Steelers Nation is feeling better nourished after a double Holiday helping of victories last week by their beloved, but befuddling team who turkey-throttled both the Indianapolis Colts 28-7 and the Cleveland Browns 24-9.
It was the perfect antidote to seasonal depression as the Steelers were an undeniably underwhelming 4-5 team prior to this timely Thanksgiving feast.
As filling as the cuisine was it must be remembered it was against the hapless Brownies and the Andrew Luck-less Colts.
What? Isn’t it wrong to both criticize Coach Mike Tomlin for losing the easy ones and then not properly crediting him when he wins?
Absolutely. And getting away with this double standard is just another benefit of being part of the weak kneed, pencil necked, dishonest press.
All that being said, with a nose-above-the-water record of 6-5, the Steelers are hardly surging up the NFL ranking boards after being the early season favorite of so many gridiron pundits.
And, the Steelers trail the AFC North division-leading Baltimore Ravens in a tiebreaker as their crabby archrivals boast the number two defense in the league, and a disheartening win against Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s high flying offense? Heck, they aren’t even in the top ten this season.
Which brings us to the point of this conversation. The Steelers Lombardi hopes remain more David than Goliath currently as they prepare to face the underappreciated 8-3 New York Giants at Heinz Field.
Will the Steelers prevail or will their playoff dreams be back in the throes? Stay tuned my friends, for only the Shadow and the Spin truly know:
Nothing Wild In The Cards
There are three teams ahead of the Steelers in the Wildcard race. One of them is the Miami Dolphins who have a one game lead as well as a head-to-head advantage over the Steelers. Another is the Kansas City Chiefs who are 8-3 and have won six of their last seven games. Oh…and then there is that team…the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos who are 7-4. There are another four AFC teams that are just a game down from Pittsburgh. In other words, if the Steelers fall to the Giants, it will all but eliminate them from Wildcard contention.
It’s The Division…Stupid
You are probably wise to be hanging all of your hopes on the Steelers winning the AFC North in order to get into the playoffs. But if you’re irrationally exuberant about the team’s birthright to accomplish this you may be setting yourself up for a Blue Christmas when the Steelers host the Ravens. The Ravens have a critical game against the Dolphins this Sunday. If they win, then they can afford an away loss to the New England Patriots the following week, while still controlling their destiny in the AFC North. If they lose, then that cements the Dolphins place in the Wildcard hunt ahead of the Steelers. Don’t count all them chickens prematurely when it comes to expecting a Ravens loss to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick either. The Ravens have done well in Foxborough. The Steelers can chart their path to the playoffs if they win out. But one loss…just one loss…and things get real dodgy.
5 To Stay Alive
We only take one game at a time, right? It’s unwise to look ahead, right? Wrong. Not on the Spin. Here’s the road ahead, potholes and all:
At Bills (6-5)
At Bengals (3-7)
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
If the Steelers manage to somehow use the sand wedge to chip their way out of the trap onto playoff contention greens, how good are their chances in actually sinking the hole once there? On paper, the Steelers have two impressive wins this season, but that was early in the year before the Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs found their groove. More recently, the Steelers have lost to good teams in the Dolphins, Patriots and Ravens. If Pittsburgh is planning on being a genuine contender, they really need a statement win against the Giants.
Of particular concern, is the fact the Steelers haven’t had much practice winning close games. For the most part they have either blown teams out or been blown out. The closest contest this year was their 35-30 loss against the Cowboys where Pittsburgh managed to choke at the end of the game on both offense and defense. It was against the Ravens where Chris Boswell’s onside Rabona kick attempt is now considered one of the worst attempts in NFL history. Speaking of The Boz, the fact he is injured is more cause for worry with these squeakers. Game on the line? A journeyman kicker? How well did that work last year? If the Steelers win blowouts from now through the Super Bowl, no one will complain. But when it comes to winning nailbiters, the jury is out…and hesitant to return. Plaxico Burress drew some ire by saying QB Eli Manning is more clutch than QB Ben Roethlisberger, but recent history would support his statement. Big Ben will need to capture his early career magic to make this year successful and the Giants game may prove Plaxico right or wrong.
