“After losing to (insert one or many teams here), does (insert any team you wish here) deserve to make the playoffs?”
That question has been asked many times over the past couple of weeks about the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers and their worthiness of being part of the playoff field.
Fortunately, unlike college football or basketball, NFL teams don’t have to meet certain criteria and wow certain committee members with impressive victories or with the strength of their non-conference schedules in order to make it to the big dance.
It’s all about the math, and if the math adds up this Sunday (in this case, if the Steelers can find a way to make 2 + 2 = 5), Pittsburgh will be just as deserving of a playoff berth as any other team who has ever punched its ticket.
Perhaps the better question to ask is, are the Steelers a playoff-caliber team?
Many will answer “yes,” based on their talent-level (six Pro Bowl players) and their chronic habit of playing January football. In-fact, immediately following the Steelers 31-28 loss to the Saints on Sunday, CBS color analyst Tony Romo said (and I’m paraphrasing), “It’s a shame the Steelers might not make it to the postseason, because they’re a very good team, and they proved today they can play with anyone in the NFL.”
I’ve read similar things from fans and writers since Sunday, and it does make sense. And maybe it is too bad, too bad that it’s not like college football or basketball, where Pittsburgh’s strength of schedule in 2018—one that is Notre Dame football strong—might be worthy of an at-large bid.
But, again, this is not college athletics.
Besides, even if the Steelers are fortunate enough to sneak into the postseason this Sunday, how well do you think they’ll really do once they get there? Yes, the strength of schedule is very impressive—Pittsburgh has played six games against five teams that are currently in first place or tied for first place in their respective divisions—but the results are not.
The Steelers are 2-4 in those games, and even if you take away the split against the Ravens (Baltimore came to Heinz Field and dominated on September 30, and then Pittsburgh went to M&T Bank Stadium and returned the favor a few weeks later), that still leaves a 1-3 mark against four teams who will be super-serious Super Bowl-contenders once January rolls around.
The Steelers have faced the best the NFL has had to offer in 2018, and the Steelers have fallen short the majority of the time.
The Steelers never once led against Kansas City in a Week 2 match-up at Heinz Field. In-fact, Patrick Mahomes looked so impressive in that game, another quarter or two probably wouldn’t have paved the way for the Steelers to complete their comeback (they trailed 21-0 in the first quarter), it likely would have allowed the second-year quarterback to pad his stats.
The Steelers held a 23-7 halftime lead over Los Angeles at home on December 2, and instead of flexing their muscles before a national audience on Sunday Night Football, they found multiple ways to hand the football game to the Chargers.
And, of course, you know what happened on Sunday against the Saints in the super-tough-to-play Superdome. Pittsburgh looked like the better team. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh was the team that made the majority of the mistakes.
Had it not been for those losses to the Broncos and Raiders, along with that Week 1 tie against the Browns, the Steelers would already be postseason bound and, say it with me, “a team nobody wants to face.”
Perhaps you’d forgive the record against the cream of the NFL crop if the Steelers would have fared better against the bottom of the barrel.
But in a season when the Steelers couldn’t beat the best of the best or even the worst of the worst, what makes anyone think they’d be able to make a run in the postseason?
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see it happen (Go Team Baker!!!!!!), and I’d much rather talk about the Steelers chances against the Chargers in two weeks than read Tweets like, “Hey, I’d much rather have the higher draft pick.”
But just because I want to see the Steelers make the playoffs doesn’t mean I think they’ll do anything positive once they get there.
I think the Steelers 2018 regular season has told me everything I need to know about how their 2018 postseason would go.