Top Three Storylines that Might Affect the Steelers
- There is no “might” about it. This one will affect the Steelers: defensive end and central cog Cameron Heyward is out for the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle against the Cowboys Sunday evening. Expect to see a healthy dose of off-season free-agent acquisition Ricardo Mathews, though the team could rotate him with rookie Javon Hargrave and even gentle giant Dan McCullers, who had himself a nice game Sunday despite limited snaps.
- Offer void in the state of Texas. I’ve been saying it most of the season, but I think it’s time for everyone else to finally admit the Cowboys are as good as they seem. That’s important for the Steelers this week, because Dallas takes on Baltimore Sunday, and could give back a little of what they stole from the Steelers by beating the Ravens. They’ve already beaten the Bengals and the Browns — but, really, who hasn’t? — so at least they stand a great chance of completely nullifying the Steelers’ loss by beating the Ravens.
- Don’t laugh, this is serious. The Dolphins head to Los Angeles this week to take on the Rams, and it could have a far-reaching effect on the AFC playoffs. Yes, that’s as weird for me to type as it is for you to read. At 5-4, Miami is two games out of a wildcard spot and could, with help, sneak in the back door. That could end up being at the Steelers’ expense, thanks to the Dolphins getting the head-to-head win in a game that feels like it was a year ago by now. To get there, of course, any two of Kansas City, Oakland and Denver will have to lose quite a few games in the final seven weeks of the season, but stranger things have happened. For Miami, the cross-country trip is likely to have a significant effect on the players.
Best Game of the Week with No Hypocycloids
New Orleans @ Carolina
This game wins by default, somehow. A week after some of the best football games we’ve seen all year, we get the treat of watching a 4-5 team go on the road to face a 3-6 team, and it’s the best game on. Truth be told, games between these two teams aren’t always pretty, but they are usually hard-fought. And, by some strange force of magic (or maybe it’s just that the NFC is almost universally terrible this year), the 3-6 Panthers are just 2.5 games out of the final wildcard spot in the NFC.
Jacksonville @ Detroit
Does anyone outside of downtown Detroit even care about this game? I’m pretty sure the Jaguars’ fans have given up at this point — yes, all six of them — and Detroit may be the least inspiring division leader in NFL history outside of the AFC South. But at least I got to make a terrible Wizard of Oz joke.
Five Pointless Points
- Long-time Dallas starting quarterback Tony Romo, who has missed the entire season so far due to a broken back, has all but conceded the starting job to rookie Dak Prescott. Prescott’s season has been spectacular, and it’s the right path forward for the fascinating 2016 Cowboys, but it’s a tough break for a guy who I always felt got more than his fair share of the blame, and not nearly enough of the credit. It does, however, create an opportunity for a team in need of a one-year transitional quarterback to work under what may still be a very capable passer. Buyers could include Los Angeles, Cleveland and Arizona.
- The Steelers are well represented with two of this year’s 26 Hall-of-Fame semi-finalists. Former wide receiver Hines Ward makes the list in his first year of eligibility, and former guard Alan Faneca makes the list for the second time. Ward raised the physicality bar for receivers to new heights, and Faneca was pretty much universally considered to be neck and neck for the best guard in the league throughout his career, along with Steve Hutchinson.
- Track back to this week’s Dolphins game for a moment. It’s possible the Steelers’ loss to Miami wasn’t as pathetic as it first seemed, as they have not lost since that game. They clammed up early on, but rookie head coach Adam Gase seems to be righting the sinking ship, as the teem is no longer floundering. They are holding their own over the last month rather than just treading water. That’s a lot of aquatic puns, sorry. I didn’t do it on porpoise. Okay, I reely I did...just for the halibut.
- Good news for fans: the NFL is doing away with it’s minimum-resale-price policy on tickets. The policy prevented ticket resellers (StubHub, etc.) from selling tickets for less than face value. That means bargain hunters may finally be able to find decent seats for considerably less than they have paid in the past. For Browns fans, this means they may actually be able to turn a profit on the tickets, as they can make back all of the lower purchase price and then some by foregoing the pain of attending the game and selling the tickets as scrap paper to recycling companies.
- Fun with numbers: The Browns seem likely to lose their 11th game of the season, as they will be facing a very angry and humbled Steelers team that’s a double-digit road favorite. Contrast that to the NFC East, where the four teams have combined for 11 losses. Additional fun with numbers: Vontaze Burfict is still the league-leading jagoff.