If the Pittsburgh Steelers are to make the postseason this year, their best hope figures to be their blustery old rival, Rex Ryan, who is in his first season as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
Just a few days ago, the Steelers held their own fate in their hands, riding on the wings of a three-game winning streak and beating quality opponents in the Bengals and the Broncos, as well as the Colts, who were at the time a division leader. That all went the window after losing to the floundering Ravens on Sunday, dropping them to 9-6 on the season rather than the 10-5 records that their two Wildcard rivals, the Chiefs and the Jets, share.
With the Broncos topping the Bengals late last night, Rex Ryan is actually the Steelers’ Obi Wan Kenobi to the postseason—their only hope. If the Bills are able to top the Jets on Sunday, then that opens the door for the Steelers to get back into the playoffs simply by beating the Browns.
Steelers fans know Ryan well, of course. The longtime coach of the Ravens, who just unseated Pittsburgh from pole position for a playoff spot, has long expressed his hatred of the former division rival, but now he has something much more personal on his agenda to fight for, even if his Bills have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Of course, Ryan was the head coach of the Jets from 2009 to 2014, during which he took the team to the AFC Championship game in consecutive seasons. His Jets beat the Steelers in 2010 in the regular season, which helped prevent them from clinching home field advantage, but Pittsburgh had the last laugh, topping them in the AFC Championship to move on to the Super Bowl.
Ryan’s Jets had not had nearly as much luck since those first two seasons, and now, after his dismissal, his successor, Todd Bowles, has the Jets back on the verge of playoff contention, with Ryan and the Bills the only thing standing in their way in a win-and-you’re-in scenario.
The good news is that the Jets have lost to the Bills in their last four meetings, with the most recent seeing Ryan on the opposite sideline coaching against Bowles and his former team earlier this year. The Bills won 22-17, but were winning 22-3 with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter. Both teams rushed well and threw fairly poorly, but the Jets committed four turnovers.
The Bills looked pretty good topping the lowly Cowboys on Sunday, but have only won two of their last six games since beating the Jets. Meanwhile, New York is riding a five-game winning streak, culminating in an overtime victory over the Patriots.
Truth be told, the odds are not likely to be in the Steelers’ favor to make it to the postseason this year after letting their chance to do it on their own slip through their hands. But if they do end up in the playoffs, they will have their old nemesis to thank for it.