Top Three Storylines that Might Affect the Steelers
- Eat your heart out, Willie Nelson. The entire AFC North is on the road, again. The good news is that the Steelers have the easiest game of the group, by far — on paper, at least. Yes, Mike Tomlin’s teams have a bad habit of hacking up hairballs in games in which they are heavily favored, even as recently as last season. But last week’s game against the Jets showed a different kind of resolve, at least after some early hiccups. Either that, or this offense is simply so good that they can’t even stop themselves anymore. Regardless, the Browns play a Titans team that might be slightly better, the Ravens head to New Jersey to play the Giants, and the Bengals take on the Patriots. In other news, I’ll be rooting for the Patriots this week. Not because I want them to hand the Bengals yet another loss, but because I really don’t want to face a Bill Belichick team the week after a home loss.
- It’s never too soon to start thinking about the playoffs, right? Now that the Broncos have lost, and there is a blueprint on how to beat them, it will be interesting to see what happens to them on the road against a Chargers team that’s not all that different from a cornered, injured animal at this point. San Diego’s football team seems to be cursed, what with all the close losses the last two seasons. But they are still more dangerous than their record indicates, and this is a division game. It’s also a game that could have a significant impact on things like homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Broncos are likely to have starting quarterback Trevor Siemian (that will probably never stop being a weird thing to type) back from injury.
- About those Patriots... Tom Brady came back and looked, well, like the Tom Brady we are used to seeing, and it physically hurt to type that sentence. He will, however, get at least a marginally better test this week, as he faces the other team from Ohio -- the one that can actually be called moderately professional. Brady got a lot of accolades after beating the Browns, 33-13, but come on: it’s the Browns. The Bengals will be a little tougher. Not tough enough, but at least it should give some better film for the Steelers to review next week.
Best Game of the Week with No Hypocycloids
Dallas @ Green Bay
Dallas is off to a hot start at 4-1. The Packers are 3-1 after a bye. On paper, it’s already a decent game, but this is all about one thing: the NFC Divisional Round playoffs from two seasons ago, when Dez Bryant “didn’t” catch what was obviously a well-caught ball, costing the Cowboys a shot at the NFC Championship game. Some saw it as a karma boomerang from a week prior, when the Cowboys got away with one against the Lions after a whole mess of weird things happened. Others saw it as tragic evidence that the catch rules need to be revised and simplified.
Undoubtedly though, the Cowboys just see it as a shot at redemption. The ironic part is that the two players on each end of the decisive play — Bryant and Tony Romo — may both be out this week. Romo is out; Bryant is planning to return to practice this week. We’ll have to wait and see.
Worst Game of the Week, a.k.a. Giving Cleveland a Break for a Change
Indianapolis @ Houston
Really, it was a toss-up between this game and Cleveland at Tennessee. But I pick on Cleveland so much that I have to be judicious about when to do it, or it will become old hat. Oh, who am I kidding? Picking on the Browns never gets old! Still, we’ll go with the Colts and the Texans. One team is a quarterback with almost no one else around him, and the other is something vaguely resembling a quarterback with almost no one left around him. Don’t be fooled by the middle-of-the-road records. The Texans may lead the division at 3-2, and the Colts may be a single game back at 2-3, but the reality is this is still just a terrible division. If the AFC South had anything that could even be considered a competitive team, the battle for the division title would already be a foregone conclusion.
The final straw? This is the Sunday Night Special. Oh well, at least we can all go to bed early, confident we won’t miss any actual football.
Five Pointless Points
- From the “I Never Thought I’d See That” Department, here’s a video in which Sam Bradford’s teammates praise the ever-fragile quarterback’s toughness.
- The NFL has had a history, at least under current commissioner Roger Goodell, of finding new and inexplicable ways to make a game, that exists solely as entertainment, less fun and less entertaining. They may have just reached new highs (lows?) in that department by changing their social media policy to disallow teams from posting images and video to social media outlets during games. Teams that violate the policy may be subject to as much as $100,000 in fines. You would think, at a time when the league is facing declining ratings thanks to a combination of the country’s current social climate and the constant rules changes imposed by the league, that they would be seeking ways to engage fans more. Then again, few have ever praised Goodell for making rational decisions. Count me among those who are never likely to do so. I say teams should just ignore it until the league caves. It would be epic.
- Former Baylor University football head coach Art Briles is helping the Cleveland Browns as a guest advisor. For a team with 16 rookies on its 53-man active roster, it makes perfect sense. After all, he probably coached against half of them last year.
- Thank goodness the Steelers are playing one of the worst teams in the NFL this week in the Miami Dolphins. Per Dale Lolley on Twitter, it looks like receiver Markus Wheaton did not practice. Fellow receiver Eli Rogers did participate fully, which is a huge step forward. But, with Sammie Coates nursing a gash that required stitches, there is a possibility he will be unable to play Sunday. If that happens, the Steelers might have to play with one receiver tied behind their backs, with only Antonio Brown, Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey available. No matter, they already use Le’Veon Bell as if he was their number-two receiver, anyway. But it’s an ominous sign when two of your top three true wide receivers are missing practice 10 days before what may be the biggest game of the season.
- Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz left a $500 tip when he went back to visit his college for a party last weekend. Which means, of course, that he roughly tripled the annual, non-tourism revenue of Fargo, North Dakota in one felled swoop.