No one's really complaining about a 7-4 record. At least not yet.
There is a 7-4 team in second place of the AFC North. There's also a 7-4 team in last place in the AFC North. It's the Ricky Bobby Division, practically; if you're not first, you're last. No team can just simply go get a beer and dig a hole.
With the bye-weeks all gone and Cincinnati's tie with Carolina being the only thing establishing a division leader, there are five games to go for all four teams, and in those five games, they'll all play at least one division game (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati play twice, Baltimore and Cleveland play once). It's high-time the winners of the AFC North separate themselves in what could end up being the most competitive division in NFL history.
It has been the best in terms of records through 12 weeks, becoming the first division in league history to have every team at least three games over .500. It clinched that with a sweep last weekend - Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati all won while Pittsburgh was idle. It could sweep again this weekend too, reaching plus-four game territory.
The Steelers are painfully aware of blown opportunities against teams everyone else in the division will beat. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers represent the only NFC South team to beat a team outside their own division. They accomplished that with a 27-24 upset over the Steelers in Week 4. It's one of two wins for the Buccaneers this season. They also lost to the New York Jets, another two-win team. Losses to the Ravens and Browns bracket those and appear to be more acceptable in the grand scheme, but only intensify the rear-view mirror perspective of bad losses to bad teams.
It's in the past, though, and it only makes these final five games, starting Sunday in Pittsburgh against the New Orleans Saints, that much more important.
"We've got to put together a stretch of football like we've never played before," Roethlisberger said, according to ESPN's Scott Brown. "That's what we're preparing to do."
This is the time of the season when contenders rise. For the best teams in the game, the season starts in Week 12. Begin playing the best football your team will play, then get into the post-season one way or another and make noise there. Plenty of wild card teams have gotten hot at the end of the year and have gone on deep playoff runs.
The attitude Roethlisberger mentioned is indicative of that mentality. The Steelers' franchise has had plenty of success but, outside of Roethlisberger, only a few current Steelers have championship experience. Ben is setting the tone for the final five games of the year. If his teammates are willing and able to follow, the Steelers might emerge on top. If not, the team that best exhibits that mentality will take it.