No one, of course, would dispute that at this point in the season, it being a divisional game and the division being rather bunched up, that this Sunday’s game is important. Though our tie makes tie-breaker rules largely inapplicable, divisional record is high up on the tiebreaker list. More important still, a victory for us means a loss for the Ravens, and vice-versa. There is, however, another reason why this game is important- the quality of the opponent.
For years now Steeler Nation has held its collective breath when playing a gimme, a game against a bad team, like, say, the Browns. We have lost more of these than we should have. When we don't lose to such a team, such as last week's victory against a team like, say, the Browns, the next issue is this- but we aren’t good enough to run with the Chiefs or the Patriots. That may be true. We’ve already lost to the Chiefs. But a Super Bowl run isn’t always dependent upon whether team a is better than team b, but on whether team a can somehow manage to win and move on. It is a rare thing indeed for a consensus top seed to win the Super Bowl.
In between these two polls are games like our upcoming game with the Ravens- a game against a team that is somewhere in the middle, a potential playoff team. These too are games that we have to win. What separates one playoff team from another is usually much less than what separates a playoff team from an also ran. As is usually the case, one of these two teams will almost certainly be going to the playoffs this year. If we win, it will make it far more likely that team will be us.
We can’t count on rookie mistakes, like we could when facing Baker Mayfield. Joe Flacco may be on the downhill side of his career, but he is a veteran who has won a lot of games. We can’t count on a defense that is just beginning to gel as the Browns’ D is. We’ll be facing the Ravens, who, even when they are bad, come to play defense. We can’t count on facing a coach who either should have been fired long ago (Lewis) or one who was about to get fired (Jackson.) We’re facing John Harbaugh who is at worst, competent, and at best, pretty good.
No one, I don’t think, is expecting the Steelers to run away with the conference. We already know we’re not that good right now. So the question before us is, do we have the talent to make a run? This game will go a long way in answering that question. If we can play a full game, beginning to end, I am confident we’re going to like the answer. If we don’t, we may still make the playoffs, but we should expect an early exit.
Our tests, of course, don’t stop Sunday. After the Ravens game we will still have to face three teams currently sitting in the top 5 spots of at least some Power Rankings, and two more in the top 10. Some of those we are likely to lose. Hopefully, however, we won’t lose twice this year to any team, and will find ourselves playing in February.