Steelers Answering the Haters
As one of the premiere franchises in the NFL and in all of sports, the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most analyzed teams in the game today. Prior to this year, many experts and other fans thought the Steelers would take a step back, considering that their already-old defense aged another year and their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, looked to be even better with younger players.
In the beginning of the season, it looked like the Steelers were lowering themselves to those expectations, as those very same Ravens pummeled them with a score of 35–7. Almost instantly, the city of Pittsburgh went on alert. Many fans worried that the experts were correct and that this team was destined to miss the playoffs, or suffer a first-round exit in the playoffs. Luckily, the NFL has 16 games in a season. The Steelers have gone 6–1 the rest of the way, with their only loss to the Houston Texans, and they are in the driver’s seat for the first seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Looking back on the season so far, it was pretty ridiculous to panic about the Steelers, seeing as how they brought back the same team from last year’s almost-championship run. Sure, the defense is old, but in a season where there was almost no training camp, it may be better to be old. This team is full of veterans that have been playing together for years, and this has likely been a big reason for their current success. Even with injuries to linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, the defense has been a strong unit, and it has only given up greater than 20 points in one contest this year. Their secondary, which I have long pointed out as a weakness, has really stepped it up this year, as cornerback Ike Taylor has performed as a top-10 CB and William Gay hasn’t hurt them as much as expected.
Just last week, the Steelers had a vintage performance against the New England Patriots, who, at the time, were considered the best team in the AFC. Leading up to that game, fans were still doubtful as to whether or not Pittsburgh could come away with a win, because some of the Steelers' wins over bad teams had not been convincing. However, the Steelers dominated the Pats from kickoff to the final kneel-down, using short passes to eat up the clock and keep Tom Brady off the field. When the Patriots did get the ball, the Steelers were able to limit the amount of production from quick receiver Wes Welker, who has eaten teams alive throughout the year. All of this led to a classic Steelers win, where the offense eats up clock and depends on the defense to win them the game in the end. This win has changed everyone’s perception of the Steelers, as they have gone from perceived third or fourth in the conference to first. There are even some experts picking them and the Packers to meet again in this year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
With a fairly easy schedule coming up for the Steelers, my prediction would be that they pick up the first seed in the AFC, which is a huge advantage, especially since they are one of the best home teams in the league. Expect the Steelers to run through the rest of their schedule, with a potentially tough game against the 49ers. A 14–2 regular season is not out of the question, but even 13 wins or possibly 12 should get them through the first round for sure. Either way, the Steelers will be making noise in the playoffs once again, something that I’m sure everyone in this city has come to expect.