The Pittsburgh Steelers know and understand the opportunity that they have set in front of themselves with their strong start to the season. A 6-2, they have their best record through the first half of the year since 2011, when they posted the same record in their first eight games.
In fact, prior to that, they almost always started off 6-2, but it had not happened again from 2011 through the 2016 until now. In 2013, they even went 2-6. A couple of times they were 4-4, a .500 team and no more. At best, they would make it to 5-3.
6-2 is different. 6-2 puts them at the top of the AFC, tied with the New England Patriots for the best record, and sets them up for their best opportunity to give themselves ideal circumstances for the postseason in many years. Back to 2011, they didn’t even manage to win their division.
This year, there doesn’t seem to be much pressure in the AFC North, having already defeated each of their division rivals once, thus assuring that none of them can sweep and seize that tiebreaker. All of them have at least five losses already, and thus would need to win at least three more games than Pittsburgh does from this point on—likely including a win over the Steelers.
And this team is not taking lightly the fact that they have gotten themselves where they are. One of their oldest players, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, might not get a lot of attention during games, but he is a leader in the locker room.
“We’re showing that sign of maturity like ’hey, if we take care of our business early, we don’t have to be biting our nails late’”, he said to Will Graves for the Associated Press. “That’s what it was last year and the year before and the year before. But we (can’t) get relaxed because we got the upper hand. It means push on the pedal”.
The Steelers were a 4-4 team last year. In fact, they were a 4-5 team, a team with a losing record with just seven games left to play. They ended up just 11-5. This year, they could easily end up 13-3. That is the difference between playing in the Wildcard Round and hosting the AFC Championship game.
Pittsburgh was just 4-4 in 2015 as well through the halfway point. It took a 6-2 finish just to get to 10-6, though they were lucky it was in a weak year for the division. They were 3-3 through six in 2014, but won their next two—and eight of their last 10—that year.
“Our team did what we’re supposed to do” this time around, said Stephon Tuitt. “To be in the position we are in now, we just need to finish strong”. And they could be doing so at or very near full strength, with Tuitt and Marcus Gilbert both expecting to play. the rest of the season begins now.