All is not lost for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They can – and will – still make the playoffs. The road must start with Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders visit Heinz Field at 4-3. They’re not a lock for the postseason, but they’re not playing as lousy as they used to. That pushover status is gone. If the Steelers are to advance, this is a game that has to go into the “W” column.
Why must the Steelers beat the Raiders? That will eliminate the need for struggle. The Raiders are currently clutching one of those coveted playoff positions that the Steelers want to own. According to NFL Network, there are a ton of teams fighting for the slot. But there are only a handful of legitimate contenders for the big show. The Steelers are one of those teams. A win over Oakland would start the ball rolling and help save the home stand.
The Raiders are a projected fifth seed. Besides the Jets, they are the only AFC team in the playoff picture with a winning record. Outside the Bengals, Broncos, and Patriots, the rest of the Conference looks mediocre. The Steelers are currently the only .500 team in the AFC, with two teams sitting at 4-3, two teams sitting at 3-4, and two teams sitting at 3-5. Getting to 5-4 is a big move towards creating separation from the rest of the pack.
The loss of L’Veon Bell was devastating. He had just returned from a two-game suspension and was looking like butter. His season ended when Vontaze Burfict rode him out-of-bounds near the sideline. But the Steelers have no need to worry. DeAngelo Williams is more than adequate as a No. 2 running back. The Steelers can’t replace a talent like Bell. But they can still be successful with the running game.
The Steelers have two downfield burners. There’s no way to overlook Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. With the return of Big Ben, these two monsters will be the beasts in defensive coordinator’s nightmares. Brown found the end zone for the first time since Week 2 against the Bengals. Bryant has been quiet since his monstrous game against Arizona. But that will soon change as well.
The Steelers’ defense was expected to be a complete mess this season. But against the Cardinals and Bengals, they shined like a diamond and should continue to do so. Championships are built around defense. Isn’t that what the old saying states? The Steelers will be able to ease into the playoffs with a stout defensive unit.
The Steelers’ defense has been carrying the team, with pride and grit, through the injury-riddled season. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the goal of the defense was to allow no more than 30 points per game. That only happened once against the Cardinals. They haven’t given up that much in the last two games.
The Steelers will make the playoffs. The question mark is the opponent. It’s not too late for a repeat of 2014.
[Feature Photo by Jared Wickerham / Getty Images]