Three non-exhibition games remain before the NFL’s 2018 season is completely in the books, and we will be watching the two conference championship games take place over the course of this weekend, just four teams remaining. While the Pittsburgh Steelers will not be participating in the festivities, it’s worth noting that they did have to play three of those four teams.
In fact, they played five playoff teams during the 2018 regular season, including four of the six teams that made it from the AFC. In addition to the New Orleans Saints, the New England Patriots, and the Kansas City Chiefs, all of whom are in the conference championships of the weekend, they also faced the Los Angeles Chargers, and of course the Baltimore Ravens twice.
They ended up 2-4 in the six games that they played against playoff teams, going 7-2-1 in the other 10 games. They split the season series with the Ravens and also beat the Patriots. They lost narrowly to the Saints and Chargers, the defense blowing late leads, but the Chiefs pulled away from them in the second half.
The Steelers played only two games all season in which they did not have at least a share of the lead in the fourth quarter this year. Both of those games (the losses to the Ravens and Chiefs during the first four weeks of the season) came again their playoff opponents.
“We played against a couple of the playoff teams that we’re gonna be watching this weekend in two of the last three weeks and played pretty well against them”, Steelers president Art Rooney II said yesterday during his appearance on The Fan yesterday.
“That’s the hard thing about this season, it literally was a play here or a player there in a lot of different games”, he went on, “and so when I watch the games this weekend, those things will be going through my mind thinking we could be there playing with these guys. I enjoy watching the games, but it’s kind of a mixed feeling when you feel like you could be there”.
It’s worth noting that the Steelers had a more difficult strength of schedule by the end of the 2018 season than all but one team that reached the postseason in either conference, that being the Philadelphia Eagles.
While that’s little consolation for missing the postseason it’s true that the Steelers had an unfavorable schedule this year, but they were competitive in almost every game. Not just competitive, but in a position to win. Unfortunately, they fell short in five of those instances in which they were in position to win, resulting in four of their losses and the tie.
While there can never be only one play or moment that entirely accounts for why the result of a game broke one way or another, the Steelers were a couple of missed kicks, turnovers, and third-down stops from a 14-2 season.
They came up short in the clutch too frequently this past year, which proved to be the difference between a successful season and a failed one, but Rooney remembers how well they did in similar situations just a year prior. I’m sure that gives him hope for 2019.