomorrow night became dramatically more important after a wacky Sunday. Both teams have clinched a playoff berth, but as of now both teams control their own destiny and are on course for a 1st round bye. Only one team will stay on that course. From the Steeler's perspective, this is nothing new.
Typically, the 2nd Raven-Steelers game has been the season's pivotal point for both teams. It was certainly a crucial moment when the Ravens completed a sweep of the Steelers on Sunday Night back in Week 9. Since then, however, the Steelers have only stacked wins. The Ravens dropped two road games against supposedly inferior opponents, which has been the team's Achilles heel all season. After their most recent gaffe the Steelers have a rare opportunity in the NFL: another chance.
Monday night's game will be similar to the regular season playoff-atmosphere games that the Steelers participate in every year. Ben is hurt, the opposing defense is elite, and the opposing coach is a Harbaugh. The Ravens, however, are hardened vets compared to this 49ers group. Alex Smith hasn't played a game this meaningful in his NFL career. It is hard to say what part nerves will play in a match up between professional athletes, but this much is clear: the Steelers know how to win this game. They've done it before against even more talented opposition. The magnified importance of tomorrows game makes it more exciting, and perhaps for the Steelers even more winnable.
With the path to the #1 seed clearly laid out over the next three games, Steelers fans have to be excited. Assuming Ben, Pouncey, and Woodley get close to 100%, the Steelers may be fielding their best squad of the season just in time for the playoffs.