By Jeremy Hritz
Only three more games remaining in the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers season, and the significance that the contests have taken on in the past couple of weeks has begun to weaken, and sadly, it seems that the only thing that the team has to play for is pride and the teeny-tiny possibility that a minor miracle can occur and the Steelers can sneak into the postseason. Unfortunately, should everything fall into place, while anything can happen in the playoffs, they would more than likely be one and done and unable to stop the big pass plays from opposing quarterbacks.
2013 continues to be a season of inconsistency, games characterized by three good plays only to be nullified by a mistake in the form of a missed tackle, miscommunication, or turnover. This has been a frustrating cycle as the Steelers have flashed the potential to deliver big plays of their own on offense and defense. With all of the turnover that has occurred on the roster, however, the unevenness is understandable and not necessarily surprising. And as I wrote earlier in the week, there are several elements of this Steelers team that are causes for excitement in 2014, such as the emergence of Le’Veon Bell, Cameron Heyward, Jason Worilds (don’t rule out his return just yet), and the outstanding play of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.
While I am not trying to completely shut the door on the remaining three games of the season, the Steelers schedule should also set up favorably in 2014, and if things play out they way they currently are set standings wise, the Steelers would not have to travel to the west coast to play, and the farthest they would have to travel would be to Jacksonville, Florida to take on the Jaguars, which isn’t exactly an intimidating prospect. Throw in what should be excellent draft position and the possibility of a plug and play starter/contributor, and the Steelers could be right back in contention for next season.
But before we delve into offseason topics in too much detail, the Cincinnati Bengals are preparing to travel to Heinz Field this Sunday Night in a game that could help them lock up the AFC North.
The Bengals are currently 9-4 and have been consistent for most of the season as a result of their well roundedness. Their greatest challenges have come from the up-and-down play from quarterback Andy Dalton who had a streak of five games in which he threw at least one interception and ten in total, yet the Bengals only lost two of those games, which indicates the balance that they have as a team. Additionally, the Bengals starters have been hit hard by injuries, losing all-world defensive tackle Geno Atkins and starting cornerback Leon Hall, yet they still keep finding a way to win.
The Bengals haven’t been outstanding on the road, as they have dropped four of their seven contests. If they can get a win in Pittsburgh coupled with a Baltimore loss, they will win the AFC North. Additionally, with Denver’s loss to San Diego on Thursday Night, there is still a small possibility that the Bengals can somehow wrestle away the first seed in the AFC playoffs. These scenarios make this divisional contest on Sunday Night a big-time game environment, and that plays into the Steelers favor.
Dalton has not proven himself to be a reliable leader in high-stakes battles, and sure, while he did lead the Bengals to a win last year at Heinz Field to earn a playoff spot, he was anything but outstanding in that game, throwing two interceptions and suffering six sacks. If anything, the Bengals won in spite of him.
The Bengals have lost divisional games in Cleveland and Baltimore this year, and with so much riding on this contest in Pittsburgh, expect a similar result.
Are the Steelers a better team than the Bengals this year? No. Yet despite their current state and likelihood to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, they are still a team with a lot of pride that will be up and ready for their divisional rival.
While the Steelers aren’t necessarily playing for much right now, they will be ready to go Sunday Night on prime time in front of an empty home field. If Joe Flacco and Brian Hoyer were able to get it done against the Bengals at home, there is no reason the Steelers won’t do the same.
Dalton will do in the Bengals late.
Steelers 33 Bengals 26