With their Week 16 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers have punched their ticket to the AFC Playoffs. Despite a meaningless Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, it’s time to start looking at the potential playoff matchups awaiting the Black and Gold. Although nothing is set in stone yet, there’s a strong chance that the Steelers’ road to the AFC Championship game could feature opponents fielding nothing but backup quarterbacks.
Currently, the Steelers are slated to play the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card round at Heinz Field. Although the Dolphins possibly could move to the No. 5 spot in the AFC Playoff Picture, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll beat the New England Patriots while the Kansas City Chiefs lose to the San Diego Chargers in Week 17, exactly the scenario which would have to unfold for the Dolphins to move up in the playoff picture.
With that said, it seems like a safe bet to say the Dolphins are headed to the Steel City for the first round of the playoffs. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been out for the past two weeks after spraining his knee and, although the team remains optimistic he’ll be back in the lineup, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see Matt Moore play the remainder of their season and the playoffs.
Needless to say, Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill aren’t close to being the same quarterback from a skill standpoint. This would present a big advantage for the Steelers’ defense at home against a backup quarterback.
If the Steelers are so fortunate as to escape the first round of the playoffs, there’s a chance they could be traveling to Oakland to play the Raiders. If the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Chargers and the Raiders lose to the Denver Broncos in Week 17, that scenario would have Pittsburgh traveling to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs.
However, if the Raiders beat the Broncos, they will clinch the No. 2 seed, and a home game, but instead of facing Derek Carr, the Steelers would face backup Matt McGloin because Carr broke his leg in Week 16 on Christmas Eve.
The Raiders are a team built around the talents of Carr, who was an MVP candidate before his injury. So playing McGloin, like Moore, would also present an advantage for the Steelers’ defense, despite the fact Pittsburgh hasn’t won in Oakland since 1995.
If the Steelers win that game, they’d be heading to the AFC Championship game, likely to play the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. I realize there are a lot of “ifs” in the above scenarios but, just like in 2015 when the Steelers’ murderer’s row of games turned into a slate of backup quarterbacks, karma could be on the Steelers’ side if they’re able to take advantage of these backup signal callers in their quest to win their 7th Super Bowl championship in team history.
Either way, if the Steelers play up to their potential, it wouldn’t matter whether they were facing the starters or backups, as they should be able to take care of business.