In 2014, the Pittsburgh Steelers rode a four-game win streak to end the season with an 11-5 record and a postseason berth with the division title in tow. They did so with what many regarded as an easy schedule, and wondered how they could ever match that this year.
Though things naturally changed, the Steelers entered this season projected to have the most difficult schedule in the league—and that was, naturally, without factoring in all of Pittsburgh’s own games missed by starters and key players due to suspension and injury making it much harder.
I think that if you asked most people before the season started if they would settle for a 10-6 record in 2015, they would probably say yes, and they would probably also settle on that record as the one required to make the playoffs this season.
After all, it was when the Steelers won their 10th game in the penultimate week of the season last year when they clinched their playoff spot. They could have lost the season finale, finished 10-6, and still went on to the postseason.
But 10-6 might not be enough this season, as unlikely as that may have seemed back at the midpoint of the season. The two teams sitting in the driver’s seat for the Wildcard spots right now have both gone on extensive winning streaks to make like miserable for Pittsburgh.
The Steelers must win their game today against the Browns, and the Jets must also lose their game today against the Bills, in order for the Steelers to advance. If one or neither of those things happen, then the Jets will advance.
But just five weeks ago, New York was a 5-5 team, looking lost, before riding the five-game winning streak that they now find themselves in, which most recently includes a victory over the Patriots in overtime last week.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have gone on an absolute tear that is as impressive as it is improbably since the first quarter of the season. Kansas City entered its Week Seven matchup against the Steelers as a 1-5 team who just lost its Pro Bowl running back.
The Chiefs managed to beat the Steelers that day—admittedly without Ben Roethlisberger—and have not lost since, winning nine straight games, a feat that only the Cardinals have matched as an active streak. Arizona’s last loss was to Pittsburgh, the week before the Steelers lost to the Chiefs.
Almost every NFL season has its certain amount of unpredictability, to be sure, but it seems hard to imagine that the Steelers, who at one point were 6-4 and one of only four teams in the conference with a winning record, would lose out to a Chiefs team that lost five of its first six games.
Of course, things could still most definitely break Pittsburgh’s way tomorrow. The Browns are a very beatable opponent, after all, and you never know when the Jets’ bubble might burst. But it is just interesting that, in foresight, 10-6 might have been the goal, but could in hindsight be looked at as a disappointment.