Your Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the win column after a big win at home against the New Orleans Saints. It was a complementary team win and means that all outcomes are still on the table for this season. But this win isn’t about the opponent, which was an unimpressive and injured Saints team with plenty of issues, and it isn’t even about turning the season around for a potential playoff push. It’s really all about a Steelers organization that was searching for itself going into its Week 9 Bye finding the beginnings of an identity moving forward in 2022 and beyond.
What the Steelers found was a dominant rushing attack featuring two decisive, powerful backs in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, who split snaps basically 60/40 respectively in Week 10. Specifically Harris, who quit trying to do too much on every play, just decided to hit holes with the signature power and burst we got used to his Rookie season. The result was a punishing running game lead by a seemingly revitalized #22. Najee keeping that up is a game-changer for this offense, and sprinkling in a little bit more of the explosive Warren showed fantastic early returns.
The defense is so starkly different for the better with TJ Watt back on the field. Watt elevates the play of every player on that unit, and forces opposing offenses to play scared football. This was supposed to be the winning formula all year for Pittsburgh: a havoc-wreaking four-man rush that breaks opposing offenses, and an offensive attack lead by the ground game that complements that opportunistic defense.
If they can keep it up, the Steelers could have a really fun 8 weeks ahead. For the rest of the NFL, a lot of what we thought we knew is being challenged by some surprising teams, and Week 10’s Sunday slate delivered some of the best games of the season. So where do the Steelers stand in the current NFL landscape? Let’s dive in and take a look. In this week’s edition, I’ll be giving each team a relevant pep talk to motivate them through the remaining 8 weeks of the NFL season.
1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (8-1)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Okay, so the undefeated season dream is over. So what? Now that the monkey is off your backs, get back out there and demolish a bad Colts team on Sunday and remind everyone why you’re the league’s best.
2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (7-2)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You just keep winning, despite injuries and a merely OK defense. The AFC’s 1-Seed is yours if you want it and you know how tough it is for opponents to come to Arrowhead and win in January.
3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-1)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You just added another improbable one-score victory to the record books for 2022, this time against the AFC’s Super Bowl favorite. Beat the Cowboys this week and you might start getting some NFC 1-Seed clout.
4. MIAMI DOLPHINS (7-3)
2nd Half Pep Talk: All of the concerns about your QB’s fit in Mike McDaniel’s offense and his NFL readiness are out the window. Fix your defensive issues on the back-end, and the AFC East could be yours.
5. BUFFALO BILLS (6-3)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You still have Josh Allen, who will climb out of this little funk like he always does, and a top defense that just had a bad week. Hosting a bad Browns team in Week 11 should be the springboard for a major bounce-back.
6. BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-3)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Your division rivals each have more issues than you do, and your defense is getting better every week. With a matchup against the underwhelming Panthers on tap, it’s time to build some offensive momentum for the stretch run.
7. TENNESSEE TITANS (6-3)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You might be the best-coached team in the league, and that gives you a chance every week against any opponent. Also, your division is trash. Enjoy!
8. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (5-4)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You made a big swing for Christian McCaffrey, and the early returns are a Championship-level run game bolstered by a stalwart defense that’s starting to lean into it’s bullying play style. Oh, and a banged-up Arizona team is on deck.
9. DALLAS COWBOYS (6-3)
2nd Half Pep Talk: So the defense had a bad game? No worries! It was bound to happen at some point. That unit matches up well against a surging Vikings squad, and your offense is clicking behind Tony Pollard and CeeDee Lamb. On paper, you’re the better team this week. Prove it.
10. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-4)
2nd Half Pep Talk: It was a tough loss overseas, but it’s a good time for a Bye Week to shake off that jet lag. This season has already been a success with Geno Smith playing like a top 8 QB weekly and a defense that is growing fast. In this year’s NFC, the playoffs are well within reach.
11. CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-4)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Joe Mixon proved more than capable of shouldering more workload with injuries at WR and poor pass-protection making it difficult on your offense. The revenge narrative will work in your favor this week against the Steelers, and your defense is beginning to show signs of the unit that spearheaded a playoff run in 2021.
12. NEW YORK GIANTS (7-2)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You might have the most explosive RB in the entire league in Saquon Barkley, and your defense has outperformed it’s expectations almost weekly. Like so many other NFC squads, if you want a playoff spot bad enough, it’s yours. Just gotta keep winning like you are.
13. NEW YORK JETS (6-3)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You could easily be higher on this list if not for concerns with your 2nd-year signal caller and the still-stinging loss of rookie sensation Breece Hall. Even still, your defense is good enough to keep you in every game, and the offense doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting.
14. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-4)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Keenan Allen’s and Mike William’s returns are so close you can taste it! Their availability should help get Justin Herbert back in MVP form soon, and if that happens, your offense can hang with anyone.
