The Steelers are winners of their last 3 out of 4 since their Week 9 Bye. It’s been fun to watch a young cast of playmakers develop together and start to click. It all starts up front with the much-maligned Offensive Line finally finding some push, leading a resurgent rushing attack that has brought balance and consistency to the offense.
On defense, even a less-than-100% T.J. Watt is a presence that opposing offenses can’t ignore, and it allows the rest of the unit to play more effectively, especially in the secondary where Levi Wallace and Minkah Fitzpatrick have feasted on opposing passers’ errant throws under pressure.
It’s all leading to a final 5 weeks with, surprisingly after their rough start, a lot on the line for Pittsburgh. The playoffs aren’t out of the picture by any means, although the Steelers would need some help to get in. At 5-7. Mike Tomlin’s chances at earning another winning season are getting better as well. The Steelers remaining schedule includes the Ravens twice, the Carolina Panthers, the Las Vegas Raiders, and Cleveland 2.0 to close out the season.
As for the rest of the league, parity reigns supreme. In the AFC, 5 squads, including Pittsburgh, are within 2 games of the final playoff spot currently held by the New York Jets at 7-5. The NFC sits in a similar state, with the current 11th place team (Green Bay, 5-8) only 2 games back of the current 7th seed (Seattle, 7-5). It’s going to be a dog fight for the Wild Card as we enter the heart of the stretch run.
So let’s reset the NFL landscape for the final 5 weeks. Where do the Steelers land? Who’s looking good for the playoffs? Let’s dive into it!
1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (11-1)
Analysis: The Eagles can beat you every different way. Jalen Hurts is on an MVP trajectory. The defense forces turnovers. They’ve got championship-level starting talent, depth, and coaching. What more could you ask for from the league’s best team?
2. DALLAS COWBOYS (9-3)
Analysis: The Cowboys are flying higher on offense over the last 5 games than anyone. They are averaging a beyond ridiculous 39.8 points/game in that stretch. The defense continues to be Championship level. This is the Eagles biggest competition right now for the number 1 spot.
3. BUFFALO BILLS (9-3)
Analysis: The Bills have pulled themselves out of their relative slump in November and are starting to show again why they were the consensus top Super Bowl choice in the AFC. They remain the red conference’s best team through 13 weeks. A brutal closing schedule will tell us all we need to know about this Bills team for January.
4. CINCINNATI BENGALS (8-4)
Analysis: Nobody east of central Texas is playing better team football than the Bengals over the last 3 weeks. The defense is one of the most technically sound units in the league. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line has improved drastically since October and Joe Burrow and company are proving to everyone that 2021 wasn’t a fluke. The Queen City Cats are here to stay.
5. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-3)
Analysis: A tough loss to the Bengals in Week 13 is concerning, mostly because KC can’t solve the Cincy riddle in their most recent 3 attempts. But take away a couple of rare miscues by Chiefs stars, and we’d be talking about this KC team as potentially the best squad in the AFC, if not the league.
6. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-2)
Analysis: The Vikings continue to flirt with mediocrity for quarters at a time. But when it counts, this team really believes it can win. The Vikings win more close games than any team in the league. A talent that bodes well for January football.
7. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (8-4)
Analysis: The loss of Jimmy G for 7-8 weeks with a broken foot sustained in their most recent impressive victory over the next team on this list. The prospects of not having Garoppolo for the remainder of the season and the first two weeks of postseason play dampen the overall trajectory of this squad, but make no mistake, Kyle Shanahan’s group is still a force to be reckoned with on Sundays.
8. MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-4)
Analysis: The Dolphins fell short in a closer-than-the-final-score-indicated game against San Fran. It remains to be seen if Tua Tagovailoa can hang with the big dogs in December and January, and early indications weren’t that great. This team still has plenty of talent and good coaching to be a contender as the season rolls towards completion.
9. TENNESSEE TITANS (7-5)
Analysis: The Titans are showing that they are in a different class from the upper echelon of the league, but they are still squarely in the playoff picture and should run away with the AFC South still despite their recent struggles. They’ll need more from Derrick Henry and that running game though if they want to surprise a Giant.
10. NEW YORK JETS (7-5)
Analysis: The Jets under Mike White are fun to watch. The offense is starting to match the defense’s weekly energy, and Garrett Wilson is a true difference maker on the outside with competent play behind center. Robert Saleh has built a championship level defense. Can this young team keep it together through the last 5 weeks to secure their first playoff spot since 2010?
11. BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-4)
Analysis: This record is one of the more inflated ones in the league, with Baltimore regularly looking sluggish on offense against mediocre and bad teams, but managing to win close games with coaching and defense. The injury bug is back to work in the Charm City as well, and an extended absence for Lamar Jackson with the Steelers (2x), Browns, Falcons, and Bengals all still on tap is concerning for a team that 30 days ago looked like a shoo-in division winner in the North.
12. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-5)
Analysis: The Seahawks just keep winning. They’re not flashy. They don’t do any one thing extraordinarily well, but they have really taken on the mentality of their head coach, and Pete Carroll has to be having the time of his life watching Geno Smith turn into the perfect system QB. It’s not all roses, but continuing to feed DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett down the stretch will be vital if Kenneth Walker and the run game can’t improve quickly.
13. DETROIT LIONS (5-7)
Analysis: You may think this is way too high for the 5-7 Lions, but who can’t they beat right now? The defense is finally coming together and is at least playing competently, while the offense is one of the most balanced, yet explosive units in the league with Swift and Williams spearheading a potent ground attack and Jared Goff channeling 2018 type production. Mark it down now, this team will make the playoffs.
14. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (6-6)
Analysis: The Chargers might be the most baffling team in the entire NFL. They obviously have a real star at QB, and it’s not like the rest of the team is a bunch of scrubs. Playmakers abound on both sides of the ball. But they just can’t get out of their own way in 2022. “Chargers gonna Charger” is about as bankable as cash money. If they can ever figure it out, watch out NFL. It may not happen under Brandon Staley.
15. WASHINGTON COMMANDERS (7-5-1)
Analysis: Tyler Heinecke is a competitor. He’s not especially good at quarterbacking, but somehow he’s one of the more built-for-big-moments signal callers in the league. A truly disappointing tie against the Giants is a setback, albeit a minor one. I just don’t trust that this team can really be a threat in Playoff football.
16. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-6)
Analysis: The Patriots run game has tapered in recent weeks, which isn’t a good thing considering the team’s struggles at QB, where Mac Jones continues to look like a shell of his Pro-Bowl Rookie self. The defense is still solid, but they’re going to need more than that to hang in the playoff picture with several teams behind them playing better football recently.
17. NEW YORK GIANTS (7-4-1)
Analysis: The Giants just don’t impress me that much. I think every Power Rankings I mention how fun Saquon Barkley is for this team (or my fantasy teams, more like it). Outside of Saquon, the defense isn’t that good and Daniel Jones and his limited cast of weapons on the outside don’t inspire confidence in the team as a playoff contender.
18. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (5-7)
Analysis: Don’t look now but this Steelers team has an identity. They will ride, dare I say, a dominant running game and efficient, chain-moving passing attack back to relevancy in 2022. They may already be there, and as you can see by my ranking of this team, I think they are. Are they a real contender? Not this year. Too young with too much growing to do. But I’d challenge you to find a team below the Steelers in this ranking that you’d say should definitely be ahead of them. In fact who above them outside the top 8 or so teams could the Steelers definitely not beat playing the way they’re playing right now? I don’t see really anybody fitting that description. With a healthy TJ Watt all year, I think we’d be looking at an 8-4 or 7-5 team with serious playoff aspirations.
19. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-6)
Analysis: The Buccaneers are officially the best of the worst after their ugly and improbable victory over the slightly uglier Saints, who had a chance to let everybody in the NFC South back into the division race with a win on Monday Night. The Bucs just don’t look right on offense, and despite improved defensive play in recent weeks, nothing about this team inspires any confidence that this group isn’t a one and done squad come January.
20. ATLANTA FALCONS (5-8)
Analysis: The Falcons continue to fall in the standings with disappointing and potentially avoidable losses in consecutive weeks. Looking at the 2nd half of their loss to Pittsburgh, one could easily see Atlanta taking home a W if they would have prioritized the run in the 1st half where they had a measly 6 attempts for a solid 28 yards. This Falcons team could be special on the ground if they would stay committed even in negative game script situations. Playoffs are looking less and less likely for an Atlanta team that had division title aspirations not long ago.
