Over the course of the final three games of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ late of games will have an air of familiarity about it. Their final three opponents are all their own division rivals. Which means it’s time for AFC North football, and just in time for the beginning of winter, as well.
All of that necessary work going up against unfamiliar foes such as the Giants, Redskins, and the like—teams that you may not see for another four years? That is over with now. All that remains between the Steelers and the end of their season is the Bengals, Ravens, and Browns (oh my!). In that order, with their final trip away from Heinz Field taking place on Sunday in Cincinnati.
So far, Pittsburgh has faced each of their division rivals once, coming away with relatively easy victories against the Bengals and Browns, but they lost a rough one—and certainly their most important loss of the season—to the Ravens in Baltimore in their first game coming out of the bye week, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming off of a meniscus injury.
The score was only 13-0 late into the game before a blocked punt was recovered for a touchdown, and a successful two-point try put the Steelers down by 21-0. The offense stormed back with two touchdowns late in the game, but they had one drive in between those two scores result in a turnover on downs—a drive that included a dropped pass in the end zone by the one-handed Sammie Coates.
So that is the reason that the Steelers have found themselves scratching and clawing their way down the home stretch for the season, although they now control the AFC North with an 8-5 record after the Ravens failed to come out of Foxboro on Monday night with a victory, dropping them to 7-6.
Pittsburgh’s simplest path to clinching the division is simply to win their next two games against the Bengals and Ravens. If they are able to do that—which would boost their winning streak up to six games—then they will have locked up the division title and would render the final game of the season meaningless in that regard, although it could still potentially play a role in seeding.
And the Steelers have been gearing up over the course of the past month for just such a set of circumstances as they are preparing to face. Cold, northeast, ground-and-pound football against opponents who know them well. These three games may wind up coming down to a battle of attrition, and who can be more physical than the other.
Over the course of the past four games, the Steelers have been averaging about 30 rushing attempts per game, though Sunday’s performance skews that just a bit. And they have been utilizing a lot more running formations, whether it be the 12 and 21, or even 13 and 22 looks. In other words, it’s that time of year for AFC North-style football, and the Steelers are ready for it.