The Pittsburgh Steelers can successfully characterize their bye week as a productive one on many fronts, not the least significant of which being the extra time to get some players, such as Ben Roethlisberger, closer to 100 percent health.
Equally significant for the Steelers’ season as a whole is the fact that many of their key, closest competitors for the AFC playoffs this year had less than favorable outcomes to their games. The Cincinnati Bengals fell to 8-2, though the division aspirations still remain far off for now.
More significant were the losses suffered by the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets, outcomes that dropped them to 5-5 on the year and now a full game behind the Steelers in the Wildcard race, entering the week a half-game behind.
The Miami Dolphins had a chance to climb back into the race, but their loss dropped them down to 4-6. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans have climbed back into relevance with four- and three-game winning streaks, respectively, sitting at 5-5 each. The Texans are tied for the lead in their division with the Indianapolis Colts.
The upshot of all of this is that for the first time this season, the Steelers are actually fully in control of their playoff destiny. They are one of just four teams in the AFC currently with a winning record, and the only one not atop their division with a winning record.
If Pittsburgh manages to run the table over the course of the next six games, there will be nothing any other team can do to unseat them. Not that they can breathe easy. With five teams currently sitting just a game back—two competing for one division title—they cannot take the foot off the gas pedal, to be sure.
What they can do, however, is keep their focus on their own business, knowing that if they just take care of their own games, they have a direct path to the postseason, without help required, which has not been so common for the Steelers in recent years.
It helps that the Steelers have the fourth-best points margin in the conference, bettered only by the Patriots at a ridiculous 141 net points, the Bengals at 80, and, surprisingly, the Chiefs at 59. After beating the Browns by 21, they now have 45 net points on the season.
Of course, there are still some stiff challenges on the schedule, including the Bengals again, and, up next, the Seahawks on the road, where they have won just once in team history, over 30 years ago, when their defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, was playing linebacker there. The Broncos and their top defense also await.
But, excepting the Seahawks, it all can wait, as can the scoreboards around the NFL. Because through adversity, the Steelers have emerged in a good place after their bye, in a position to control their own playoff destiny. Seattle is the only thing on the horizon, the only task that must be completed from now until Sunday.