NFL Playoff Predictions: 10 Pittsburgh Steelers Who Make or Break the Postseason

Mikael LevinContributor IJanuary 2, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: 10 Pittsburgh Steelers Who Make or Break the Postseason

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are a perennial postseason team. Since 2002—the year the league aligned to eight divisions with the inclusion of the Houston Texans—the Steelers have failed to make the postseason just three times.

    In the same time, the team have been to three Super Bowls, winning two.

    Pittsburgh has the enviable playoff record in large part due to its stalwart defense and cunning offense. Both have featured future Hall of Famers like Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.

    But there are a handful of players who seem to do all the dirty work when it gets to the postseason. So, without further ado, I give you the 10 players who will tip the scales in favor of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

No. 10: Brett Keisel

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    The 10th-year defensive end affectionately known as 'Da Beard' has been there and done that in his six years as starting DE. The Steel Curtain would merely be a limp piece of material without him, and his contributions this season have been influential. He posted 48 total tackles and three sacks.

    In the two seasons the Steelers won the Super Bowl this century, Keisel posted stats of 33 and 41 tackles in the 2005 and 2008 regular seasons—the former without starting a single game.

    In their Super Bowl XLIII victory against the Arizona Cardinals, Keisel contributed five crucial tackles. Can Da Beard repeat his successes? 

No. 9: Heath Miller

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    In terms of receptions, this is the TE's second-best season in his seven years as a Pittsburgh Steeler with 50.

    He has accumulated a noteworthy 631 yards and two touchdowns, and it is his exceptional balance that makes him one of the league's premier tight ends. His blocking and running abilities ensure his frequent use as a first-team offensive player.

    In Super Bowl XLIII, Heath Miller had the second highest amount of reception—catching the ball five times for 57 all-important yards. A truly indispensable tool for Ben Roethlisberger, Miller's role to play in the upcoming postseason is an imperative one.

No. 8: Antonio Brown

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    After last season's lack of activity, Brown has taken on a more prominent role as the Steeler's second-choice WR after the inimitable Mike Wallace.

    A kickoff and punt returner as well as a wide receiver, Brown has amassed 1,108 receiving yards and 41 rushing yards this regular season. On top of this, Brown has accumulated 1,014 return yards.

    Yardage means a lot, but touchdowns mean a whole lot more; Brown has just three scores in all of his carries and catches this season. It has been his agility and tactical cunning that has granted him the opportunity to excel as a member of a premier NFL team—a team that lives in the postseason.

    Brown will need to stand up and be counted: He can be the edge the Steelers need to secure another title.

No. 7: Hines Ward

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    Although he is a 14-season veteran with 1,000 NFL receptions and a Super Bowl MVP honor to his name, Ward's use and effect has been limited in the last two seasons. This season, Ward has a paltry 381 receiving yards and two touchdowns—his lowest numbers since his rookie season in 1998.

    However, his spectacular stats in the postseason speak for themselves—10 postseason touchdowns in 17 appearances, including the game-winning catch in Super Bowl XL versus the Seattle Seahawks.

    Make no mistake, Hines Ward is a big-game player and it is time now once again for the big games to start.

No. 6: Rashard Mendenhall

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    Since fracturing his shoulder in his rookie season, Rashard Mendenhall has been a critical part of the Steelers offense and has the power to make or break their season.

    Having accumulated over 3,000 yards rushing in his last three seasons and putting in 30 scores, it is safe to say that when Mendenhall performs, the Steelers perform.

    Because of his injury during the 2008 regular season, Mendenhall was unable to assist his team in their last Super Bowl victory. In their last postseason series, Mendenhall scored four times in three games—including an eight-yard score against the Green Bay Packers in the Steelers' Super Bowl XLV loss.

    Mendenhall is a crucial figure in the Steelers lineup and will be the go-to run option throughout this postseason.

    Unfortunately,  it does seem as though Rashard Mendenhall might miss the Steelers' Wild Card matchup with the Denver Broncos.

