Pittsburgh Steelers Ready to Roll Into Final Stretch

Todd FlemingAnalyst INovember 18, 2009

DENVER - NOVEMBER 09:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes 34 yards for a first down against the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on November 9, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Steelers defeated the Broncos 28-10.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The day after the Steelers lose, the city of Pittsburgh and the extended Steelers Nation that circles the globe went into a collective and palpable state of depression. We are ready to grab pitchforks and all meet up at Bruce Arians' house.

Two days after the Steelers lose, we are still grumbling about all of the things that should have been done differently. But, at least this time around, some of our feelings have been dampened by having watched the Cleveland Browns on Monday night football. Who exactly was responsible for scheduling that team to play on Monday night? 

I'm sure I'm not the only Steelers' fan who uttered a prayer of Thanksgiving that I'm not a Browns' fan.

Three days after a loss, we are well on our way to a full recovery. We start having thoughts like, "The game wasn't nearly as important as we thought it was." Or, "The Bengals? Even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time." Or, how about, "Big Ben was due for a bad day. Better to get it out of the way now." 

Four days after a loss, our team is back to being a bullet-proof squad of immortals.  There can be only one. Bring on the Chiefs! May they cower in fear. Canton should consider opening up another wing for these guys.

In all seriousness, Steelers' fans have plenty of reasons to remain very optimistic at this juncture in the season.  

Except in rare cases, there is going to come a time during most seasons, even for the eventual Super Bowl winner, that the team is going to look nightmarishly bad. Ideally, that moment will not come during the playoffs. 

The 2005 Super Bowl champion Steelers? How about a dreadful three game losing streak that dropped them to 7-5 in what appeared to be a much more competitive wild card environment than they face this year. They were declared dead and buried. 

Even the most rose-colored glass wearing Steelers' fan had a hard time envisioning a scenario in which they could recover.

The 2008 Super Bowl champion Steelers? How about an early season thrashing by the Philadelphia Eagles that was one of the worst games I ever remember watching, a game in which Ben Roethlisberger should have received significant hazard pay. 

If you would have told me after that game that the Steelers would win the Super Bowl, I would have suggested you stop skipping your meds. Take the feelings you had following the Bengals' game and multiply them by 10. 

That is how I was feeling after that one.

Both of those Steelers' teams recovered just fine. And there is no reason to think that this year's team won't recover from the loss against the Bengals. 

The defense is starting to resemble the squad that gave offensive coordinators and quarterbacks nightmares in 2008. 

It's not there yet, but it is getting closer by the week.

The offense is more consistent and explosive than the 2008 version with an improved offensive line and a real running threat. And they have plenty of unrealized potential to improve. This is not an offense hitting its full potential just yet.  

The special teams? Let's just skip on to the next point, please. Your best bet on kickoffs is to close your eyes and hope for the best. The good news? There is nowhere to go but up when it comes to the kickoff coverage.  

While I don't think the Steelers will win the division, it is certainly not beyond the realm of the possible. They've already played all of their best opponents and are 6-1 against teams not named the Bengals. If they win out, chances are very high that they will win the division.

But, even if they go in as the sixth seeded wild card, do you really think that anyone will look forward to playing host to them in the playoffs? 

It was a lesser Dick LeBeau led defense that treated Peyton Manning like a rag doll in 2005. I'm guessing Sir Peyton would rather not see the Steelers again in a critical playoff matchup. If he had happy feet with Joey Porter staring across the line at him, I'm not thinking he would relish staring into the axe murderer-like gaze of James Harrison.

The Bengals? I have a hunch that the third time would be the charm against Marvin Lewis's bunch. The Bengals are a very good football team, but I saw nothing in either game to lead me to believe that the Steelers can't beat them in Cincinnati. 

The Patriots? That would be a tough matchup in Foxboro, but I'm guessing it would not be the Patriots' matchup of choice. Flashback to last year and remember the difficulties the Pats' offensive line had blocking the Steelers' linebackers.

Every team that wins a Super Bowl does it only after running a tough playoff gauntlet.  This year will be no different. 

There are plenty of very good teams in both the AFC and the NFC who have a good chance of coming out on top.  The Steelers are definitely one of those teams.

There is plenty of football left, including two games against the Baltimore Ravens.  But, if the Steelers get to the playoffs, they are built for success. They have a ton of playoff experience, a superb defense, and a quarterback who plays biggest on the biggest stages. 

It is an unfortunate reality that only one fanbase will finish this season happy. I still like the odds that Steelers Nation will be celebrating come February.