It truly is a Christmas miracle that with only one week left in the NFL regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. After starting the season at 0-4, the Steelers have played much better football to improve to 7-4 in their last 11 games.
The resilience of this team has never been in question. When the rest of the NFL had written them off, the Steelers just keep pushing forward. There have been veterans and young players alike who have stepped up and been significant factors in the team's surge.
Who are the most indispensable players on this team going forward? Let's take a look at the five players who are most vital to the Steelers' playoff push.
All stats provided by NFL.com.
Including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on this list might seem obvious, but having him on the list is a must. The value of Roethlisberger and his impact on this season simply cannot be overstated.
Roethlisberger has thrown for 4,082 yards and 27 touchdowns, and has done whatever has been asked of him by his offense. Roethlisberger has had five 300-yard passing games this season, topping 400 yards twice.
If you are making a list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season, you don't have to call out too many names before you get to Roethlisberger. Should the Steelers find their way to the playoffs, you can bet that when this team needs a big play, it is going to be Roethlisberger who delivers.
Last Sunday, rookie Running back Le'Veon Bell finally topped the century mark in rushing yards for a game to remove any sliver of doubt that he is the man to lead Pittsburgh's rushing attack. Bell is a big, strong runner who is quickly emerging as a complete back.
Where Bell's game is tailor-made for the playoffs is how he impacts the passing game. Not only is Bell a very good pass-blocker, but he is also a very effective receiver out of the backfield.
Looking at the other potential playoff teams in the AFC, there's a real shot that the playoffs could run through harsh weather. If so, having a big, bruising back like Bell who can get tough yards could make all the difference.
Going into the season, the Steelers thought they were going to have a three-headed pass-rushing group of LaMarr Woodley, Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds. Fast-forward to Week 16 and Woodley is on the shelf while Jones has not been able to live up to expectations.
This implies that the bulk of the pass-rush duties are going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Worilds. The Steelers must hope that the hot streak Worilds has been on can continue into the playoffs.
The trick will be in finding inventive ways to get Worilds to the football because, at this point, the focus of opposing offenses will be to knock him off his game. Worilds already has a career-high eight sacks this season, and this is no time let up.
At the start of the season, cornerback Ike Taylor was on a roll. He was being locked up on opposing team's best wide receiver and doing a great job. However, things have taken a turn late in the season.
As Taylor's play has suffered, it has put cornerback Cortez Allen on the spot. Allen has responded, for the part. While he has excellent size and speed, he still struggles with inconsistency in coverage.
With the Steelers' playoff hopes in the balance, it is time for Allen to shine. Pittsburgh finishes its regular season against the Cleveland Browns, and their star wide receiver Josh Gordon.
The Steelers have chosen to line up Allen and Taylor on their respective sides and cover whoever is in front of them. This means that Allen is going to get plenty of chances to put the clamps on Gordon and help the Steelers reach the playoffs.
The Steelers have been forced to endure a rash of injuries along their offensive line. After losing center Maurkice Pouncey in Week 1, things looked grim.
Fortunately, the Steelers were able to plug in center Fernando Velasco and things returned to near normal. However, in a Thanksgiving night loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Vealsco tore his Achilles tendon and is done for the year.
That pressed center Cody Wallace into duty. Wallace has started the last three games and has improved in each outing. If the Steelers make the playoffs, Wallace will be a big part of that. The Steelers love to run plenty of shotgun and the no-huddle offense. The role of the center is vital in making line calls and in dealing with all of this in what could be inclement weather.
Wallace has shown himself to be a scrappy, lunch-pail type of lineman who fits well with playoff football on a Steelers team that is starting to run the ball more.