All you’re going to hear this entire week, and on every pregame show Sunday, is how there’s no chance the Pittsburgh Steelers lose. And of course, they’re the favorites. They should be, they deserve be, and even I – ever the cynic – believe they will win if they play their game.
But let’s give Jacksonville a chance. Or at least concede the game is likely to be close. It’s the playoffs after all and rarely is there an easy out. Against the Steelers anyway.
None of this should be a surprise to Steelers’ Nation. Even in the regular season, every game, regardless of opponent, feels like a heart attack in the making. Blowout wins come as often as Haley’s Comet. The postseason only magnifies that.
Since Mike Tomlin arrived on scene in 2007, the Steelers have won eight playoff games. Six of those were by single digits and five were within five points or fewer. The two exceptions? An 11 point win against San Diego in 2008 (the Steelers led by just four at halftime) and last year’s convincing win over the Miami Dolphins. All the others, looking at score alone, have been close.
Four point win over the Jets in 2008. Nine over the Ravens (thanks to a Troy Polamalu pick six, that game was very close throughout). The comeback win in the Super Bowl against Arizona. A five point victory against the Jets in 2010. Seven over Baltimore that same year. Two against Cincinnati in 2015 and again by two against Kansas City the following year.
You get the idea. Not much comfort in those wins, is there?
Jacksonville has the defense and ball-control offense, just as they did in Week 5, to keep this one close. They have an identity, crucial this time of year, and a crystal clear gameplan of how they are going to win. Something Mike Tomlin even spoke to in yesterday’s press conference.
“I think that they have as clearly a defined mode of operation as anyone in this field it terms of how they play,” Tomlin said. “They run the ball, they control the clock, they possess the ball, they have corresponding playaction passes and so forth. They play formidable defense, they create turnovers with that defense, that’s how games unfold for them.”
Don’t confuse that with Jacksonville being the best team in the field. Clearly, they’re not. But they, as Tomlin said, have the best identity of anyone left, Pittsburgh included. And by nature, I think that will make the game competitive.
Just don’t be surprised if this one heads into the fourth quarter and Steelers’ Nation is holding their breath, edge of their seat, and giving up their first born son. It’s usually how these games go.