With their 27-17 victory last night in Heinz Field over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers secured their first division title, and home playoff game, in four years. The last time they won the AFC North was in 2010 after going 12-4, advancing to the Super Bowl before losing to the Green Bay Packers.
The Steelers also finished 12-4 in 2011, but lost the division tie breaker to the Baltimore Ravens. They went into Denver and lost on the first play of overtime on a pass by Tim Tebow. Pittsburgh hasn’t been back to the playoffs since, but that’s all about to change.
The Steelers will be back to picking at the bottom third of the rounds come draft time, which is where they like to be, because that means that they were players in the postseason. After two years of picking in the teens, they may have been able to find enough pieces to avoid too much of a transitional period.
Ben Roethlisberger was under the weather last night, but still threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. But the last time he played the Ravens, he threw six touchdowns, and the Ravens’ secondary has only gotten weaker due to injuries since then.
It’s an enticing matchup for one of the most exciting and explosive passing offenses in the league. Roethlisberger threw for more yards through the air, and Antonio Brown caught more passes and gained more yardage through the air, than anybody else in the league.
The Steelers were also the only team in the league to finish with five different players gaining at least 500 yards through the air, which is a rare feat, including three wide receivers, a tight end, and a running back.
The matchup is even more exciting considering it will be taking place at home, the first January game in Heinz Field in quite a while. The offense hasn’t been quite as explosive as a scoring juggernaut, but overall, the Steelers have been one of the best home offenses in the league this season en route to a 6-2 home record.
It certainly looks better than heading out to the Midwest to play the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs. Securing the three seed in the AFC was a significant accomplishment, despite the fact that the Steelers already locked up a playoff spot in the previous game.
As I wrote about last week, it provides further advantages later in the playoffs, assuming that they advance that far. The way the Broncos have been playing, it is a much more enticing proposition to travel to Denver for round two right now than it is to travel into Foxboro.
Of course, it’s always advantageous to go into the playoffs on a winning note as well, though it’s not quite as big of a factor as many seem to think. But no doubt the Steelers will take their four-game winning streak and hope to run it up to eight.