The Steelers are back in the win column after a Monday Night Football victory over the Indianapolis Colts. I said last week that the Steelers are a team that, when healthy, is good enough to beat other mediocre squads and at least play competitively with better teams. Every week, there are enough self-inflicted wounds to sink the ship, and against quality opponents it is often too much to overcome. Against a team like the Colts, however, the defensive talent and growing offense can do just enough to bring home wins.
Luckily for the Steelers, they play 4 more of those mediocre squads over the last 6 weeks. I’m not so sure the Steelers’ other opponent, the Baltimore Ravens whom they’ll play twice, isn’t in that category as well after struggling in recent weeks. All that to say Pittsburgh’s record could look better than the team actually is come season’s end, although it still likely nets them a 3rd place finish in the division and outside the playoff picture.
As for the rest of the AFC, here’s how I see it playing out the rest of the way in each divisional race. Note that this is not a ranking of who’s best in the conference.
The Chiefs look like they might be the best team in the entire league, and it all goes back to Patrick Mahomes and that KC offense that can win in a myriad of ways, even if they struggle for stretches. They only need decent play on defense to make it all work.
Despite currently sitting in 2nd place in the division, I just trust this Bills squad to be there at the top when all is said and done. Josh Allen is slowly coming out of his funk, and the defense, though maybe not as good as we thought it might be to start the season, still nicely rounds out the most balanced team in the NFL. With 4 division contests still to play, the Bills control their destiny.
The Bengals are starting to round into Super Bowl contender form again, but this year, their showing they can win in shootouts with high-flying offense or in slug-fests with tough defense. They’re the most complete team in the AFC North, despite sitting behind the Ravens in the standings currently. The schedule isn’t easy with the Chiefs, Bills, Patriots, and Ravens still on tap over the final 6 weeks, but we’ll know what this Bengals team is come January. I’m betting they’re in the mix in a big way.
The Titans are built to out-muscle and out-coach you, even if you have an overall talent advantage. Sure, they got beat at their own game vs Cincy in Week 12, but who’s going to catch them in that division? The Jaguars are playing better and are the biggest threat to the Titans crown with 2 matchups still on tap, but I really believe this team is going to be a factor in January because they’re just worse than everyone else.
Miami could still win the East, but their schedule is pretty unforgiving down the stretch, and the defense still has enough issues to cause a couple hiccups. However, I think Miami finishes as the first Wild Card team, and nobody will want to play this high-flying offense in the playoffs. Miami is as dangerous as they come in the AFC.
The Ravens schedule is pretty soft if you look at opponent record. However, with 4 division games yet to play and the offense looking shaky at best in recent weeks, there should be some cause for concern in the Charm City. I still like this team to slide into a Wild Card slot and be a tough out for a division winner, but I don’t think the Ravens really scare anybody right now, especially on offense.
The Chargers are one of the more difficult evaluations this season, but their QB is starting to play like he is healthy and back on track. Herbert gives you a chance every week, and other than hosting the Dolphins and Titans in weeks 14 & 15, the Bolts won’t play another team currently above .500. If they can get healthier on defense, watch out for LA.
The Jaguars should finish in 2nd in the AFC South with the Colts and Texans continuing their downward slides. They probably aren’t the 8th best team in the AFC though, as both the Jets and Patriots in the East are better squads, but will likely finish in the bottom 2 slots of their more competitive division. These aren’t your October Jaguars though. This is the team nobody we’ve already mentioned wants to face during a late-season playoff push.
Despite predicting the Jets to come in 3rd in the East, this team could ride it’s defense to a playoff berth if Baltimore or LAC falters down the stretch. At 7-4, the young Jets have exceeded expectations and are riding high after making a QB change from Zach Wilson to Mike White. This squad has a playoff caliber defense, and if the offense plays more like it did last week against Chicago (big caveat there), a Wild Card spot is in play.
The Steelers are not a playoff caliber team in 2022. However, they seem to have reversed a long-standing issue in the Mike Tomlin era of playing down to lesser opponents. The last couple years, the Steelers have played well against equal or worse competition, but have struggled to compete against favored squads. Think Kansas City and Cincinnati in 2021, and Buffalo and Philadelphia this year. This feels like a Steelers team that will win 4 of it’s last 6 to get to 8-9, hand Mike T his first losing season, and miss out on both the playoffs and a top 10 draft pick. Sounds pretty depressing right? Maybe not, if we continue to see some of the impressive growth we’ve seen from the team’s young offensive talent the last few weeks.
The Raiders are better than their record. It’s as simple as that. They’ve given up double-digit leads in 4 games this season and have lost a whopping 6 games by one score. The offense is very hot and cold, and the defense struggles in the secondary. That all covers up an All-Pro level season from Maxx Crosby on the EDGE. Thinking the Steelers will have their hands full on Christmas Eve with this “Raiduhs” squad.
The Colts are bad on offense and ok on defense. For a team with high offseason aspirations after bringing in what they thought was a big upgrade at QB in Matt Ryan to join a team that was loaded on both lines, disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe Indy’s 2022 season. A tough 3-week stretch upcoming against the Cowboys, Vikings, and Chargers in Weeks 13-15. A 5-game losing streak going back to Week 11 is a high probability for Indy.
If this scenario holds true, the Patriots could end up being one of the best 4th place teams ever! With 7 teams making the playoffs, whoever loses the AFC East could still end up with a playoff spot when it’s all said and done. That’s crazy!
Deshaun Watson will start against his former team this week, but I have serious doubts that he makes the Browns better for the remainder of the season. We’re talking about a QB who hasn’t played football in two years essentially. With the Browns other concerns on defense, it just feels like a very Cleveland last-place AFC North finish is in store.
It’s a huge drop off even from the Browns to these last two teams. The Broncos are bad. Really bad. A dumpster-fire. Things are bleak at Mile High.
The Texans are the NFL’s worst team, let alone their own division’s. With the 1st overall pick essentially locked up, Houston fans (legit question: are there any?) can start to get pumped about the Bryce Young era.
So what do we think, Steelers Nation? Let me know in the comments below! As always, go Steelers!