15. GREEN BAY PACKERS (4-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Aaron Rodgers will not go quietly into that good night. Neither will Aaron Jones, who can take over games on the ground when he gets a workhorse load. Beating the surging ‘Boys makes you feel like you can beat anyone.
16. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-5)
2nd Half Pep Talk: If your defense builds off of that showing in Munich, you might have something. Also, your division is the worst in football, so you might not have to do much more to host a playoff game in what NEEDS TO BE Tom Brady’s swan song.
17. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (5-4)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Your running game is top 5 in the league, and you have the greatest defensive coach in football running the show. At 5-4, your in the playoff picture AND you’re only 1.5 games back of 1st place.
18. ATLANTA FALCONS (4-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You should be getting some reinforcements soon on defense, and the running game is still a dominant force in the league. With the Buccaneers only 2 games up in the division and only recently showing signs of life, the playoff pipe dream is still in view.
19. WASHINGTON COMMANDERS (5-5)
2nd Half Pep Talk: YOU JUST TOOK DOWN THE LAST UNDEFEATED TEAM IN THE LEAGUE! Again (See vs. Steelers, 2020). Curtis Samuel and Scary Terry are proving to be a top WR duo in the league, and your highly underrated QB has ice in his veins. Also, you’re only a half game out of a playoff spot right now!
20. ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: There has been a lot of meat left on the bones on both offense and defense so far this year, and if you can put it together, that NFC might let a late bloomer hang around in the playoff picture longer than it should.
21. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-5-1)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Jeff Saturday started his “Silence the Doubters” tour with a “W”, and he is proving already to be a strong motivator and player-friendly presence in the locker room. Your defense is playing well, and Jonathan Taylor just reminded everyone why he was in the MVP conversation in 2021.
22. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (3-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: The schedule is significantly lighter, and you still have 4 division matchups on tap, including Sunday’s 4:25 matchup at home against a Bengals team you’ve already beaten. T.J. Watt showed why he is the heartbeat of the team in his return, and you might get lucky enough to have Minkah Fitzpatrick on the field as early as THIS WEEK after that seemed impossible after his emergency appendectomy on Saturday.
And I haven’t even mentioned a rushing attack that looked juiced against the Saints. If that becomes a real identity and a successful aspect of your offense moving forward, you might be able to make this season more than just a struggle for draft positioning.
23. LOS ANGELES RAMS (3-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You still have 3-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and a perennial All-Pro level CB in Jalen Ramsey on defense. Yes, you’ll need to find some kind of offense with Cooper Kupp likely to miss a couple games at least, but if you do, you’re defense should have better performances ahead than it did against AZ last week.
24. CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Nick Chubb is the best pure runner in football at the RB position, and you’ve shown flashes of a highly efficient passing game to complement that explosive rushing attack. Also, the guy you spent a couple hundred ‘Mil on this offseason to finally fix your ill-fated QB position is slated to return in two weeks.
25. DETROIT LIONS (3-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: We’ve finally seen some defense the last two Sundays, and it’s correlated to winning football against two division rivals. Sure you got slashed by Justin Fields last week (who hasn’t?), but you’ve got some young pieces on Offense and Defense to build around for the future while being competitive for the remainder of this season.
26. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-7)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Your generational QB is starting to settle down and make the routine throws. Every week Trevor Lawrence does 2-3 things that make you nod your head and say, “Yessir! That’s why we drafted him No. 1 Overall!” and the mistakes are getting fewer and farther between. Also, you have THAT DUDE at RB in Travis Etienne.
27. DENVER BRONCOS (3-6)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Despite dealing arguable your best defender in Bradley Chubb to the Dolphins, your Defense is still one of the 3-4 best in football. Plus, it can’t get worse on offense, right? Things are bound to improve at some point.
28. CHICAGO BEARS (3-7)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Justin Fields is the most dynamic player in football! If you had anything on defense, you might be pushing for a playoff spot THIS YEAR.
29. CAROLINA PANTHERS (3-7)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You’re still in the division hunt somehow, and your Brian Burns-led defense has some sizzle to it. Keep pounding!
30. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3-7)
2nd Half Pep Talk: You have other options at QB than Andy Dalton. That’s it. That’s the pep talk.
31. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (2-7)
2nd Half Pep Talk: Derek Carr really, really cares about your team, and he wants to win. Jump on that emotional train and see if you can’t will yourselves to some victories over the last 8 weeks. Just not Christmas Eve in Pittsburgh.
32. HOUSTON TEXANS (1-7-1)
2nd Half Pep Talk: A rookie RB is your best player, but he’s a darn good one. Also, your OL has some people-movers on it. That style of play is fairly competitive in 2022.
Who’s too high? Too low? What did I get right? Let me know about it in the comments section!