    If this is the case, this will be a devastating blow to the Steelers' postseason hopes as a lot rests on his shoulders. Isaac Redman, Mendenhall's inevitable replacement, will look to fill the almighty shoes vacated by a potential season-ending injury.

No. 5: James Farrior

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    Part of the oft-criticized aging Steel Curtain, the 15 season veteran—and 10 year Steeler—has 32 sacks while working alongside the other members of the Curtain.

    Like Ward, Farrior is starting to show signs of weakness as he posted his lowest total tackles stat in his 10 years, with just 78.

    Farrior was almost completely nullified in the Steelers' Super Bowl XLV loss to the Packers, contributing just two tackles. However, during the postseason run of 2008—leading to a Super Bowl victory—Farrior had 25 tackles in three matches. That's an incredibly remarkable statistic which, if repeated, could surely mean another Steeler Super Bowl.

    That said, the key word in that sentence is 'if'. Farrior will need to defy his age and rely on his experience if the seventh ring is to be worn.

No. 4: Troy Polamalu

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    Another member of the Pittsburgh outfit whose body hair is renowned the world over.

    More hair than man, Polamalu has been a key part of the Steelers defense for nine years. Polamalu has just two interceptions this season, the second-lowest of his career (and the 2007 season was hampered by injury which meant Polamalu caught no interceptions).

    Three touchdowns from three interceptions in nine postseason games—including two against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Conference Championship match in the 2008 Super Bowl run—means that Polamalu is wildly inconsistent in the playoffs.

    If he gets an interception, it is likely to lead to a score, but these interceptions are few and far between these days. Polamalu has been the subject of criticism lately and this is not unjust.

    He needs to prove to the NFL world that he still has the talent to take his team to glory.

No. 3: Mike Wallace

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    A second consecutive season over 1,000 yards receiving, Mike Wallace has quickly established himself as one of the league's brightest and best wide receivers. His 24 career touchdowns in two seasons as a starter speaks volumes for a player with immense character and ability, as mentally strong as he is physically.

    Nine receptions for 89 yards and a score wasn't enough to guide his team to a seventh Super Bowl against the Packers last season. This, however, followed Divisional and AFC Conference Championship matches which featured little action from Mike Wallace: He caught just four times for 26 yards in the two games.

    That said, Mike Wallace has somewhat proved he can step-up to the plate during times of need and will be a key figure in the Steelers postseason run.

No. 2: Ben Roethlisberger

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    With 14 consecutive NFL wins to launch his career sky-high back in 2004, 'Big Ben' has rarely taken his foot off the gas in eight NFL seasons—seven of which he finished with a winning record. Leading his team to three Super Bowls, winning two, Roethlisberger has shown to the world that he is a Hall of Fame candidate.

    It's difficult to criticize Roethlisberger—He is often cited as the complete quarterback package, but critiques can be found not in his on-field play but his off-field behavior.

    Both sexual harassment charges and a motorcycle accident that caused him to miss part of the 2006 season prove that Roethlisberger's somewhat unruly characteristics away from play may upset team morale.

    Big Ben will need to keep his eyes on the prize and stay focused if he and his team are to excel once more in this postseason.

No. 1: Shaun Suisham

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    A polarizing figure in the NFL world, Suisham has the hardest job in football: placekicking.

    What may seem to be a sentence with heavy sarcastic undertones, the placekickers' efforts are not to be undermined: Games are won and lost on points kicked. No truer has this phrase been than in Super Bowl XLV.

    With the Steelers trailing 21-17 toward the end of the third quarter, a chance was created to narrow the margin and perhaps sway luck in favor of Pittsburgh. The 52-yard field goal attempt was blazed wide left of the upright, allowing the Packers to capitalize on good field position, which they later did.

    We can mull over what could have been, but Suisham has—undoubtedly—the most important job to do in the postseason. And if his record has anything to say about that, he might find it challenging to convert his field goals—considering he has done so on less than 75 percent of occasions this season.

    Shaun Suisham will make all the difference this postseason: Just you wait and see.