The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost two games in a row, but in spite of that, they have also locked up a postseason berth in that span, and have also seen their magic number to secure their first division title in three years shrink down to one, thanks to the failures of others.
They did, after all, win their first 11 games, and up until this past week, nobody else in the NFL had ever had a better record than they did. That has to count for something, even if it is true that they are a team with many faults—like all of the other 31 teams.
That doesn’t excuse the failings that we have seen from this team in recent weeks, of course, in particular their poor performances in the second half. They held an 11-point halftime lead against the Washington Football Team and lost by six. On Sunday, they allowed the Buffalo Bills to score three times on five drives, and to end the game with a seven-plus-minute clock-killer following a second Ben Roethlisberger interception.
That was a Sunday Night Football contest for the Steelers, a team that ordinarily shines under the lights, but which certainly did not do that in Buffalo. They only had one primetime game earlier this year, back in the opener, and they won that comfortably by 10 points. Now they have another this week on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals on the road.
“There’s a lot on the table for us”, head coach Mike Tomlin said during his pre-game press conference earlier today, acknowledging that a victory in Cincinnati would be enough to lock up the AFC North title. “We are excited about primetime football. We essentially laid an egg last week on primetime football, so we are excited about getting another opportunity at that”.
This will be their finale primetime game of the season, though they were supposed to have another a couple of weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens, before multiple postponements caused them to lose their Thanksgiving matchup with their fiercest rival.
For the first time in a while, the Steelers will also have both clarity on their work week and at least a standard amount of time with which to work. Thanks to the postponement of the Ravens game, they have been operating on short weeks for the past two games, and the game against Baltimore was, of course, thrown into turmoil, not knowing when they would practice, let alone play.
Will that make a difference in their ability to right the ship, so to speak? They had better hope so. While they are extremely likely to win the division, they are still playing for seeding, and now the Bills are a game back with the head-to-head tiebreaker.