After the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, it looked as though their season was on the brink of disaster. They were 4-5, Le’Veon Bell was averaging a mere 72 yards per game and the defense had been shredded by everyone from Dallas to New England to the Dolphins.
That seems like ages ago, doesn’t it?
The Steelers, now eight weeks removed from that defeat against the Cowboys, are a completely different team. They’re infinitely better than the squad that struggled through the early part of the schedule, and it has them looking like serious contenders.
Sunday’s dominant victory over the Dolphins proved just that. They trounced Miami 30-12, getting revenge for an embarrassing 15-point loss way back in Week 6. Bell, in his first postseason game, set the Steelers’ franchise rushing record with 167 yards on the ground, hopping and knifing his way through Miami’s defense. Antonio Brown made big play after big play, becoming just the fourth receiver in NFL history to catch two 50-yard touchdowns in a single postseason game.
The Steelers looked as good as they have all season against the Dolphins, but they’re still not AFC favorites. That honor goes to the New England Patriots, who spent the week at home watching eight other NFL teams duke it out just to advance to the second round. It’d be unfair to vault Pittsburgh ahead of New England just because it beat the Dolphins and their backup quarterback at home – and I’m not going to do that … yet.
The Steelers still have to get through the Kansas City Chiefs, who will be hosting them at their place next Sunday afternoon. Sure, Pittsburgh opened as 1.5-point favorites, but that doesn’t make them locks to advance to the AFC Championship. It’s merely a sudden reaction to the beatdown they put on the Dolphins this weekend.
The Chiefs, who got the week off thanks to a first-round bye, are always overlooked in the postseason. Part of that is because of Andy Reid’s well-documented struggles when it comes to winning big games, but they didn’t earn the No. 2 seed by chance. No, they won their way to that honor.
Ben Roethlisberger was loose with the football against the Dolphins, throwing two interceptions with a couple of other near-picks. Obviously, both of them came in non-pivotal situations – right before the half and late in the fourth quarter – but he can’t afford to make careless mistakes like that against the Chiefs’ secondary.
Let’s not forget Kansas City forced more turnovers than any other team in the NFL. The defense is an aggressive bunch that gets its hands on the football at opportune times, turning poor throws into game-changing plays. Just look at the way Eric Berry turned multiple games around with his interceptions.
The Chiefs allowed the third-lowest passer rating against this season (79.8) with 18 interceptions. They do give up some big plays, but they also take plenty away with Marcus Peters and Berry in the secondary. The Dolphins’ secondary was abysmal on Sunday due to injuries, and the Steelers could be in for a rude awakening against the Chiefs.
For a second, let’s assume the Steelers do get past the Chiefs. That’ll set up a meeting with the Patriots – because, well, the Texans aren’t beating them on Saturday. The Patriots will be well-rested, well-prepared and likely firing on all cylinders. Oh, and the Patriots’ defense might just be better than the Chiefs’. They finished the year first in points allowed, eighth in yards and gave up just 88.6 yards per game on the ground – all better than the Chiefs.
And that’s all without mentioning the Patriots’ offense, which is led by Tom Brady, of course. They’ve proved to be capable of moving the ball with ease despite being without Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman is playing outstanding football right now, and Malcolm Mitchell has emerged as a good No. 2 – or 2A if you consider Chris Hogan in the conversation, too.
So again, the Steelers are great. They looked better than they have all season. But it was the Dolphins – the backup-quarterback-led Dolphins who were without three key starters in the secondary. It was a game the Steelers should have won, and should have won big. They did exactly that, so why are we to believe they’re now favorites in the AFC over the Patriots? We shouldn’t.