Heading into the regular season finale with the division and sixth-seed still undecided, of the five teams the Steelers could have faced in the first round of the playoffs, perhaps the scariest one of all was their AFC North Rivals, the Baltimore Ravens.
But with the Chargers playing in Kansas City in yet another "win and in" Week 17 contest vs. the Chiefs, no way would Baltimore get the help it needed to sneak into the postseason and renew the now-storied rivalry that most people have labeled "The Best in the NFL."
Of course, San Diego lost and the Ravens won, as did the Steelers. So now it's going to be yet another heated post-season matchup between these two teams at Heinz Field - the fourth such contest in said venue since January of 2002.
In my opinion, facing Baltimore in the first round is the best thing to happen for the Steelers, because there's no way they can overlook their top opponent, the team that could not only knock them out of the playoffs, but also damage their pride the most.
James Harrison destroyed the Baltimore Ravens.
It's one thing to fear being knocked out of the post-season, but it's quite another to also NOT want to have it happen at the hands of a particular team. As a Steelers fan, I know losing to Baltimore in January is the last thing I'd want to see happen. And if I have that emotion, I'd imagine the players themselves are feeling it doubly.
As weird as it is to say, facing a team like the Texans at home, with a quarterback like Case Keenum, while it might not have been a trap-game, it would probably have been the closest a post-season game could have come. Yes, J.J. Watt still would have been menacing, and he's probably the best player at his position in the NFL right now. But it still would have been hard to not look past Houston and ahead to the Broncos in the divisional round.
That won't happen now that it's a special January episode of "Ravens Week."
Forget about a seventh Lombardi for a moment and think about what a victory this Saturday would mean to this organization. Not only would it knock out Pittsburgh's main foe, it would sort of validate the 2014 season to its fullest extent. That might seem weird to say, considering Steelers fans have a one-track mind when it comes to Super Bowls, but who really could have predicted Pittsburgh would be in this position after missing the playoffs two straight years and starting 3-3 in this one?
To get to this point is pretty remarkable as it stands, but to knock off the Ravens once again in the post-season? Dare I say, it would all be gravy after that?
The Steelers have a chance to give us something we haven't experienced in almost exactly four years, and that's the euphoric feeling that comes with winning a playoff game.
It's still up in the air as to whether Le'Veon Bell will play this Saturday, thanks to the hyperextended knee he sustained in the victory over the Bengals on Sunday night, and that certainly could alter the outcome. But of all the teams to face without your star running back, wouldn't the Ravens, with a defense usually great against the run (and one that finished the regular season fourth, according to ESPN.com) be ideal? Don't get me wrong, the threat of Bell would be something Baltimore will have to respect if he plays. And when healthy, he can certainly beat a team in many more ways than Josh Harris or Dri Archer--denying the effect of missing a legit NFL MVP candidate would be foolish on any fan's part. But like most playoff games, Saturday night will come down to quarterback play, and if you still have a gun to fire in Ben Roethlisberger, and a target for him to hit in Antonio Brown (like Bell, two of the very best at their respective positions in 2014), you have to like the home team's chances.
Even at 11-5 and riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak and a stretch of eight victories in 10 games, dreaming about the Super Bowl just seems kind of crazy right now.
All I want for New Year's is a victory over the Ravens in the wildcard round.
I don't know about you, but I certainly won't be looking beyond this Saturday night.