Following a rather frustrating 17-10 loss to the Bills on Sunday, many feel that the Steelers, who dropped to 8-6, squandered a huge opportunity in their quest to qualify for the postseason.
Yes and no.
Yes, Pittsburgh could have made its path much, much clearer and easier with a win over the Bills. With a 9-5 record and tiebreaker advantages out the wazoo, the Steelers could have clinched a spot as early as this Sunday by defeating the Jets.
But while the Steelers chances at the postseason aren’t as good as they were before Sunday night’s results, they are far from impossible. In fact, they’re as good as they were a year ago at this time, when they simply needed to win their final two games to clinch the AFC North and the fourth seed.
Obviously, that didn’t happen, thanks to a gut-wrenching Week 16 loss to the Saints in the Superdome. The Steelers fell to 8-6-1 and, coupled with a Ravens’ victory over the Chargers in Los Angeles the night before, headed into Week 17 a half-a-game behind Baltimore.
Therefore, the Steelers not only needed to defeat the Bengals in Week 17 at Heinz Field, they needed the Browns, of all teams, to knock off Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium.
As they prepared for their final game of the 2018 season, Mike Tomlin and his players may not have wanted to admit it, but it had to be a bit of a helpless feeling, knowing a victory over Cincinnati was only going to be half of the equation for getting to where they wanted to go.
How weird is it that, despite the decimation the Steelers have suffered on offense this season, if they go into New York and take care of a 5-9 Jets team, they would head into Week 17 in much better shape than they were a year ago, when they had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown (or so they thought, up until game day)?
Pretty empowering, as well—at least one might think so.
It has been said that the Steelers chances of going on the road in the final week and defeating a Baltimore team that will likely have the top seed wrapped up and will be resting several key starters—including all-everything quarterback Lamar Jackson—would still be pretty slim.
Funny thing is, it has also been said that the Titans, who are still going to be very-much alive for a postseason spot no matter what happens in Week 16, will have a great chance to go into Houston in Week 17 and defeat a Texans team that, much like the Ravens, may have already clinched everything it could by that point—including the AFC South title.
I don’t know about you, but I'm smitten with the idea of the Steelers going into Week 17 with more than one possible scenario for landing that sixth seed—and that would be a reality with a 9-6 record.
Obviously, the Steelers are trying to win games with offensive replacements who have replaced the original replacements. Therefore, it’s quite possible that even a desperate and motivated Pittsburgh team could still lose on the road to a resting Ravens team.
And it’s also possible that a desperate and motivated Tennessee team could go on the road and defeat a resting Texans’ team that was destroyed at home by a pathetic Broncos squad just one week after beating the Patriots.
But nothing is set in stone, and if I’m the Steelers, I like my chances of going into Week 17 with more than one way to punch my ticket to the dance.
With two weeks to go, the Steelers still have a great opportunity in front of them and more than a realistic chance of clinching a playoff berth.