Despite a close loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football to close out the home slate of games for this season, there are still several positives for fans to focus on as the Pittsburgh Steelers head into the final two weeks of the 2019 NFL season.
Even with the loss, the Steelers are still sitting in a prime position to make the postseason. Here’s why you need to talk yourself off of a cliff and hang on tight for the final two games!
The Steelers control their own destiny
This isn’t an if, and, or but scenario, but a reality: win-out and the Steelers are in the playoffs.
According to NFL.com, the Steelers currently hold the AFC’s final postseason spot with the 6th seed “Wild Card”. All they have to do is win each of their next two games and they’re automatically in.
No fussing over who beats who: win and you’re in.
I know fans may be scoffing at that concept with two road games on the horizon, including a matchup with the league’s top team, the Baltimore Ravens, in Baltimore. However, the Ravens could lock up the top seed this weekend against the Cleveland Browns and would more than likely not put their top stars at risk in what would be, for them, a meaningless game.
In other words, the Steelers, a team already playing many of their own backups, could be on a more level playing field with the Ravens playing some of theirs.
More encouraging is that the Steelers went toe-to-toe with the Ravens in Week 5, losing a heartbreaker in overtime even after losing Mason Rudolph in the first series of the second half and putting Devlin Hodges in for his first regular season snaps ever.
That means the Steelers must take care of business against the New York Jets this Sunday. Do that and it’s no longer any guesswork. Lose and then you’re asking for help, but can still make it in winning at least one of those games and hoping the Houston Texans defeat the Tennessee Titans in the last week of the season.
The Steelers have done this without their top players
Pittsburgh’s shot at the postseason was all but doomed when Ben Roethlisberger went down in their Week 2 loss to Seattle.
Since then they’ve played two different quarterbacks who had taken zero regular season NFL snaps prior to 2019: second-year pro Mason Rudolph and undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges.
The team has also faced adversity with other injuries, subbing for James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Juju Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald over a number of games this season. They also went without Maurkice Pouncey following a two-game suspension and further defied the odds as even with all of the above talent, they were supposed to be nobodies after the losses of All-Pro’s Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
Add Stephon Tuitt to the list of players unavailable to the team and it’s amazing to think they still mathematically won’t have a losing season. There’s even a possibility they could still get ten wins in 2019 despite all of these factors!
Entering the Final Stretch
Fast forward and the Steelers have done what appears to be the impossible. Early on analysts quipped how there was no way this team could make the playoffs after starting 0-3. Furthermore, they wouldn’t be able to do it having lost all of the aforementioned talent such as Big Ben, AB and Bell.
Their replacements, JuJu and Conner, would have big shoes to fill, but haven’t been able to lace their boots to get on the field for a good portion of the 2019 season.
Yet, the Steelers have stacked multiple winning streaks to improve to 8-6 with two games to go.
Prior to Sunday, the team hadn’t dropped a game since the Browns defied oddsmakers on November 14 in the ugly 27-7 Week 11 loss at Cleveland.
That’s a 3-0 streak through Week 14, combined with a string of four consecutive victories following the overtime loss to Baltimore. Those triumphs included wins over the Chargers, Dolphins, Colts, and Rams.
Now it’s up to the Steelers to string more wins together. It starts with the next two games, which are nearly must-wins to get into the tournament.
Their first opponent, the New York Jets, sit at 5-9 and have been a hot/cold team all season, but has lost to all three AFC North opponents it has faced this season including giving the Cincinnati Bengals their only victory of 2019.
The Jets have also lost to lesser opponents such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins this season, giving Steelers Nation some hope that they can invade MetLife Stadium this Sunday and leave with a win.
As mentioned earlier, if the Ravens take care of business this weekend as well, then the final game of the season may become a bit easier for the Steelers.
Should they win back-to-back games, they’ll enter the playoffs where losing is no longer an option. The question will be if they can string together three more wins for a trip to Super Bowl LIV. While that may seem like a dream at this point in time, none of us had those aspirations as soon as Roethlisberger was placed on IR back in September.
But as we’ve witnessed with our very own eyes, anything can happen in the NFL. But it will be up to the Steelers to maintain any sort of momentum to make it happen.
With James Conner returning to full health, the Steelers offense can only improve going forward. Should JuJu Smith-Schuster be able to return as well, both 2018 Pro Bowl selections could greatly factor into the team’s playoff push and beyond.
Here’s to hoping that the wild ride doesn’t have an end in sight and that fans can look forward to several more weeks of riding this train off into the sunset.