By Matthew Marczi
Sometimes it seems as though the Pittsburgh Steelers are simply powerless to dig their own grave. The rest of the AFC North is digging too, and they are all throwing their dirt into Pittsburgh’s plot.
That theme continued last night when the Cincinnati Bengals found yet another new and spectacular way to lose a game after the Miami Dolphins won a walk-off in bizarre fashion: an overtime safety by Cameron Wake.
The loss gives the Bengals three losses on the season, just two less than the Steelers now possess following their own loss to the Oakland Raiders this past week. Of course, the Bengals still have a 4-game edge on the Steelers in the wins column, which will have to be overcome at some point.
In other AFC North news, the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns still find themselves stuck on just three victories on the year. The Ravens have four losses, while the Browns already match the five losses of the Steelers.
Rest assured, the Bengals are still the team in the lead in the race for the division crown, and it is still a longshot that the 2-5 Steelers team can actually muster up a string of wins, let alone catch up to Cincinnati. There are serious questions as to whether or not the Steelers are even capable of reaching six victories.
With the news that Bengals All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins suffered an ACL injury, however, it makes the lead dog more vulnerable to a worthy challenger to unseat the champion. It is just a matter of the Steelers being able to step up and offer such a challenge over the course of the second half of the season.
The Steelers play their eighth game against the New England Patriots, a team that, despite its flaws and injuries, also enters the midway point of the year at 6-2, as the Bengals did. They have already lost a trio of key players in Vincent WIlfork, Jerod Mayo, and most recently Sebastian Vollmer, but that has not prevented them from winning yet.
Neither team is armed as they were the last time these two opponents met, with Pittsburgh coming out on top in the end. A big part of the game plan for the Steelers, however, will likely be the ground game, especially if David DeCastro is able to suit up, as the Patriots rank 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed. Likewise, the Patriots should also feature a good deal of ground assault, with the Steelers ranking 27th.
Should the Steelers be able to clear this first hurdle, they will follow it up with back-to-back home games against the Buffalo Bills and the Detroit Lions. After that is a double-dip division derby with Cleveland and Baltimore, both on the road.
Try as they might, the AFC North keeps providing slack for the noose about Pittsburgh’s neck. We shall see just how much rope there is to spare as the calendar turns to November.