As detailed last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers exited Week 14 in position for the playoffs in control of their own destiny in terms of winning the AFC North. As a matter of fact, short of a Baltimore Ravens loss, the week could have hardly broke better for Pittsburgh.
The Indianapolis Colts rallied late against the Cleveland Browns in order to break the three-way tie between the Steelers, Browns, and Ravens, which played its role in allowing the Steelers to advance between intra-division tiebreakers.
The San Diego Chargers, the one one-division leader entering the week with a better record, were dropped last night by the New England Patriots, and the conference loss gave the Steelers the tiebreaker with the Chargers to take over the fifth seed.
In addition to that, the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and Kansas City Chiefs—the latter a future opponent in two weeks—all dropped to 7-6, which could play a big role in the Steelers’ future should they fail to win the division.
But after leaping over the hurdle of the road game in Cincinnati, it seems the Pittsburgh is in fine shape to break their streak of three years without a division title.
With the way the offense has struggled on the road this season in contrast to at home, it seemed that the Bengals, who entered the game at 8-3-1, on their home turf, would be the biggest obstacle remaining in the Steelers’ past back to the playoffs.
With Andy Dalton this season, however, the Bengals’ offense has been erratic. The 21 points they put up against the Steelers was just a touch below their season average at 21.6 points per game, which ranks 20th in the league.
The defense had been playing well in recent weeks, however, and was averaging allowing just 19.4 points per game. that jumped up to 22.2—15th in the league—after the Steelers put up 42 points, with 25 in the fourth quarter, against them.
Just because they’ve made it over the highest hurdle, however, doesn’t mean the whole project can’t come crashing down with three to go.
Up next is the final road test of the regular season against the Atlanta Falcons, who will likely be 5-8 after tonight. But, of course, three of the Steelers’ five losses have come to teams with losing records, and three have come on the road as well.
The Kansas City Chiefs¸ like the Bengals, have been somewhat of an enigma, particularly on offense, as their success often rides or dies with quarterback play. They only put up 14 points in a loss yesterday, and have lost their last three games since surprising Seattle.
Of course, the season ends with a rematch against the Bengals, but this time, it will come at Heinz Field, where the offense has had great success matching up against some of the better teams the team has faced. With a comforting 42-21 victory and a defense bolstered by players returning from injury, the postseason certainly looks quite a bit nearer than it did 24 hours ago.