Well, well. Week 17 of the NFL's regular season has come and gone and, low and behold, for the first time since 2011 the Pittsburgh Steelers are primed for January football, after the Steelers dispatched the Bengals 27-17. But before the Baltimore Ravens can come to Heinz Field for the third post-season showdown of the Tomlin-era, Steelers Nation must first wrestle with these 5 Burning Questions.
1. The Steelers win over Cincinnati came at a cost, with the hyperextended knee injury to Le'Veon Bell. If you're Mike Tomlin, how do you weigh Bell's importance to the offense vs. the risk of long-term injury?
2. With named Le'Veon Bell as the team's MVP and Martavis Bryants winning the Steelers "Joe Green Great Performance Award" (aka rookie of the year award), who is your choice as the Steelers most-improved player? Improvement can cover any time-span of a player's career as a Steeler.
3. Ed Bouchette took a hash view of the Steelers attempted punt:
That ridiculous fake punt shows how little faith Mike Tomlin has in his defense to hold this 3-point lead— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) December 29, 2014
Mike Tomlin defended the decision this way:
They know that I'm going to be aggressive. They know that I'm going to play to win. They know we are not going to live in our fears. (I'm) thankful to the guys on offense and defense that they backed up that decision.
Whose interpretation do you accept?
4.When asked to evaluate his replacements, veteran Steelers corner Ike Taylor not only praised Brice McCain and Antwon Blake, he pointedly refused to push for more playing time in his conversation with Jim Wexell, explaining:
Just watching these young guys take the challenge and grow, and watching the veteran leadership, they know I've got their back. They know I'm not worried about playing time. They know I'm not worried about coming back. Anything they need, they got from big brother Ike. So they transfer that onto the field, and what helps that is they don't have to look over their shoulder. You can play cornerback just playing comfortable and knowing a 12-year veteran ain't breathing down your neck because he wants to play and everything is good and he's got your back 100 percent. That counts as everything a coach or anybody else has to say. That's the kind of atmosphere I want. And they're reaping. They're reaping.
What do these comments say about both Taylor as a player and the Steelers' locker room culture?
5. In 2008 it was the AFC Championship. In 2010 it was the AFC Divisional Playoff round. Now it's the AFC Wild Card. For the third time since Mike Tomlin donned the headset, the Baltimore Ravens are coming to Heinz Field to play in the post-season. What does this say to you about the trajectory of the historic Steelers-Ravens rivalry?
There you have it folks, let's finish out the 2014 5-Burnings with a Bang! Happy New Year!