Meat is back on the menu following the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat of the New York Giants last week 24-14 in impressive fashion.
It was only a few weeks ago when Steelers fans were singing despondent (and decidedly pitchy) versions of “The Thrill Is Gone”. After all, their Super Bowl hopeful had dropped four in a row and Chicken Little was preaching truth in that, indeed, the Pittsburgh sky and the team’s lofty expectations were actually falling.
Flash forward following the Steelers latest win and the anger and tears of the Nation seem like yellowed Polaroid photos.
But, this three game winning streak did include the Cleveland Browns, and an Indianapolis Colts sans Andrew Luck. Many would even say the Giants were more pretender than contender.
Which brings us to the Buffalo Bills, where it is here you are hearing this will be by far the most critical…and enjoyable…Steelers game of the 2016 season.
Not because the Bills are the best team in the NFL. Not because the Steelers will wipe them off the frozen field.
It’s because the Bills are absolutely desperate to win. And it’s because they will be coming after Pittsburgh with a physical intensity such as the Steelers have yet to feel this year. Coach Rex Ryan will personally see to it.
Buffalo will not out-finesse the Steelers. They will not out game plan them. The Bills, featuring a run-blocking line among the league’s nastiest and an elite talent in LeSean McCoy, will use a blue-collar, bludgeoning attack that will challenge the very manhood of the Steelers defense.
If the Steelers prevail, by thirty points…or just one…make no mistake about it, you can write the team back in as one of the main contenders in the AFC.
If they lose. Consider the season lost. The Bills…and the buck will stop here. Yeah…they could eke into the postseason through mathematical gymnastics. The rest of the league could collapse. But if they can’t win this type of game on the road in the last quarter of the year…they’ll have little chance even if they do manage to iffle diffle their way into the playoffs.
But if they win in cold conditions against a tough team with its back against the wall…look out NFL.
With that prelude, let’s get the vinyl Spinning:
Bashing Big Ben
Praising QB Ben Roethlisberger is back in high fashion as even the NFL pundits are mentioning him as among the league’s best again, following his fall from grace during the Steelers four-game losing streak. Last week’s performance against the Giants was as solid as he’s had this year. Most of his incompletions shouldn’t have been as his colleagues struggled with drops and route miscues. Is Ben playing better than he was at the beginning of the year? Or is it that Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley is calling a more balanced game? It says here the difference is more Haley than Big Ben as this offense does better when it’s not trying to be the reanimation of Air Coryell (my Millennial friends may need to Google that one).
Speaking of generations, how many of you Gen X’ers like me would qualify as Steelers Nation Carpetbaggers? That’s the specific class of longtime Steelers fans who never lived in Pittsburgh and who started off in their Superman pajama days as fair-weather Black and Gold fans. The first football game I ever watched from start to finish as a kid was the 1975 Super Bowl IX when the Steelers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 16-6. Being a dumb kid, I rooted for the Purple People Eaters at my friend’s party and it would be the last time I ever cheered against Pittsburgh. Those were great days, as my bedroom walls were papered with Steelers greats, but the Carpetbaggers are spoiled forever. We were corn fed the belief during our most impressionable years that the Steelers won the Big Game every year. Anything less was a disaster. You’ll have to excuse us Carpetbaggers for having an unreasonable intolerance for “just making it into the playoffs”.
If the Steelers don’t make it into the playoffs this year, the most probable reason will be the Baltimore Ravens didn’t allow them the opportunity. In a strange way, it’s perfect that the Ravens are back in the winner’s circle, destroying teams with a dominating defense. Let’s face it, the Cincinnati Bengals were always more Joker than legitimate rival to the Steelers in the AFC North. The Browns? Their soul left Cleveland in the same moving vans that carted away their equipment and Art Modell to Baltimore in the middle of the night years ago. The Nevermores are back again and appear to be the quintessential dark horse in the AFC race this year. After completely dismantling a quality Miami Dolphins team last week by a score of 38-6 they are back on everyone’s radar as a disturbing blip. As long as the Steelers take care of business against the Bills, and the Bungles next week, the Christmas Day rematch against the Ravens is shaping up to be the football game of the regular season. Every story needs a villain and the NFL’s greatest modern rivalry may be priming for prime time once again.
The Big Reveal
For those of us who are charter members of the Big Dan Fan Club there will probably never be another game where Daniel McCullers will get a greater opportunity to declare himself a potent NFL weapon…or be dismissed as just another Sasquatch legend. With DE Cameron Heyward out for the year and DE Javon Hargrave still hearing sleigh bells, McCullers is the next big man standing. For those who need some assistance in determining whether he’s rising to the challenge (and there seems to be a lot of you!), you will know he’s thriving if he is moving the pile forward, or if there are two blockers being expended to keep him from doing so. As a reference point, he does this nearly every time he is on the field, but somehow people have expectations that he should be covering wide receivers on go patterns…or racking up 20 sacks. Regardless of your fandom…or biases against Big Dan…this should be the game where he gets to finally express himself in a powerful way. The Bills pride themselves on their interior running game. What are you Big Dan, really? This weekend, we…finally…find out.
I Hate Fantasy Football
Anyone out there around when Rotisserie Baseball was launched in the 80’s? I was one of the original junkies, having fallen, hook, line, sinker and curveball when it was all the craze. I dug deep into the minors to find gems like Vince Coleman…and some guy named Dwight Gooden before he was named “Doc”. I quit fantasy sports a few years later after the third baseball strike. I figured, three strikes and you’re out. I SWORE that I would never play Fantasy Football and held true to that for several decades because I thought it would compromise the purity of my Steelers fandom to root for players in different uniforms. That was until Steelers Depot contributor Tim Rice literally dragged me into the first ever Steelers Depot fantasy league this September. The peer pressure got me, as the chance to compete with Dave, Alex and the Good Doctor was too hard to refuse. After a 1-3 start you’ll be pleased to know the Spin is 8-5 and in the playoffs…but only because I sold my soul. I got into the playoffs last week only because……gasp…I started the Baltimore Ravens on defense. This week, so I can be 100% Steelers fan, I am benching my secret waiver wire find of WR Sammy Watkins. This, despite the sneaking suspicion that if the Steelers lose, it will be because he has a big day…and then I will be angry at both Pittsburgh…and myself. I hate fantasy football.
Lean Joe Green
Speaking of fantasy football, no one is a hotter waiver wire item than TE Ladarius Green. Green re-exploded on the NFL scene with his impressive performance last week against the Giants. After a long, painful wait, Steelers fans are seeing that Green’s potential is matching the hype of his being the team’s number one free agent acquisition this year. Most impressive is his freelancing ability, as he and Big Ben seem to have a similar propensity for improvisation. In reality, Green always played second fiddle to TE Antonio Gates in San Diego. Now that he’s first chair in Pittsburgh, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship and could give Roethlisberger a prime target for years to come. If the Steelers win this weekend, the chances are that it will be because Green earned his green.
Bill Us Please
So enough with all of the Pomp and Circumstance, who is going to win? Well…the good news is that you won’t need to wait long to find out. If the Buffalo Bills are able to move the Steelers defensive line in their first few possessions then it will be over before it starts. However; if the defense can hold the line early, and the Steelers offense has at least an average day, Pittsburgh will leave with their playoff hopes intact. The Spin says they depart Buffalo with smiles on their faces and the dream alive. Steelers 24, Bills 17.