(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
As January rolls around we enter the NFL playoffs and thankfully this year the
Pittsburgh Steelers have made it back to the dance, but there's a lot of steep hills they
will have to climb if they want to get back to the big game and have a chance to
compete for the 7th Lombardi. Teams like Baltimore and Buffalo are peaking at the right
time and look the best they have all season but don’t count out Pittsburgh just yet. With
the stellar defense that they have had all season and the offense finding its rhythm the
Steelers can compete against anyone and here's why.
Kansas City: It's no secret that the Chiefs are the best team (Record Wise) in the league but KC has a lot of holes on that defense. While it's front 7 has shown it can get to the QB their secondary has been lackluster allowing 29 passing TD throughout the regular season which is just above the league average of 27. Their defense has allowed on average 358.3 yards per game with 236.2 is through the air while 122.1 is on the ground so if Pittsburgh does end up playing KC look for Ben to sling the ball a lot and get the receivers cooking and trying to get Conner mixed in with some run plays as well. On the offensive side of the ball, it's no secret how talented their offense is; it would be a battle of two juggernauts with their powerhouse offense vs our powerhouse defense, but with key guys like Clyde Edwards-Helaire out for the season and Tyreek Hill battling a hamstring injury it really could be a toss-up on how this game would go!
Buffalo Bills: The Bills currently look the best out of every AFC team with Josh Allen playing at an MVP level and their defense locking offenses down but this would be no replay from their Week 14 game on Sunday Night. Since that game, Buffalo hasn’t missed a step going 3-0 while Pittsburgh going 1-2 (Rested starters in Week 17) it's closer than you think. Starting off with the obvious Buffalo is a young team with very little to no playoff experience it's going to be interesting to see how Josh Allen will handle the pressure of being in the postseason. While back in the Week 14 match up the Pittsburgh offense was anything but itself and fell flat for the majority of the game, but since then has gained back some of that firepower in the 4th quarter against Indianapolis. The main focus would be to pressure Josh Allen to make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket Pittsburgh has capitalized on stuff like that before resulting in turnovers for the Steel Curtain. With Pittsburgh trying more and more to run the ball and test out Wide Receivers deep and the possibility of a return from Joe Haden (Covid) and Robert Spillane (Knee) look for the Steelers to get more pressure on Josh Allen.
Tennessee Titans: When it comes to the Titans there's one major focus that needs to be neutralized DERRICK HENRY! Going back to their Week 7 match up the Pittsburgh defense did a very good job shutting down the run game against Tennessee, but with the loss of Bud Dupree (ACL) it'll be a more difficult task, but when it comes to the Pittsburgh defense they always have depth, and after the Week 17 game against Cleveland Alex Highsmith definitely showed he's more than up for the task. A big thing to note is Tennessee's defense has been extremely below average giving up an average of 398.3 yards per game giving up 277 passing yards per game which is the 4th worst in the NFL. With Pittsburgh's 10th ranked offense and Tennessee's 24th ranked defense (via Pro Football Reference) look for more of the same that happened in the Week 7 matchup. Just hope this time Pittsburgh doesn't let off the gas as much.
Baltimore Ravens: Pittsburgh has swept Baltimore in the regular season already but it would be very hard to pull off the three-peat. When it comes to Baltimore-Pittsburgh games you know it's gonna be a hard-fought slugfest, expect that again as Baltimore's offense is back to clicking with everyone back from covid and Pittsburgh finally finding their rhythm again. It's more of the same with stopping Josh Allen as it is stopping Lamar Jackson makes him feel pressured and uncomfortable, DO NOT let him get out of the pocket and get his legs going the more he feels like he has to get rid of the ball the worse his decision making will be. Baltimore is also fighting through their own injuries with a lot of their star power on defense questionable for the game vs Cincinnati most of them played but stars like Jimmy Smith and Yannick Ngakoue did not. Look for Pittsburgh's run-stopping defense to play a big role if this game happens, needing to stop not only Lamar Jackson but JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram. This truly would be the definition of AFC North football.
Cleveland Browns: Sunday Night Football. Primetime! Browns. Steelers. All the storylines build-up to this game. Couldn't have scheduled it better. When it comes to the Browns the Steelers have it figured out how to make Baker Mayfield feel uncomfortable and flustered. Looking back on their week 6 matchup Pittsburgh needs to stick to what works blitzing Baker and forcing him to make quick decisions. Looking at the Week 17 game with Pittsburgh resting the majority of their starters the Pittsburgh's offense was cooking through the air with Mason Rudolph aside from the one interception the offense looked good even got James Conner looking back to his old self. With guys like Roethlisberger, Watt, and Heyward back into the lineup and Cleveland losing Olivier Vernon to an injury expect Pittsburgh to be firing on all cylinders after the much-needed “Bye Week” in Week 17.
Indianapolis Colts: With the Colts clinching the final AFC Wild Card spot we can look back at their Week 16 matchup, with that game still fresh in everyone's mind the way Pittsburgh can beat Indy again is to let Roethlisberger run the no-huddle offense as that was really effective against Indy's defense. The defense needs to do more of the same and pressure Philip Rivers. Get on the gas quick and make Indy play from behind which will cause Rivers to make poor decision making. As long as Pittsburgh plays more like they did in the 4th quarter on both sides of the ball than how they played in the 1st half then Pittsburgh should have no problem getting out the win if this matchup does happen
Side note: If rumors are true and Pittsburgh is looking to use Joshua Dobbs more in the playoffs as a run-pass option kinda thing then that could be huge and be another weapon added to the arsenal.