The Pittsburgh Steelers have secured their place in the AFC playoffs and did so in dramatic fashion with a come-from-behind win over their chief rival, the Baltimore Ravens, on Christmas.
That’s a good thing, too, because had they lost, they would be facing the very real possibility of missing the playoffs, considering the Chiefs and Dolphins both won.
But the Steelers will be the No. 3 seed in the AFC. Honestly, though, looking at the field, I’m not sure it could be set up better for the Steelers to get to the Super Bowl given all of the things that have happened to the other teams.
In fact, given that the Steelers three stars — Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell — on offense are healthy, they should probably be installed as the favorite because winning in the playoffs often comes down to star power and health.
Yes, I know, the Patriots are the likely No. 1 seed and the Steelers will likely have to win a game at Gillette Stadium, where they haven’t been good. But again, big time players need to make big time plays, and three of the four best offensive players in that game will be in black and gold.
But look at the Steelers’ likely path. Is it irrational and/or unfair to say that anything short of a trip to the AFC Championship game would be a failure?
Dolphins may be up first: The Dolphins play the Patriots this week, and the Chiefs play the Chargers, so I am going to assume that either the Dolphins will lose or the Chiefs will win. That means the Dolphins would be the No. 6 seed.
Sure, the Dolphins killed the Steelers earlier this season, but I don’t expect a repeat performance by the Steelers offense in a rematch. This game would be in Pittsburgh, not Miami, and the Dolphins are playing their backup quarterback.
A wild card loss to the Dolphins would be worse than losing to Tim Tebow and would wipe out any feelings of goodwill that may have been built by winning a division title.
Raiders, with McGloin starting, may come second: The Steelers would then likely play the Raiders, and that would have been one of the most exciting games of the playoffs, except the fact that the Raiders lost quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg and so the Steelers would be facing Matt McGloin.
Yes, that Matt McGloin.
True, the Chiefs could still win the AFC West and a trip to Arrowhead Stadium would be tough, but the Steelers smashed the Chiefs the first time they played this season. At the end of the day, the three best offensive players would all be wearing Steelers uniforms.
The Texans are the other team in the playoffs, by the way, and Bill O’Brien deserves a raise and a contract extension for getting that team to the playoffs because, to be polite, they stink.
Showdown with Pats may loom in AFC title game: And then that brings the Steelers to the showdown with the Patriots — and the Patriots are without one of their biggest guns, tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Obviously a loss to Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium wouldn’t be an awful loss, but it would be disappointing because with Bell and Brown playing at the level they are playing, this feels like it should be the Steelers time.
Bell and Brown may be the best players at their positions. They have been unbelievable this season and have done things I haven’t seen many other guys do to NFL defenses.
But neither has contributed to a team that has won an AFC Championship or Super Bowl, and when you combine those two with a Hall of Fame quarterback, it is fair to suggest they need to make a deep run in the playoffs, especially against a field that has been diminished by injuries.
Expectations should be high: There is that old saying, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” The Steelers have been given a whole lot, so expectations should be very high.
The last few years injuries have hampered them in the playoffs, but every team is banged up at this time of the year and frankly, injuries can only be an excuse for underachieving so many years before it rings hollow.
The Steelers are, at the very worst, the second best team in this AFC field and need to win their first two playoff games, or this season will be a disappointment, regardless of how many highlights there have been.