The question “Do the Steelers deserve to make the playoffs?” was asked time and time again over the final weeks of the 2019 regular season, as Pittsburgh looked more and more like the football version of Weekend At Bernie’s,” with the defense playing the roles of Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman.
In other words, the offense—led by Mason Rudolph and/or Devlin Hodges at quarterback—was dead, especially over the final few weekends, when 10 points was its not so lucky number.
I suppose the “deserve” question is always a silly one to ask when it comes to professional sports teams making the postseason. Unlike the college ranks, there are no committees deciding on these things—the only way “strength of schedule” comes into play is when breaking a tie between two or more teams who finish with the same record.
It’s just based on the cold, hard numbers.
“I’d much rather see the Steelers not make the playoffs than make them and get embarrassed,” was the general refrain by many as the 2019 campaign headed toward Week 17. “Who wouldn’t want to see their favorite football team make the playoffs?” was my usual question to such a statement.
Don’t get me wrong, no answer was going to convince me that the Steelers—even in the face of a lifeless offense—not making the playoffs was the best conclusion to the regular season.
But while I still would have enjoyed having a Steelers wildcard playoff game to write about, analyze and get really, really, really excited over, when I see what the Titans, who edged out Pittsburgh for the sixth and final seed in the AFC, are doing with their postseason chance, it makes me realize they really were the more deserving team.
Furthermore, Tennessee is the more complete football team, one that doesn’t have to rely on its very good—if not totally dominant—defense to carry around its totally lifeless offense.
That’s right, the Titans have an identity on offense, and unlike Pittsburgh, it’s not “John Doe.” No, Tennessee’s offense is obviously identified by the Herculean efforts of running back Derrick Henry, who hasn’t met a defender he hasn’t wanted to punish, rushing for a combined 277 yards, while leading the Titans to postseason victories over the Patriots and Ravens, respectively.
As for quarterback Ryan Tannehill? He has yet to crack 100 passing yards in either game this postseason, but he looks like a professional passer, and he’s led the Titans to nine wins in 12 games since being named the starter in place of Marcus Mariota.
And while its defense may not make anyone forget about the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers’ edition, I can’t imagine any unit frustrating the offenses of the Patriots and Ravens the way Tennessee’s has this postseason.
What chance would you have given the Steelers in such a game? Maybe they would have stopped Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s many offensive threats, but would their offense have even sniffed 20 points against an admittedly suspect Chiefs’ defense?
I doubt it. In fact, I doubt Pittsburgh would have even made it past the wildcard round.
Sure, that wildcard round would have been more fun to look forward to with the Steelers in it, but in retrospect, I think the more deserving team got in ahead of them.