When covering the NFL as a whole, let alone a single team, there’s a lot of subjective analysis that occurs, none greater than through weekly power rankings covering all 32 teams in the NFL.
Don’t get me wrong: power rankings are a ton of fun to read each week and look at the movers and shakers across the league. That said, power rankings are not to be taken seriously or have too much thought put into them week to week.
NFL.com and ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings ahead of Week 11 are a good reminder of that, at least for the Pittsburgh Steelers as aa painful, mostly unsurprising tie to the woeful Detroit Lions has caused the Steelers to plummet in the power rankings.
Context matters in this, as the Steelers tied the Lions while losing the turnover battle 3-0, all while playing with backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, a depleted wide receiver room, and all while the defense forgot how to tackle.
That said, the fall in the power rankings was rather surprising, as the context seemingly wasn’t included in those rankings.
According to NFL.com’s power rankings done by Dan Hanzus each week, the Steelers fell four spots after the tie, dropping outside of the top 16 to No. 18 overall. The Steelers’ fall in the ESPN NFL Nation power rankings wasn’t as steep, as Pittsburgh fell just one spot, but overall it feels like many in the national media are out on the Steelers entirely just one poor showing after Pittsburgh was praised for four weeks during its winning streak.
That’s life in the NFL.
In the NFL.com power rankings, Hanzus writes that the Steelers’ performance against the Lions cost them significantly, especially ahead of a stretch in which they’ll be challenged on the field and off the field with injuries and COVID-19 issues popping up.
“The Steelers played down to the level of their opponent on Sunday, and it cost them what should have been an easy win at Heinz Field,” Hanzus writes. “With Ben Roethlisberger at home following a positive COVID-19 test, Mason Rudolph and the rest of the Steelers bumbled their way to a 16-16 tie against the winless Lions. Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth fumbled near the Detroit sideline with eight seconds left, denying Pittsburgh the chance at a potential game-winning (and face-saving) field goal. Big Ben’s availability for this week is in doubt, and it was revealed Monday that star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has also landed on the COVID-19 list. The Steelers are being challenged right now.”
The Steelers are certainly being challenged right now with injuries and COVID cases, not to mention the upcoming schedule featuring the likes of the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. The tie was certainly painful to watch for all parties involved, but the good news is it didn’t really hurt the Steelers in the standings or with their playoff chances.
As for ESPN’s power rankings, ESPN NFL Nation Steelers’ beat writer Brooke Pryor took a more levelheaded approach with the placement of the Steelers at No. 15 in the power rankings, dropping one spot from No. 14 the previous week.
“The AFC North is wide open, and despite tying the winless Lions, the Steelers are No. 2 in the division — trailing just the Ravens,” Pryor writes. “Technically, every remaining division game is important, but the Steelers still have to play the Ravens twice — including a Week 18 matchup in Baltimore. In the paper boat race, it’s likely that the division winner and some additional playoff berths will be decided in the final weekend of the season.”
Typically, that’s how the AFC North plays out on the final weekend. The Steelers are technically still in the thick of things and have two matchup with the Ravens looming down the stretch, which will go a long way in the AFC North race.
Power rankings are a week-to-week thing and the Steelers are coming off of a poor performance, so the drop shouldn’t be surprising overall.