(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
The grueling journey that was the 2020 NFL regular season has finally come to an end and every spot in the postseason picture has been filled. Each and every team with at least a game remaining on their schedule has overcome a great deal of adversity during a Covid-filled year but look no further than the Pittsburgh Steelers to make the prior statement true. In an uncertain year, HC Mike Tomlin’s squad finished with an impressive 12-4 record. However, the four losses look a little bit uglier when you started the year on an 11-game winning streak. From the many rescheduled games, the lack of a real bye week, and numerous injuries at key spots, the Steelers and their fans should be thrilled with their postseason standing. While this may be true, none of this will matter if the Steelers do not lift their 7th Lombardi Trophy on February 7th. As the AFC’s third overall seed, the road to Tampa Bay will not be easy, but it is not impossible either. Below are 3 reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the final game of the NFL season, along with three reasons they will not.
Reasons the Steelers Will Win Super Bowl LV:
“Defense Wins Championships”
The old adage is arguably one of the most overused phrases used in sports, but that does not necessarily mean it is inaccurate. The reality is that in recent history, the Super Bowl was often won by the higher-ranked defense. Look no further than Super Bowl 50 and 53. In 53, the New England defense held the top-ranked Rams offense to just 3 points. Just as well, the 2015 Denver Broncos, who were the top-ranked defense, sent a struggling Peyton Manning out on top after a suffocating attack against MVP Cam Newton’s Panthers in Super Bowl 50. (Are you listening Pittsburgh fans?). Although injury has struck the Steelers' defense, they are still a unit that can overwhelm any offense on any given day, that alone giving them a chance in the tournament. Clutch defensive performances against some of the AFC’s top teams this year have been a trend for the 2020 Steelers and there is no reason to believe that the trend will not continue. The game-wrecking ability that LB T.J Watt brings on a weekly basis, the emergence of CB Mike Hilton, and the rock-solid consistency that comes from the likes of DEs Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt give the Steelers an opportunity to take down the NFL’s top teams any day, anywhere.
Perhaps more than every other team, the Steelers have endured adversity
It started in the season’s fourth week when the Steelers had their game moved to Week 7 due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Titans' organization. It continued when the Steelers had their Week 12 matchup rescheduled on three different occasions. It piled on when an exhausted Steelers squad dropped three games in a row in weeks 13-15. Through it all, Mike Tomlin has made zero excuses when it comes to the 2020 misfortunes, making the phrase “We Do Not Care” a theme for the season. In the postseason, often the team that has experienced a greater deal of adversity has an edge. This will most definitely stay true in this year’s tournament. The Steelers have overcome all of the obstacles that stood in their way as the season unfolded, and seemingly exorcised the offensive demons in a dominant 2nd half against Indianapolis in Week 16. Couple that with the rest that some Pittsburgh stars received in Week 17, the Steelers should feel rested and confident entering their Wild Card matchup against the Cleveland Browns. Through it all, the Steelers have overcome so much in a drama-filled season, but they find themselves healthy enough and talented enough to continue to complete the task at hand each and every week.
Ben Roethlisberger is their Quarterback
Roethlisberger’s 13 playoff wins are more than the other 6 AFC QBs total playoff wins combined (11). This kind of experience cannot be emulated in the postseason and gives the Steelers a large advantage. Pittsburgh will be able to go into any stadium knowing they have one of the most accomplished passers in NFL history on their side. Ben’s 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions have yet again proven he still has more fuel in the tank, and these coming weeks will prove to be an opportune time for the veteran to prove it. With 3 of the AFC’s playoff teams going to field a quarterback without a playoff victory, look for Roethlisberger to use his experience and instincts to give the Steelers a tactical and mental edge.
3 Reason the Steelers Will NOT Win Super Bowl LV:
Speaking of Ben Roethlisberger ...
Ben Roethlisberger is their Quarterback
While we have already established that Roethlisberger possesses the experience that is important in the NFL postseason, he can no longer match up with the insanely talented young AFC signal-callers. KC’s Mahomes, Buffalo’s Allen, and Baltimore’s Jackson are all uniquely talented quarterbacks who are seemingly changing the dynamic of the NFL on a weekly basis. Whether is Allen’s arm, Jackson’s legs, or Mahomes’ overall ability, each of the following teams will field a quarterback that is a true game-breaker. The Pittsburgh defense can certainly match up with these young studs, but Roethlisberger no longer brings the same game-breaking threat that he once did. At this stage in his career, Ben looks more like a point guard in the Pittsburgh offense. He distributes the ball to his dynamic receivers while rarely holding onto it for an extended period of time. This “game manager” approach was extremely effective in the first half of the season, however, opposing defenses seem to have picked up on what the Steelers so desperately want to do on offense. Look for the Steelers to open the offense up more as they did in the 2nd halves against Cincinnati and Indianapolis… but don’t be shocked if Ben cannot execute this style of offense throughout the entirety of the postseason.
They Can’t Run the Ball
Similar to the fact that the Steelers’ short passing game has been disrupted by opposing defenses, so has the run game. Pittsburgh has rushed for just 3.6 YPC this season, ranking them dead last in the league. They have also rushed for the fewest yards in the league with 1,351. To put that in perspective, Titans RB Derrick Henry rushed for 2,027 yards himself this year. Running the ball is a must in the postseason as it keeps the defense guessing. Just as well, running the ball is critical to closing out close games. When facing offenses such as Kansas City and Buffalo, possessing the ball and winning the time of possession battle is a necessity. A string of incomplete passes can give these high-powered offenses more possessions in a game where each drive counts. If the Steelers choose to open up the offense, there is the possibility that they may find something on the ground. However, there is no way to guarantee, or even argue, that this may become a reality.
The uncertainty has been the theme of this NFL season.
The third reason why the Steelers may not win the Super Bowl this year isn’t specific to them. Actually, it may be the premier reason that each and every team is facing an uphill battle this year. With Covid-19 infiltrating locker rooms across the league, who knows who will be affected, or when. The unfortunate truth is that not one team is exempt from the hardships of this virus. At any time, a season may be derailed. We have seen outbreaks in Tennessee, Baltimore, and Cleveland. It would be naïve to believe that we can make it through a month without any rosters being hit hard by the virus. As hard as it is to advance each week in the playoffs, there will also be plenty of luck involved as well. The team that can stay the healthiest will have the best chance to complete their journey. But this year is all about chance.