Steelers Crack Top 20 In Latest Power Rankings: ‘Tomlin’s Master Motivation’

It’s probably been a little while but the Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the NFL’s Top 20 of the latest power rankings, ranking 19th in Sports Illustrated’s latest list. And though being #19 isn’t the goal this time of year, it is progress as the Steelers saw their playoff hopes tick up a bit over the weekend. So did their spot in the rankings, up from 23rd a week ago.

Author Vinnie Iyer slated Pittsburgh 19th, writing:

“Counting out Rodgers is much like counting out Mike Tomlin. They both have their Super Bowl rings for a reason as great competitors who dig deep to make the most of what they have. Tomlin’s master motivation is being seen most in the defense, as expected.”

That was a reference to Aaron Rodgers, by the way, whose Green Bay Packers finished one spot above the Steelers as both teams make improbable pushes for the postseason.

As Iyer mentioned, the Steelers’ defense has stepped up in big ways since the bye. Aside from allowing 37 points to the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh’s defense has really kept the scoring down since the bye. Here are the point totals they’ve allowed since Week 10: 10, 37, 17, 16, 16, 16, and 10.

That’s an average of just 17.4 points per game and again, skewed by the Bengals game, with the Steelers allowing no more than 16 points in any of their other six contests. Since Week 10, the Steelers have the fourth-best scoring defense only trailing the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, and New Orleans Saints. The Steelers’ schedule has softened and they aren’t facing the elite offenses they were the first half of the year but holding any offense to under 17 points in this era is a major accomplishment.

Pittsburgh’s defense was at its best in the second half of their Christmas Eve win over the Las Vegas Raiders, pitching a shutout and holding the Raiders’ offense to 55 total yards, three first downs, and forcing three turnovers. It gave the offense time to sustain one promising drive and take the lead with under a minute to go.

With a weekend that broke perfectly for the Steelers, they have legitimate playoff hopes for the first time all season. Their odds of making it remain slim and if the Los Angeles Chargers win tonight, there will be only one playoff spot unsecured, but Pittsburgh is in this fight until the very end.

Topping the power rankings are the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. Around the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals are 6th, the Baltimore Ravens 8th, and Cleveland Browns a lowly 25th. Bringing up the rear are the 2-12-1 Houston Texans while the Chicago Bears are the NFC’s worst-ranked team, good news for the Steelers who have their original second-round pick that has a good chance to be the 33rd overall selection (and functionally 32nd thanks to the Miami Dolphins forfeiting their first rounder).

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