Pittsburgh Steelers Clinch AFC North, Earn Playoff Berth with Win vs. Ravens

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistDecember 11, 2017

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) comes off the field with running back Le'Veon Bell (26) and fellow wide receiver Martavis Bryant (10) after scoting a touchdown in an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers have clinched a playoff berth for the fourth straight season after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 39-38 Sunday night.

The team's official account celebrated the win:

Pittsburgh Steelers @steelers

Kings of the North. https://t.co/sng7uz7dAX

Things didn't come easy to the Steelers at the start of the 2017 season. They were 3-2 after the first five games when the offense averaged 19.8 points per game and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six).

After Roethlisberger threw five interceptions in a 30-9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 8, he sounded like a player closer to retirement than ever before:

Aditi Kinkhabwala @AKinkhabwala

Afterwards, Ben Roethlisberger said, "Maybe I don't have it anymore." Asked: What makes you say that? Says, "I'm not playing well enough." https://t.co/w1IcjgnYKY

That game wound up being the turning point in Pittsburgh's season. The Steelers would go on to win eight straight games, separating themselves from the pack in the AFC North and challenging the New England Patriots for the conference's best record.

Running back Le'Veon Bell hasn't had a typical season, by his standards, with 3.9 yards per carry. But he still leads the NFL in rushing attempts (283) and yards (1,105) because the Steelers feed him the ball to take pressure off Roethlisberger's arm and let their defense dominate the opposition.

Bell is also a major force in the passing game, ranking second on the team with 92 targets and 75 receptions.

Head coach Mike Tomlin has the Steelers back to playing a smashmouth style of football. They entered the week ranked fourth in the league in total defense and scoring defense.

"We can put pressure up the middle and keep it tight on the outside," defensive end Cameron Heyward told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler about why the group has been so successful. "That's a solid rush for us. It doesn't allow the quarterback to step all the way up. Even if you're not getting a sack, you're getting the pressure and forcing a tackle. We just have to continue to do it."

Even though the 2017 version of the Steelers has been defined by defense, wide receiver Antonio Brown remains an unstoppable weapon with an NFL-best 99 receptions and 1,509 receiving yards.

B/R's Mike Freeman even made the case for Brown as the NFL MVP for his performance this season:

"Brown is carrying a team of superstars on offense. [Roethlisberger] has been OK. [Bell] leads the league in rushing, but we haven't seen the game-breaking Bell yet (his 3.9 yards per carry is a four-year low). Regardless, the Steelers offense has been practically unstoppable—Pittsburgh is fifth in passing yards and seventh in total yards—because of Brown, who has lifted the somewhat lackluster play of Roethlisberger and Bell."

The Steelers have high expectations every year because that's the standard this franchise has set. They have made the postseason 18 times in the past 26 seasons after clinching a spot in this year's field.

During this four-year playoff run, the Steelers have improved one step at a time each season. After losing in the wild-card game to the Baltimore Ravens three years ago, they reached the divisional round in 2015 and AFC Championship Game last year.

If that trend continues this year, the Steelers will be playing in the Super Bowl for the ninth time in franchise history.

There will be plenty of time for the Steelers to get ready for their latest postseason push. For now, the organization and their fans will be able to celebrate being one of the last 12 NFL teams standing.