I know what you’re going to say. I’ll leave room for you to do the obligatory “Playoffs” rant made famous by Colts head coach Jim Mora some years ago.
Why am I even discussing the possibilities of the Steelers, a team that just got blown out by the by god Cincinnati Bengals just days ago, qualifying for the dance, the show, the tournament? Because you know you’re thinking about it, that’s why. Even the most pessimistic among us, the president of the #FireTomlin anti-fan club, the commenter who has had to change his or her name 75 different times because of being banned from various Steelers sites for the constant negativity, likely secretly has visions of a Pittsburgh playoff Christmas (or Valentine’s Day—17-game schedule and such) dancing in their head.
So how can the Steelers make the postseason?
It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be damn-near impossible. It might take a Christmas (or Valentine’s Day) miracle.
You can say a lot of less-than-flattering things about me and my fluid opinion about your Pittsburgh Steelers—one week, I’m drinking the Koolaid, the next week, I’m a total gloom and doomer—but the one thing I’ve been consistent about since last April is that this is a seven to 10 win team, depending on how a number of critical moments play out over the course of the 2021 campaign.
We saw the Steelers come through with some key plays during their four-game winning streak—James Pierre’s end zone interception against Denver, T.J. Watt’s strip-sack against the Seahawks in overtime and Chris Boswell’s strong leg against Chicago all come to mind. And, of course, we saw the other end of the spectrum during the first two legs of their three-game winless streak—Mason Rudolph’s butterfingers, Diontae Johnson’s butterfingers and Pat Freiermuth’s butterfingers in the tie against the Lions come to mind, while fourth and “what the heck?” vs. the Chargers has kept me awake for many nights.
Had the Steelers made the key plays against Detroit and Los Angeles, they’d be 7-4, and while that bloodletting against Cincinnati would still have hurt, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
Unfortunately, that joke of a game dropped the team’s record to 5-5-1, and it might have signaled the end of Pittsburgh’s realistic playoff hopes.
At 7-4, you could have envisioned the Steelers winning three of their final six games to finish at 10-7. In a conference (the AFC, of course) where no team has really emerged as a clear-cut favorite to reach the Super Bowl, a 10-7 record would have, at the very least, clinched a wildcard spot for our favorite black-and-gold clad professional football team.
But now you’re asking the Steelers, the team with the putrid offense, the injury-ravaged defense and the tone-deaf second-year receiver (music at practice? I mean, give me a break, Chase Claypool) to win at least four of its last six games—and that might not even close the deal. That would be good enough for a 9-7-1 record. Would it be the magic number? I’m guessing it could be, but where do you see four wins coming from this team? The Steelers play the Ravens twice, the Chiefs once and the Titans once over the final six weeks. How many victories do you envision coming from that group of games? If you said one, you would be correct. Even if Pittsburgh knocks off the Browns and Vikings—totally plausible even for these ordinary Steelers—that leaves you with an 8-8-1 record.
That would clearly be good enough to preserve head coach Mike Tomlin’s streak of non-losing seasons (as well as the smarmy takes by those who always mock it), but it likely wouldn’t be enough to make the postseason.
I think Jim Mora would agree.