For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Where It Went Wrong and Why It Will End Right

Brian Gulish@@briengeeContributor IDecember 3, 2009

DENVER - NOVEMBER 09:  Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers leaves the field after the game against the Denver Broncos on 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 odds of blocking and field goal in the NFL are about as good as Tiger Woods' wife forgiving him.  As Jim Carrey says in Dumb and Dumber , one in a million, "So you're tellin' me there's a chance?!"

That had to be what Steelers nation was thinking when the team blocked a pivotal FG try in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans.  And you know what, the craziest thing happened.

The Steelers Aaron Smith blocked Rob Bironas' field goal try!  With the good of that play, it would become the downfall of the defending Super Bowl champions.

What followed was a myriad of injuries to come for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Troy Polamalu, who earlier in the game made a highlight reel interception of Kerry Collins, partially tore a ligament in his left knee.  He would miss the next two games.  The result, two-fourth quarter Steelers losses.

Week Two, the Steelers led the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, only to vanquish a fourth-quarter lead, allowing the Bears 10 points in the final frame.  

The next week in Cincinnati, the Steelers again blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Bengals, allowing 14 points in the last stanza.

Following a five-game win streak, highlighted by a victory over the undefeated Minnesota Vikings, the Steelers have lost three straight games to Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Baltimore.

I could list a million and one reasons why the Steelers have lost games this season.  They would sound like excuses, but they are indeed fact.  

What are the odds that Heath Miller drops a sure first down pass in Kansas City leading 17-7.  What followed was 10 straight points from the Chiefs, who eventually won the game in overtime.  Had Miller caught that pass, the Steelers were on their way to a 24-7 lead.  Instead, the Chiefs scored on the ensuing possession making the score 17-14.

Ben Roethlisberger, in that same game, was knocked out, literally, with a concussion.  What followed was Dennis Dixon starting for the Steelers in Baltimore.  While he played well enough for the Steelers to win, having Roethlisberger would have expanded the Steelers offense with the possibility of more points.

Let's look back at the earlier point, the Polamalu injury.  Sure, its hard to say if he played in Chicago and Cincinnati, the Steelers would have won.  But the defense, the leagues number one ranked unit, who have played much more aggressively.  

Without Polamalu, the Steelers are an entirely different team.  They don't blitz as much, they don't play man coverage on the corners, and they don't (can't) stop the big play.

With Polamalu, the Steelers are the number one ranked defense in the NFL.  They blitz from the seats in peanut heaven, the lock down on the corners and they don't relinquish fourth-quarter leads.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Steelers.  Although the division championship is all but an afterthought, the Steelers can and will make the playoffs.

In 2005, the Steelers were 7-5 and won their last four games to secure the sixth seed in the AFC.  They may not have to be so perfect this season, but they better chose their loss wisely.  

It better not be an inferior Oakland or Cleveland team the next two weeks.  With those two wins, the Steelers will be 8-5.  It shouldn't be the Green Bay Packers, although losing to an NFC team is their best option.  

It can't be Baltimore at home.  If they handle Baltimore, with Ben and assuming a healthy Polamalu, they will be either 10-5 or 9-6.  

Finally, there's the Miami Dolphins, in Miami.  I don't think so.

Whether it 11-5 or 10-6, the Steelers will make the playoffs, IF that one possible loss is not to the Ravens.

The Steelers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Denver Broncos, so that helps.  Looking at the remaining schedules of the Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Ravens, here is how I see the season playing out.

Denver— Kansas City (2), Indianapolis, Oakland, and Philadelphia.  They will lose two of those five, ending with a record of 10-6.

Jacksonville— Houston, Miami, Indianapolis, New England and Cleveland.  I see losses to Houston, Indianapolis and New England.  They may also lose to the Dolphins.  Jacksonville will not be a factor.

Baltimore— Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Oakland.  Can the AFC North secure three playoff spots, the answer, very likely.  At 6-5, the Ravens may lose one game the rest of the way, and that will be to the Steelers.  They will finish 9-6.

If the Steelers lose one game to finish 10-6, and defeat the Ravens who finish 10-6, the next tiebreaker would be division record.  Both the Steelers and Ravens would end up at 3-3.  Following that is record against like opponents.  The Steelers and Ravens played would have like opponents in the NFC North.  

The Steelers can finish 3-1 against the NFC North, the Ravens can also finish 3-1, the can also finish worse, with each of their next three opponents coming from that division.

After that is conference record, right now the Ravens are 6-4, the Steelers 4-4.  If this scenario holds true, the Steelers can win this tiebreaker if they defeat the Ravens in Pittsburgh.  

Regardless, I don't see either team finishing worse that 9-6.  The Steelers clearly control their own destiny, even if things haven't been so pretty the past three weeks.

With a tiebreaker over the Broncos secured, the Steelers win out and they are in the playoffs.  If they finish 4-1/ 10-6, they still will get in IF, that one loss, is not to the Ravens.  

Here is how I see the playoff seeding playing out.


San Diego

New England




Again, it is about Troy Polamalu.  The Steelers should be able to defeat the Raiders and Browns minus Troy.  If they can welcome him back against the Packers, the Steelers can win that game and have him back to full form against Baltimore in Week 16.  

As said earlier, the Steelers and Ravens game in Pittsburgh will be a totally different contest with the presence of Polamalu and Roethlisberger.

One in a million relates more closely to the odds the Steelers won't make the playoffs as opposed to odds they will.


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