As should go without saying, as it’s nearly Christmas, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football League as a whole are deep into December Football. That means crunch time. For many teams—the majority of those who are not yet eliminated—that means there’s no more margin for error. Everything that they do has to be done decisively and with meaning to avoid mistakes in the quest to secure victory.
The Steelers decidedly did not do that last week in their 17-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, which is why today’s game against the New York Jets is even more critical. Had that won last week, they could have afforded to lose today’s game, and even remain in the running for the fifth seed.
Now they have to win both games just to get the sixth seed, or else get significant help that is far from guaranteed. But that’s typical of the time of the year. The Steelers were in a similar position a year ago, and in many years before.
“That is what you work all year for, that clarity, that ticket to the tournament. The finality of it all”, head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters of these momentous final days of the 2019 NFL calendar. “The scarcity that is in our game, I just appreciate that. You don’t get 80 plus opportunities to state your case, you don’t get 160, etc. you get 16 opportunities, one a week, over the second half of a calendar year to state your case and we are in December, so that says it all”.
The Steelers’ 8-6 record is actually rather remarkable, all things considered, in light of the reality that they were at one point 1-4. They have gone 7-2 since then, and I believe only the Baltimore Ravens have had a better record over that same time period (they have won 10 games in a row, in fact).
Still, because of their early shortcomings, they are very much entrenched right now in the December Football mentality, as there is no alternative. They have had to scratch and claw their way to where they are over the course of the past couple of months, defying the odds, which overwhelmingly said that they had a miniscule chance of reaching the postseason.
They can take a critical step forward toward completing that mission today by sitting the Jets down in their own home, but the final game of December will be a big test as well. Even if the Ravens are able to secure homefield advantage by beating the Cleveland Browns this week, they are not going to lie down for Pittsburgh, especially knowing that they have it within their control to eliminate them from the postseason, if the circumstances result in that scenario.