Rules are made to be broken. Trends are identified to be reversed. And the Pittsburgh Steelers are working on reversing a bit of a notable one, having recently struggled with teams who are coming off their bye weeks in recent history.
As Dave Bryan wrote about prior to Sunday’s game, Mike Tomlin’s Steelers teams had only been barely above .500 in such games, going 5-4 over the course of the 10 previous seasons. But they had also lost their three most recent such games during the regular season. Which is not good.
Teams coming off their bye week have obvious inherent advantages. They are more well-rested, are healthier, and have had a greater period of time to game-plan specifically for you. I’m sure the overall record of teams coming off their bye weeks is favorable, generally speaking. But good teams do need to win those games occasionally.
And they won one on Sunday, beating the Cincinnati Bengals after they just came back from a week off, having won their two games prior to that. tomorrow, they get right back into the mix, facing the Detroit Lions in their own den (see what I did there? Clever me), who are also coming off a bye, and who are looking to avenge back-to-back losses prior to that.
One might actually say that the trend reversal began last season, when the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The second-seeded Chiefs had Wildcard Round bye. It’s also notable that their head coach, Andy Reid has a very strong track record coming off of byes.
To face two teams in consecutive games coming off their bye, however, it surely tough, even if neither of those teams have winning records, while the Steelers are three games above .500. Sure, it is a game that on paper they should definitely be able to win, but I’ve never seen a game played on paper that actually counted for anything.
And they will also be short-staffed at several key areas. Marcus Gilbert at right tackle will miss his fifth game, as will Stephon Tuitt at left defensive end—two foundation pieces of their trenches that they have had to get by with for most of the year.
Also finding his way to the bench for this one is wide receiver Martavis Bryant, although he has not been a significant contributor to the offense—statistically speaking—for the vast majority of the season. While his being sidelined is largely a self-imposed punishment, it would obviously be beneficial to have him available.
The Lions, of course, will also be missing some key pieces, even after having had the extra week for some players to get healthy. The bye week is helpful, but it doesn’t fix anything. And it doesn’t, in and of itself, make games any easier to win.