NFL Playoff Predictions: Potential Matchups Pittsburgh Steelers Fans Want To See
Another year, another AFC North divisional title in the making for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But, let's look beyond that, because everyone knows that in Pittsburgh winning the division is only part of the journey, ultimately there is an AFC Championship game and a Super Bowl to add to the bucket list.
Plenty of teams this year have surprised many fans and journalists alike; this applies to both the good surprises and the bad surprises. Some teams that are just absolutely stacked with talent on both sides of the ball completely floundered, while others that weren't expected to make a splash are contending for playoff spots. It's a testament to the cliche term of "any given Sunday."
Parity has run rampant in the NFL since free agency came about, but this year it seems like, every time we turn around, we see a contender getting beat by a cellar dweller.
Plenty of games offer limitless potential to be both stages for vengeance, and some set the scene for an upset of a Super Bowl favorite.
Let's take a look at the matchups that the fans of the Steel City WANT to see.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
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The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, the Jaguars beat the Steelers at their own game. It was a game that saw Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sacked six times, fumble once and throw three interceptions. Jaguars cornerback, Rashean Mathis, who seemingly has Roethlisberger's number over the course of his career, took one of his two interceptions to the house and then came right back and nabbed another ball out of the air shortly thereafter.
The most memorable play that wasn't a Mathis pick-six was David Garrard's 32-yard scramble that set up the Jaguars winning field goal.
If this matchup comes to fruition, you can bet the Steelers will be reminded of the loss in 2007—both by the media and by their own recollections and will be thirsty for revenge.
The Jaguars are a hot and cold team this year and still find themselves perched atop the normally strong AFC South division. The Steelers will have to play tough football, per usual, but would more than likely lead by 14 or more at the end of the game.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Diego Chargers
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This would of course mean the Chargers managed to squirm their way into the playoffs this year, and if they do, it certainly poses to be an intriguing match up.
These two teams know each other well—especially in the playoffs. These are games where the long-haired one, Troy Polamalu seemingly rules at his whim. Many of his career highlights come from playing the Chargers, including a beautiful interception against San Diego's Phillip Rivers in the snow, which saw Polamalu scoop the pass up centimeters from the ground.
Many who study the game of football give the Chargers credit for showing the Steelers the play that saw James Harrison take a Kurt Warner pass 100 yards to the house in Super Bowl XLIII, as they ran the same play and came away with a touchdown previously in the playoffs that very year.
On the play in question, the outside receiver and inside receiver on the left side will run the same route—a quick slant, with the inside man setting a pick of sorts on the defender and allowing the outside receiver to catch the cheap and easy touchdown. When the Steelers' defense sees this formation arise, a few things happen, first of all, Harrison has a decision to make based on what happens directly after the snap.
If he sees a clear lane to the quarterback, he has the option to blitz and really bring the heat, or if he doesn't think he can get there, he's obligated to drop into a short zone, which is where he was waiting when Warner threw that beauty of a pass that changed the complexion of that Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
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A matchup that could only happen in the Super Bowl, and it's only third on the list? That. Is. Insane. No?
Well, if you peek ahead, then you'll see exactly why a marquee matchup such as this one can lag behind two fierce rivalries.
Think of it, one of the most electrifying offensive players in the NFL with Michael Vick versus one of the most electrifying defensive players in the NFL in Troy Polamalu.
With the Eagles absolutely devastating speed on offense, the Steelers defense would have to bring their A game—or something a little tougher than their A game. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick being on one team, with Vick's revitalized passing skills is just a scary thought for a defense that boasts the 23rd ranked passing defense and regularly suits up William Gay.
The Steelers offense would be key in winning this matchup, they'd have to execute nearly flawlessly to come out victorious. And as for the defensive side of the ball, it would all come down to making Vick beat you with his arm. The best thing about having a middle linebacker the likes of Lawrence Timmons is that he is generally VERY good at keeping a player contained, making Vick his main concern would not only be a learning experience but a testament to what his true talent level is, should he shut down the explosive quarterback.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
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Ah, the greatest rivalry in the NFL, once again has the opportunity to spill over into the playoffs. The teams split the series this year, each dropping at home, and should the Ravens face the Steelers, they would once more be required to travel to the hostile Heinz field once more.
These two teams are the definition of an epic game. Both have a mutual hatred and a mutual respect among both the players and fans (for the most part). Both play the same type of football, though Baltimore seemingly has been shifting their offensive focus to the passing game, where Joe Flacco has looked mediocre at best.
Should these two teams meet once more in the playoffs, it has the potential to be even better than the last time they met in the 2008 AFC Championship game. There are no "boring" games when these two square off, unless your definition of boring is smash mouth, hit them hard, early and often football. And if you find that type of football boring, then you're watching the wrong teams.
It's games like these where the playmakers on the Steelers' defense truly shine, as evidenced by Polamalu's strip-sack of Flacco in their last meeting, where upon the ball hitting the ground, yet another stud in black and gold scooped the ball up nearly instantaneously.
So, a potential Super Bowl matchup ranks third, an intense divisional rivalry ranks second, that leaves only one team for first, and I think we all know who that is...
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
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The ultimate grudge match.
The Patriots embarrassed the Steelers on their home turf, something that doesn't happen very often. Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski torched nickel cornerback William Gay for three scores, in an ugly show by the Steelers defense, that saw genius defensive coordinator and Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau call off the dogs so to speak in the pass rush, as Tom Brady was virtually untouched and remained upright for the majority of the game.
This game comes down to a few key factors, the first being revenge. The Steelers are still hot about the loss at home to the Patriots, who have been cruising to win after win ever since. And they're not winning by a small margin either, they're blowing teams out of the water, and not slack teams either, teams with VERY good defensive units.
Should this matchup arise, it will be the AFC Championship game, and William Gay will have many chances to redeem himself for his putrid performance the first time these two teams met.
This is the game that I most want to see as a Steelers fan, because as Pro Wrestling Hall Of Famer Rick "The Nature Boy" Flair says "To be the best—you've got to beat the best." And the Patriots are without a doubt the hottest team in the league, and as much as it pains me, the best team in the league thus far.
It'll all come down to slowing Tom Brady down, because in reality there is no stopping him. He hasn't thrown an interception in eight games (Yeah—that's HALF a season). But, Brady's passer rating, and thus his efficiency goes down significantly when he faces a heavy pass rush.
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At the end of the day, we're all just fans. We have no bearing on the games themselves, and yet, we derive such joy from victories and feel the pain of defeat as much as the players.
Predicting games is fun, talking smack is fun, but at some point, there's a line that gets crossed regularly. Let's join hands as fans of the game, let's walk together in the spirit of the NFL and enjoy great football games once the playoffs get here.
As always, best of luck to all teams, may health and the football gods find you well. Still plenty of football left to play, but these matchups could be the setup to an epic Super Bowl run for the six-time champions.