Early season struggles are nothing new for Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and 2017 was not different after losing to the Bears in Week 3, and the Jaguars in Week 5, but when all seemed lost, the Steelers found a way to right the ship.
Anchored by Le’Veon Bell and a tremendous power running game, the Steelers have won back-to-back games against very big opponents. The win in Week 6 over the Chiefs gave them the head-to-head tie breaker in the AFC Standings, and the Week 7 win over the Bengals put some serious distance between Pittsburgh and the rest of the divisional field.
Throw in the fact no one, not even the Patriots, has run away within the conference, the Steelers sit atop the standings as the best of the bunch heading into Week 8.
Check out the current AFC standings:
Pittsburgh Steelers - 5-2
Kansas City Chiefs - 5-2
New England Patriots - 5-2
Buffalo Bills - 4-2
Miami Dolphins - 4-2
Tennessee Titans - 4-3
Jacksonville Jaguars - 4-3
Denver Broncos - 3-3
Houston Texans - 3-3
The goal for the Steelers has always been to claim the top seed and force teams to come to Heinz Field to get to Super Bowl 52, after a much needed bye week. After all, the Steelers typically play markedly better at home compared to on the road, this seems to be especially true for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As stated earlier, there was a time this season when this goal seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream, but my what two weeks difference makes in this scenario.
Now, the Steelers look at their 9 remaining games left on the schedule, and they aren’t just predominantly at Heinz Field, but they are against teams who will also be vying for AFC dominance. No game looms larger than the Week 15 game against the Patriots at Heinz Field, but the Week 11 game vs. the Titans and the Week 16 game against the Texans could all be pivotal matchups in terms of the AFC Playoff picture. Let’s not forget the three remaining AFC North games, and the table is set for the Steelers to do what everyone expected of them coming into the 2017 regular season.
However, let’s not assume this will be an easy road for Pittsburgh. Despite the team trending in the right direction, fans of the team have seen the drop offs be precipitous throughout Tomlin’s tenure with the team. If this team truly wants to be considered the best-of-the-best in the AFC, a big-time winning streak, like the one they had when they ended the 2016 regular season, will be a necessity.
Ultimately it will be different for the Steelers to play from the front of the pack, and not in chase mode. It is a good problem to have, but to keep the standings the way they are, from a rankings perspective, let downs cannot happen. The table may be set, but taking care of business won’t be an easy task.
Time to take it one game at a time, and the next opponent is the Lions, and Matthew Stafford, in Week 8.