As I write this, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are going head-to-head in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs. Despite not having a rooting interest in the game, I can’t help but watch and wonder if the Pittsburgh Steelers could have gotten into the postseason if they could have done some damage.
You know, actually won a playoff game?
We all know it’s been since 2016 since the Steelers were victorious in a playoff game, and if the New York Jets could have helped punch the Steelers’ ticket to the Wild Card round, would they have been able to win a game?
Before talking about the matchup the Steelers would have faced, how can you not look at how the Steelers finished the season and make that a large part of this discussion. The Steelers finished the season 9-8, and at one time were 2-6. Winners of 7 of their last 9 games, the team was as hot as anyone could expect.
Offensively, the team was running the ball with a vigor which hasn’t been seen since the Le’Veon Bell days, and the fact Kenny Pickett’s game had shown serious progress since Week 10 had fans optimistic about their chances.
Defensively, the Steelers hadn’t surrendered more than 17 points in a game since the Week 11 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Acrisure Stadium where they gave up 37 points. They became ball hawks in the secondary, tallying 20 total interceptions on the season. On top of that, the Steelers were getting after the quarterback with T.J. Watt finally starting to regain some of his previous form.
In other words, the Steelers were playing their best football at the right time. But, could they have actually beaten their opponent in the Wild Card?
If the Miami Dolphins would have lost to Joe Flacco, it would have had the Steelers with a rematch of their Week 5 game vs. the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, NY. Yes, the first start of Kenny Pickett’s career, and the shellacking which ended in a 38-3 final score.
Could the Steelers go into Buffalo and beat the Bills?
As was evident in Week 1 of the 2021 season, anything can happen, but the game in Buffalo would have been a challenge, to say the least. While the Steelers’ defense was playing well, could the offense had kept pace with the high-flying Bills? Sure, the defense held opponents off 17 points, but the offense averaged just over 20 points since their bye week. Would they be able to make enough plays? Would Pickett be able to prove his steady, and continual, growth when the games mean the most?
While it’s not out of the realm of possibility, I would likely bet against it. The game would provide valuable experience for the Steelers’ young players, but the thought of them going into Buffalo, which will be even more charged than usual after Damar Hamlin visited the team’s facility Saturday, seems like it would be a long shot.
I guess this is what teams who don’t make the playoffs do...they delve into shouldas, couldas, and what ifs. As my father used to tell me when I would bring up similar topics regarding the Steelers as a kid, “That’s loser talk right there.”
He’s right...and I’m still talking about it.
(Note: The Letter From the Editor article runs every Sunday during the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason.)