What hurts more for the Pittsburgh Steelers than seeing a third-quarter tie transform into a 24-point loss at New England last Sunday? Here’s what: they might’ve had a chance at a playoff berth if they had won.
Ridicule if you must, but the Steelers’ November schedule is decidedly mediocre. At 2-6, Pittsburgh shouldn’t be favored against too many teams; however, with the 3-6 Bills coming to down on Sunday, most sports books have the Steelers giving at least three points.
The betting line doesn’t say it all, as teams who have a national following like the Steelers usually get a little bump from Vegas to keep the money relatively even on both sides. Nevertheless, it’s still a pretty good indication of who the smart people think might win.
After Buffalo pays its visit, the 5-3 Lions come marching to Heinz Field next Sunday, Nov. 17. Detroit may lead the NFC North by virtue of a tiebreaker, but it took a miracle comeback to keep the Lions from a .500 record at the season’s midpoint. Even though the Steelers are plagued by inconsistency, diminishing talent at some positions and unproven players at others, I still see the matchup with Detroit as a toss-up.
Following that two-game homestand, Pittsburgh takes to the road to face Cleveland. Yes, the Browns are improved this year and recently moved into second place in the AFC North, but all that gets them is a 4-5 record at this point. Finally, to wrap up November, the Steelers travel to Baltimore to face the staggering Ravens (3-5) on Thanksgiving night.
I wouldn’t be shocked if the Steelers win three out of their next four and enter December with a 5-7 record. Say what you will, but this isn’t a 2-6 team. Pittsburgh has underachieved at this point and the softness of its upcoming schedule should allow for at least a minor rebound.
It’s too bad that being 2-6 likely puts the Steelers out of playoff contention for 2013, because the dark clouds might have started to part if they had escaped New England with a 3-5 record. The 5-4 Jets hold the AFC’s final wild-card spot, so it’s not like the postseason is out of reach for anyone at the moment.
In a 16-game schedule, one game can dramatically turn a team’s fortunes. In a couple of weeks, the Steelers may be looking back and wondering “what if” regarding the Patriots game.
As it stands, the gag-inducing final 20 minutes in New England probably put Pittsburgh in rebuilding mode.