Speaking Of 2005
For those of us who remember Big Ben’s early days, his ability to win improbably was one of his most impressive attributes. In fact, the 2005-2006 Super Bowl season draws many similarities to 2016-2017. The Steelers were early season Super Bowl favorites in 2005. But, same as this year, they underachieved in the first half of the season and had Steelers Nation calling for Bill Cowher’s office keys. It took an amazing win streak at the end of the season to give RB Jerome Bettis a Lombardi Trophy to cap off his Motor City farewell tour. Could this year’s be another run? One in which the team dedicates the season to LB James Harrison?
But hold on for a second. Who said anything about Deebo being done? Well…just about every Pittsburgh sportswriter and blahhger for the past four years (current company excluded, of course). They’ve been writing off James Harrison since before he made the career faux pas of donning black and orange stripes. Now that he’s the all-time Steelers sack leader and seemingly getting stronger each game, his eminent demise may be greatly exaggerated…once again. Sign James to another two-year contract? Here…number 92…let me hand you the pen.
I Wish I Would Have Had A V8
With the recent addition of TE LaDarius Green to the field of play, the Steelers offense is running on all cylinders again…six cylinders that is. What’s encouraging is there are two more pistons to add to the offense. One is the return of RB DeAngelo Williams and the other is…WR Sammie Coates. D-Will carried the team on his back during RB LeVeon Bell’s suspension. His return from injury is one of the more lightly covered, but still significant storylines. Williams adds another dimension and critical depth to the backfield. As for Coates? He starred in the beginning of the season, and if Big Ben can make Coates relevant again, it could make the Steelers offense unstoppable.
As daunting as the task is for the Steelers to make it to the playoffs, and as frustrating that such a talented team should be scrapping for leftovers as it is, it much be acknowledged that we are officially in Tomlin Time. As angering as it is that he takes the preseason so lightly, and that he seems incapable of sustaining a strong start…it much be said, the man is a good closer. Over the past three seasons, his team has gone 11-4 over the last five games. Even so, that impressive winning percentage may not be sufficient to get the job done this year.
Which is why Tomlin is taking the role of team mascot by inciting the home crowd to loud voices and Terrible Towel gyrations. This Giants game is bigtime and with Eli Manning running a no huddle offense, the ability of the Steelers faithful to impede his play calling could make the difference.
And The Prize For The Most Annoying Quarterback…
Eli took the trophy, right after his big brother Peyton retired from the NFL. Archie? What did you teach your boys? It’s bad enough we’ve got to bide time munching on nachos as we wait through forever-lasting commercial breaks and offensive huddles. We don’t want to watch 25 seconds of a Manning going up to the line, stepping back from the center, waving signals, moon-dancing, flapping arms and repeating the process three times. Yes…we know how brilliant you are. JUST SNAP THE BALL!
WR Odell Beckam Jr. vs. WR Antonio Brown? Think those two guys didn’t have this game circled on the calendar? Although they are not on the field at the same time you can be sure these two will be battling it out. Brown’s defense of his standing as the league’s top receiver will be on full display against Beckham Jr. Expect the fireworks to fly…and hopefully not just flags for post-touchdown celebrations as the two of them are experienced at racking those up as well.
But then again, hogs are hogs. Despite all of the hoopla surrounding the Roethlisberger vs. Manning 2004 draft showdown as well as the aforementioned primadonna slapfest, it will be the big boys that will win or lose this one. The offensive lines of the Steelers and Giants are tied for second for allowing the least amount of sacks this year (14). Whoever best protects their quarterback, will win the game.
How is it that an 8-3 Giants team is getting so much disrespect in this matchup against a 6-5 Pittsburgh squad? Yes…most prognosticators are downplaying New York’s wins against a soft schedule, but the Steelers haven’t exactly squared off each week against the league’s elite. This game is absolutely critical for the Steelers which may give them the edge they need. But they’ll need to create a good lead to give them some cushion as Manning comes roaring back in the fourth. The Spin says they hang on…in a squeaker. Steelers 34, Giants 31.