21. GREEN BAY PACKERS (5-8)
Analysis: The Packers still have Aaron Rodgers and the emergence of Christian Watson has been exactly what the doctor ordered for an offense that has appeared stuck for much of 2022. The Pack are on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now, and with a tough 4 matchups remaining may miss the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
22. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (5-7)
Analysis: Watch out for the Raiders. Even in the terrible start to the season, it always felt like this team was too talented on offense and along the front 7 on defense to be that bad. Those offensive weapons are playing out of their minds currently, with Josh Jacobs entering the conversation as the best RB in football, and Davante Adams re-cementing himself as the league’s most explosive wideout. The Steelers host this team on Christmas Eve. It would’ve sounded crazy 4 weeks ago, but that battle could end up being for a playoff spot.
23. CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-7)
Analysis: Game 1 of the Deshaun Watson experiment went about how I thought it would, with Watson looking like a QB who hadn’t played for 2 years. It didn’t matter against the moribund Texans, with the Browns defense and special teams units contributing 3 TDs towards a Browns win. Cleveland still probably feels like they can finish strong this season. If they do indeed finish strong in 2022, it’ll be because this team is well balanced on both sides of the ball, not because Deshaun regains his elite status.
24. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-8)
Analysis: A big Week 12 win over Baltimore was quickly overshadowed by a monster beatdown at the hands of the Detroit Lions. Yeah, the Lions made the Jags look like they didn’t belong on the field. Trevor Lawrence didn’t play awful, but the blame really rests on the defense, which has steadily regressed this season. To start the year, the Jaguars looked like they might have one of the better front 7s in the entire league. They’ve been playing like one of the worst in recent weeks.
25. ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-8)
Analysis: What to think about these Cardinals. They’re like the anti-Vikings: in almost every game, but can’t close out those tight contests in the 4th quarter. Whether it’s getting in their own way with penalties and poor execution for just getting outclassed by the other team, the Cardinals have a lot of introspection to do this offseason. Kliff Kingsbury’s seat is getting warm too, despite getting an offseason extension in 2022.
26. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-8-1)
Analysis: I feel bad for Jeff Saturday. The experiment started out with a bang, but has steadily devolved into the mess it currently is. Against the Steelers in Week 12 on the primetime stage, the moment was too big for him. Against the Cowboys in Week 13, the entire Colts team was blindsided by unpreparedness, giving up an unreal 33 points to Dallas in 11 minutes of game time in the 4th quarter. This team has more issues than their inexperienced head coach, but those issues are exacerbated by that whole situation. Rough year for Colts fans.
27. CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-8)
Analysis: The Panthers find themselves afloat in the NFC South behind Sam Darnold and improved play across the board. It’s probably not enough, even in the ugly South, but at least Steve Wilks’ squad plays tough every week, despite being fairly talent-poor on both sides of the ball.
28. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (4-9)
Analysis: The Saints have to be disappointed in their campaign. I had no big expectations for NO in the offseason, despite them having a decent-sized group of supporters in the media. They’re a total mess on offense with Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston at QB. They can’t get Alvin Kamara going, and the defense, although good, hasn’t been elite enough to make up for the offense’s deficiencies.
29. CHICAGO BEARS (3-10)
Analysis: The Bears might be the most explosive and fun to watch 3-10 team ever. Justin Fields is that dude for 2022 and beyond. It’s time for that front office to start thinking about why they gave the Steelers their, now very high, 2023 2nd Round Draft pick for Chase Claypool, who hasn’t done really anything for “Da Bears” since arriving in town. The defense might be the league’s worst. Maybe start there, GM Ryan Poles.
30. LOS ANGELES RAMS (3-9)
Analysis: In a lost season for the Rams, Sean McVay has to be wondering why he gave up the cozy broadcaster job to come back to this mess. You won’t see much more, if any, of the Rams stars for the remainder of the season with Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp still recovering from injuries. You’ve got to wonder what kind of shakeup we’ll see out in LA this offseason.
31. DENVER BRONCOS (3-9)
Analysis: The Broncos might be the worst situation in all of football with major financial issues compounding talent and coaching issues on the offensive side of the ball. The Broncos defenders have every right to be absolutely torqued about the ineptitude of the offense. The Broncos have a lot of decisions to make, and the time for those decisions is approaching very, very quickly.
32. HOUSTON TEXANS (1-10-1)
Analysis: Houston will draft a QB with the first overall pick. They’ll need far more than that to be anything more than a footnote again in 2023. The Texans are drowning in a sea of ineptitude and cluelessness we haven’t seen since the Hugh Jackson era in Cleveland.