The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, in which they entered with big aspirations, in spite of a tumultuous start to the offseason. Significant players were lost via trade and free agency, players who have helped shape the course of the franchise in recent years. We even now sit here without Ben Roethlisberger after just two games.
The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they have new starters. And quarterback was suddenly added to that list.
How will the season progress without Roethlisberger, behind Mason Rudolph? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in games? Who is sitting out due to injury?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will the Steelers sweep this three-game division stretch, and what will it mean for their playoff bid?
The Steelers are riding a four-game winning streak. Their next three games are all against divisional opponents with losing records. But two of those games are on the road, and at least the Cleveland Browns, on paper, have talent and are relatively healthy. And they just got a Pro Bowl running back in the fold with Kareem Hunt returning from an eight-game suspension.
The Steelers’ four-game winning streak has only brought them to 5-4 on the season, which puts them in a current three-way tie for the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture, along with the Indianapolis Colts and the Oakland Raiders. They own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Colts, and currently own a better conference record than the Raiders, but both teams have the same number of conference losses, so that could balance out.
No other team not currently seeded has fewer than five losses, but both the Tennessee Titans, who just beat the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be getting back Nick Foles, are lurking just a game back in the loss column.
The good news is that the Titans, Jaguars, and Colts are all in the AFC South, so they will feast on each other a bit over the course of the rest of the season. The Colts and Jaguars still have two games against one another. The Raiders also play the Titans and Jaguars, but the only game they have remaining against an opponent with a winning record is the Chiefs, which is three games from now.
The Jaguars have already faced the Houston Texans twice, but the Colts still play them once, and the Titans twice. That should help. From what I see, the biggest concern is the Raiders, so we should be rooting for the Titans and Jaguars against them in Weeks 14 and 15, both home games for them.