If you visit several Steelers’ sites around the World Wide Web, you’ll see a lot of pleas from fans telling everyone to relax, it’s early, it’s not time to panic.
Really? I’ll give you that it’s early, but even at 0-1-1, if you think it’s not time to panic, I beg to differ.
For starters, about three percent of NFL teams that begin 0-3 go on to make the playoffs. Yes, I know, if the Steelers lose to the Buccaneers at Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football, they will drop to 0-2-1, but that isn’t going to make me feel much better about their chances.
No, a loss to Tampa would basically reshape the 2018 narrative, with the Steelers likely fighting tooth-and-nail during the next 14 weeks just to stay in the playoff hunt.
Forget home-field advantage. Forget AFC North supremacy. Best case scenario: we’re talking road whites in early January, baby.
And this is why I have a pretty good feeling the Steelers will win. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and I said, “Teams like the Steelers find ways to win games like these, while teams like the Bucs find ways to lose.”
He didn’t necessarily get it, but let me try to explain this in college football terms:
Picture a 12-0 Boise State team being denied one of the four playoff spots because the selection committee deemed the competition in their conference—the Mountain West Conference—too weak compared to the Big Ten’s and SEC’s of the college football world.
Boise State half-heartedly accepts an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl to take on a Notre Dame squad that, at 8-4, is having a season a little below its usual standards and expectations. Fast-forward to New Year’s Day, the night of the game. Is anyone shocked when Notre Dame’s plethora of four- and five-star recruits puts everything together for sixty minutes and the Fighting Irish throttle Boise State by three touchdowns?
Of course not.
That was kind of the point I was trying to make to my friend.
The Buccaneers couldn’t be riding higher right now after two weeks of the regular season. Following a 5-11 season in 2017, they went into New Orleans in Week 1 and put on an offensive show in a 48-40 win over the Saints. Last week, they knocked off the Super Bowl-champion Eagles at home, 27-21.
Despite a suspension to start the season for quarterback Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay looks like one of the better offenses in the NFL, led by journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick —the man the Bucs’ faithful have dubbed “Fitzmagic,” thanks to a two-week span in which he’s completed 48 of 61 passes for 819 yards and eight touchdowns.
Veteran receiver DeSean Jackson, at the age of 31, looks like one of the best deep threats in the NFL right now, averaging an astounding 30.5 yards per reception.
Speaking of magic, the Buccaneers could really put a huge deposit down on a magical 2018 campaign on Monday night (and, in the process, put the Steelers’ season in foreclosure) by getting off to a 3-0 start in front of their home fans.
Which, again, is why I don’t think it’ll happen.
You can say what you want about the Steelers under head coach Mike Tomlin, but one thing they seem to have a knack for is winning football games when their backs are against the wall.
The Steelers’ backs are against the wall.
If you want to say Tomlin’s record against inferior teams is tangible evidence that his squad will lay an egg when facing such an opponent, then you must recognize his ability to have his players ready for stronger teams.
Either the Steelers will be a true contender this year, or they won’t be, and a 1-1-1 start would certainly be a manageable record to use as a springboard for the rest of the season.
Don’t be surprised if the Steelers pick this week to get up off of the mat and remind the football world they’re still a force to be reckoned with.