Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves sitting at a 7-5 record, in a four-way tie in the AFC North, before riding an end-of-season four-game winning streak first to a playoff berth in the penultimate game of the season, and then a division title in the season finale. The late run was the catalyst for the team’s first such achievement in five years, even if the playoffs did not go as planned.
This year, the Steelers were hoping to do themselves one better after falling to 6-5, hoping to close out the season with a five-game winning streak to match their 11-5 record of last season, though they would have required extra help to repeat as division champions. Still, they had gotten themselves into a position where they simply had to win to get in.
Instead, they lost, breaking a three-game winning streak while watching their primary playoff competitors go streaking past them to edge closer to their ultimate ambitions. Had the Steelers won and the Jets lost to the Patriots yesterday, Pittsburgh would have clinched a playoff spot and the Jets would have been eliminated.
Instead, neither result came through, and now the Steelers are hoping for the Rex Ryan-led Bills to pull the upset in Week 17 as they hope to avoid another letdown against the Browns to allow themselves to sneak meekly into the postseason.
The Jets are already riding a five-game winning streak themselves, having gotten off to a 5-5 start through the first 10 games of the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played the best football of his career, and his 10 wins are the most that he has ever had in a season.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have taken off ever since igniting a fire by beating the Steelers months ago. Heading into Kansas City to take on a lowly 1-5 team bereft of its start running back, Pittsburgh was knocked off then, and the Chiefs have not lost since.
Kansas City currently owns a nine-game winning streak to get to 10-5, and after the Panthers’ loss yesterday, that is the longest active streak in the league, tied with the Cardinals, who have won nine straight since the Steelers beat them the week prior to losing to the Chiefs.
Those two teams are the only ones in the league currently fielding a winning streak longer than the Jets’ five games, in fact. And looking back to just a short time ago, it’s somewhat remarkable to see just how much things have changed in a relatively short period of time, at one point seeming as though the Steelers would be able to skate into the postseason.
Five games ago, the Steelers were 6-4, one of only four teams in the AFC with a winning record, and the only one among non-division leaders. The Jets and Chiefs were both 5-5 and looking like not much more than afterthoughts. Now, the Chiefs have clinched a playoff spot, and could still manage a division title, while the Jets merely need to win their last game, a position that Pittsburgh now envies.