The Pittsburgh Steelers’ were extremely fortunate this past Sunday as they sat at home, or on a beach, and watched the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals all lose during the team’s Week 7 bye week.
With their rivals all suffering losses, the Steelers watched themselves move from 3rd in the AFC North, to first. In one week. Without playing.
Fans of the black-and-gold were ecstatic, and rightfully so, and with two divisional games upcoming, many are thinking the division could be as good as Pittsburgh’s if they can beat the Browns in Week 8, and the Ravens in Week 9.
While winning those games is important, the Steelers’ fate, which they somehow still control after a slow start to the season, will be decided with a series of big games down the stretch.
Just look at some of the games which carry a great deal of significance, after the Ravens game in Week 9, and could decide if the Steelers make the postseason, or if they are on the outside looking in.
Week 10 - vs. Carolina Panthers (TNF)
After the Ravens game in Baltimore, Pittsburgh will host Cam Newton and company at Heinz Field. These are tough games, and one the Steelers will have to find a way to win if they are to be considered legitimate contenders.
Week 11 - at Jacksonville Jaguars (SNF)
After a mini-bye, the Steelers will play the team who knocked them out of the playoffs last year. Unlike the Panthers game on Thursday Night Football, this is a big AFC matchup which could have playoff seeding implications.
Week 13 - vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Many consider the Chargers to be in the ‘class of the AFC’, and the Steelers will get to test them when they go across country to play the Steelers at Heinz Field.
Week 14 - at Oakland Raiders
Yeah, Oakland isn’t any good this year, but the Steelers always seem to struggle when they go out west and have to play the Raiders. Losses to teams like Oakland can result in a playoff miss, not a playoff berth.
Week 15 - vs. New England Patriots
This might not be for home field advantage, but a huge game nonetheless.
Week 16 - at New Orleans Saints
Going to New Orleans in the dome might be a break from the elements in late December, but Drew Brees and company could make this game a nightmare. In the waning weeks of the season, wins could be clinchers, and this is no gimme.
Week 17 - vs. Cincinnati Bengals
In a perfect world, the Steelers’ final game of the regular season is meaningless. If it has meaning, this game could be both terrifying and electrifying.
The point is while the next two games will go a long way towards division tie breakers, it won’t equate to an overall successful season. The good news is the past week of football has put the fate of the Steelers’ season in their own hands. If they take care of business, they won’t have to watch the scoreboard, or hope for help. Instead, it will be the rest of the AFC North watching the scoreboard wondering what the Steelers are doing on a week-by-week basis.
Buckle up...the road might get bumpy down the stretch.