Way back in September, when my fantasy league held its draft, I struck gold with the first overall pick. One of the many benefits of picking first is you can square away all your crucial positions and then go for favorites earlier/more easily than anyone else. I took full advantage and probably reached a little to yank the Pittsburgh Steeler defense off the board for reasons too convoluted to describe here.
Luckily, I reached into the hat and—blind panic nothwithstanding—had the wherewithal to snag the New Orleans Saints' D. Insert big sigh of relief.
Although my emergency plan has become the stalwart, I've still kept a close eye on Steel City. Like I said, I drafted the Steel Curtain because I wanted to use it as much as I thought it would be a boon to my team.
As those in Pittsburgh can tell you much better than I, it's been a loooooong wait.
And the undeniable reason has been the absence of The Man from Troy.
If you prefer cold hard numbers, you can see by that game-log that Polamalu has seen action in only five of the Steelers' first 12 games. Pittsburgh won four of those games and the game they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals featured the best safety in the National Football League for only one series.
There's a very persuasive argument that says the Steel Curtain is undefeated with Troy Polamalu on the field.
Even more telling are the seven games the "Head and Shoulders" huckster has missed.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, defending Super Bowl champions, have lost five of those seven. But these are not just typical losses—included in the quintet are defeats at the hands of the woeful Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, and Oakland Raiders.
Consider that last one for a second because it was in Pittsburgh, a national telecast, and the freshest in the memory banks. Consequently, it was the ugliest of the bunch.
The Raiders, whose house is in almost total disarray as usual, came into Heinz Field and Bruce Gradkowski led the Silver and Black to a fourth quarter, come-from-behind victory. Not only that, the dude did it by absolutely gashing the Steeler secondary time after time after time.
In fact, there's a decent chance Ike Taylor's flaming jockstrap is still burning somewhere on that field.
Good lord, I'd bet good money nobody in America is more eagerly anticipating Polamalu's return than Mr. Taylor after that performance.
But it wasn't only Ike. The entire secondary spontaneously combusted as Gradkowski threw for 308 yards, three touchdowns, zero picks, and a passer rating of 121.8. Louis Murphy caught four passes for 128 yards and two scores. Johnnie Lee Higgins nabbed four passes for 63 yards and three other targets caught balls while averaging at least 10 yards per completion.
It was the definition of obscene from a defensive perspective.
It was also a theme that has been present ever since Troy Polamalu went down.
In those five games where he took at least one snap, the Steelers held firmly. Neither the Titans, the Cleveland Browns, the Minnesota Vikings, the Denver Broncos, nor the Bengals managed to score 20 points.
In the seven games Polamalu's missed, Pittsburgh has been torched for at least 20 points six times. Only the Bears failed to reach the mark, falling three points shy.
The Bengals put up 23. The San Diego Chargers zapped 'em for 28. The Detroit Lions mauled the Steelers for 20 on the nose. The Chiefs posted 27 on the board, the Baltimore Ravens hit for 20, and the Raiders just lit 'em up for another 27.
The difference on paper is as obvious as the one in reality.
Clearly, no one can seriously argue the Most Valuable Player of the League is a guy who's missed seven games (and counting) of a 16-game regular season. Furthermore, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning are all having phenomenal years as is Chris Johnson—one of those four (read: one of the quarterbacks) will win the hardware.
Nevertheless, Troy Polamalu's absence has turned the Super Bowl champions into just another football team. One capable of losing to terrible teams and being embarrassed by an embarrassing franchise.
I'd say that makes him the real MVP.