Now at 7-5, the Pittsburgh Steelers can clinch a playoff berth with wins in their next four contests. The latter two appear to be no-brainers as the Steelers will finish at Baltimore and at Cleveland. While these games remain rivalries, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Steelers should win both of those games.
While I’m not normally one to put the cart before the horse, the Steelers have no reason whatsoever to lose those two games.
Prior to those games however, Pittsburgh must travel to Cincinnati and then host Denver in the home finale. Winning both is not impossible, but it is going to be difficult and these games will define just how good this team is. Both the Bengals and Broncos possess defenses that will test the Steelers’ offense more than it has been tested this season.
In their earlier game with the Bengals where the Steelers lost 16-10, Ben Roethlisberger returned from a four-game absence and threw three interceptions. It wasn’t totally surprising considering that Big Ben historically has not played well in games where he is returning from injury, but the turnovers are what they are.
The Steelers were outscored 10-0 in the final quarter and while Mike Tomlin would never admit it as an excuse, the loss of Le’Veon Bell affected the team from everything I could see. There’s little doubt the Steelers will be seeking some form of revenge on Sunday but they must do it without hurting themselves with penalties.
As we get ready for this two-week gauntlet, you’ve likely heard many pundits and experts talk about “no one wanting to face the Steelers in the playoffs because of the offense.” The only way that claim will hold true is if the offense fires on all cylinders against both the Bengals and Broncos. I don’t believe they will need to score 30 points but they must be able to score touchdowns rather than settle for field goals.
According to teamrankings.com, the Steelers have slipped considerably in terms of ‘touchdown percentage in the red zone.’ Their 2015 average is now 57.1% but in their last three games it’s just 42.8%. That is not going to get it done against either the Bengals or Broncos.
If we gaze into our crystal ball I can’t help but wonder what we will be talking about two weeks from now. Will it be discussions about how the injuries were too much to overcome? How the offense and/or defense let us down? Or will it be about beating two very good teams?
Regardless, these two games will define just how good these Steelers are.
photo courtesy elkharttruth.com