The 2015 Steelers seem to have an awfully high opinion of themselves.
I'm still trying to figure out why.
Besides beating the Arizona Cardinals, this team's marquee wins were against AJ McCarron and Brock Osweiler. And man, did the Steelers squawk after the McCarron win. Never mind that the alternative — losing to a lightly regarded novice in his first significant action - would have been embarrassing.
Nobody's squawking this week, not after falling to Ryan Mallett and the Baltimore Ravens' JV team. The Steelers apparently thought they could railroad the Ravens like the Chiefs and Seahawks had in the previous two weeks (combined score: 69-20). They should have known better. The Ravens have now beaten them eight times in their past 11 tries.
Since the win at Cincinnati, the Steelers have played one good half. They acted that day as if they had won a playoff game - something they haven't actually done since John Russell managed the Pirates.
Until that day, I had never seen someone celebrate a downed punt (hello, Darrius Heyward-Bey) or an incompletion 10 yards out of bounds after a blown coverage (hi, Mike Mitchell). Players mocked the Bengals afterward.
Marcus Gilbert, who like most of his teammates has participated in precisely zero playoff wins, tweeted: "All I want for Christmas is the Bengals. Would love to see them in the playoffs where they choke. The talking is done between the lines (and, apparently, on Twitter, where Gilbert's teammate, Vince Williams, had threatened Cincinnati's Vontaze Burfict)."
Mike Tomlin laughed off the shenanigans surrounding that game.
"It's always us and somebody," Tomlin said. "We seem to attract that type of atmosphere. Maybe it's us."
Maybe. But it's definitely Cincinnati who won the AFC North. The Steelers will miss the playoffs unless they beat Cleveland and get some help from Rex Ryan, whose Bills must beat the Jets.
Isn't that rich? This mouthy team now is dependent on the NFL's King of Empty Talk (and I believe there's still a good chance the Steelers back in).
A delusional arrogance: The Steelers' arrogance hasn't been the good kind that all great teams possess but the bad kind that delusional teams suffer from. The fan base suffers from it, too, constantly pointing to Tomlin's record against "bad teams" without noting that in several of those matchups the Steelers were one of the "bad teams" involved.
Exhibit A: The Steelers were 0-3 when they lost to 0-3 Minnesota in 2013. Wouldn't they have called the opposite result a bad loss in Minnesota?
People seem to have missed the fact the Steelers were rebuilding for two years.
They're not rebuilding anymore, though, and Ben Roethlisberger is the player whose performance has most epitomized their misplaced hubris. His overrated season is riddled with ridiculous interceptions. He almost single-handedly lost the first Bengals game and got outplayed by Mallett in Baltimore, where he was a Jimmy Smith drop from a three-pick afternoon.
The worst of Roethlisberger's interceptions came late in the Denver game, with the Steelers protecting a lead. You'll never see a more irresponsible play from a star quarterback, yet general manager Kevin Colbert coddled Ben afterward and essentially told him, "Don't ever change."
The message from Colbert, Tomlin and Todd Haley should have been, "Don't ever try to make that kind of crazy play in that situation again."
Roethlisberger has 18 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. His interception percentage (3.23) is the highest since his disastrous 2006 campaign. Analyst Trent Green said it well on Ben's first pick Sunday, when he had Heath Miller and DeAngelo Williams open short but forced a deeper pass to Antonio Brown.
"Roethlisberger got greedy," Green said.
Conspiracy theory: The funniest thing I heard all week was conspiracy theorists claiming the Patriots intentionally lost to the Jets to keep the big, bad Steelers out of the playoffs. Somebody should tell those people that Tomlin's best hope of winning in Foxborough would be Bill Belichick and Tom Brady literally dying of laughter as they watched film of the Steelers secondary.
This is the team nobody wants to play, eh?
Nobody will, unless Rex Ryan has something to say about it.