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The Steelers have reached the crux of their season vs. the Bengals in Week 11

The result of Sunday’s game may well determine the outcome of the 2022 season for Pittsburgh.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers Week 10 win over the New Orleans Saints changed the outlook for their 2022 season. With the improvement to 3-6, the Steelers currently sit just 2 games out of a playoff spot in the AFC if the season ended today. It does not, obviously, but for Pittsburgh, where they end up when the NFL regular season wraps up on January 8th might very well be decided this week with the result of Sunday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-4).

Pittsburgh emerged victorious in a wild Week 1 clash with Cincy, thanks to a massive defensive performance that almost singlehandedly decided the game. In Week 11, the Steelers should be back to full strength on that side of the ball for the first time since that game. The offense is coming off it’s best performance of the season, specifically in the run game. Efficiency, extended drives, and mistake-free play have rarely been the story for that unit in 2022, but that’s exactly what the Steelers got against New Orleans. This team is fired up and ready to play for more than draft positioning and pride. They want to go on a run.

The question is: are the Steelers good enough in 2022 to reach that goal? The majority of concerns are rightly with the offense, which has consistently struggled to produce winning-level results on a weekly basis. The good news is the schedule has lightened up considerably, and the Bengals game is the first of 4 more divisional matchups in the last 8 games. Even at 3-6, the Steelers control their own destiny.

The result of Week 11 is a bona fide litmus test for the potential of this Steelers team. A 2nd win against the Bengals would show that the Black & Gold can hang with one of the AFC’s best rosters. It would also bump them to 4-6 on the season with games against the Colts (4-5-1), Falcons (4-6), Panthers (3-7), Raiders (2-7), and Browns (3-6) to go along with 2 bouts with the AFC North-leading Ravens. A win this week would make you feel pretty good about the Steelers’ chances in each of those matchups. In fact, 9 or 10 wins starts to look like an actual, achievable goal.

With a loss on Sunday, even a close one, a record of 3-7 looks pretty daunting and, for a team that has struggled consistently all season, too much to overcome in the pursuit of relevance. It also means this team is probably what we thought they were going into their bye: too many pieces away from being able to really compete in 2022. A loss would almost certainly spell the end of Mike Tomlin’s famous 15 seasons at .500 or better record streak.

As it stands, 10 AFC squads hold a better record than Pittsburgh. Of those teams, only six have three or fewer losses. In a weird season where teams are scoring less and defense’s are controlling games more, the Steelers are still right in the thick of things. According to The Upshot’s playoff chance simulator via The NY Times, the Steelers would only have a 6% chance of making the playoffs with a loss on Sunday, even if they won all but one of their final seven games. That number jumps up to a whopping 80% with a win.

So for Pittsburgh, the stakes are high on Sunday as they look to make an improbable sweep of the rival Bengals at 4:35pm at Acrisure Stadium. My heart tells me that the Steelers can make more of this season than their current record would indicate that could. My gut, however, is more inclined to believe that the Steelers just aren’t quite that team in 2022.

What are your thoughts? Can the Steelers do the impossible? Is a win against the Bengals more likely than one might think? Let me know in the comments below. As always, check out more from BTSC about the upcoming matchup, including our staff picks and all the analysis you need to stay up-to-date with the Black & Gold.