It's already the mid-way point of the NFL season, and the 6-2 Steelers are among a handful of AFC teams that could easily turn up in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV. No one would be surprised to see them still standing then, and no one would be surprised to see the Colts, Jets, Ravens, or Patriots either. How do we handicap this? By looking at who's handicapped. As we've often discussed here, serious injuries are so commonplace in today's NFL that luck in avoiding them may be the most important ingredient to season-long success. Maybe more important than anything aside from having a franchise quarterback or a referee from Washington, PA. That's why I found myself sitting on the couch last night muttering, "Season's over" when Chris Kemoeatu and Maurkice Pouncey went down within a few plays of each other last night. Probably an overreaction. I can almost hear Ron Cook admonishing me, telling me that we have capable backups and that the offensive lineman play for each other. "That's why they call it a team, you know?" he would say. Sure, Ron, I know. But I also suspect that the healthiest among that handful of aforementioned contenders is the most likely to represent the AFC in Dallas. There's just not much else separating them. Some other thoughts from last night:
- Curiously, the fact the Steelers almost blew a 20-point fourth quarter lead last night didn't even bother me that much. I guess it's just hard to take 2010 Carson Palmer that seriously. It never seemed like we were in big trouble, at least until that last minute. Ben Roethlisberger's late interception was sort of a fluke. The ball just slipped out of his hand. It's not like he threw into double coverage. What the fourth quarter did illustrate is what we need to be concerned about come December and January, when the Steelers are supposed to be unleashing hell. A quarterback who can beat the blitz and get the ball downfield with accuracy could carve up this secondary. Not sure you want to have William Gay guarding Jordan Shipley one-on-one, let alone Terrell Owens.
- That said, does any NFL defense have as many big time playmakers as the Steelers do?
- The offense is still working out the kinks, but it's clearly got the pieces in place to take its performance to the next level. Rashard Mendenhall is a force. Mike Wallace is faster than your car. Hines Ward and Heath Miller won't fumble again for the next 13 years. Through eight games, the Steelers are averaging 21.8 ppg, half of those without Roethlisberger. Tennessee leads the league with 28.0 ppg. That's where we should be against all but the top defenses when these guys start to gel.
- Unfortunately, we're soon going to see a couple of the top defenses and some of the better AFC teams. Look at the schedule for the season's second half: Patriots, Oakland, at Buffalo, at Baltimore, Cincy again, Jets, Carolina, at Cleveland. Nobody should relax for any of these games. OK, we can relax for Carolina.
- The guess here is that Jerry Jones can't get any big name coach to take Cowboys' top job. For anybody who's already established himself, life's too short to deal with a guy who makes you look his way during the draft just so viewers at home think he's involved with the decisions.
- Are things finally turning around in Cleveland? Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy are legitimate players. The Browns' defense just held New Orleans and New England to a combined 31 points. Nobody wants to play them right now. The Steelers get them in Week 17.
- New England comes to town Sunday night. I don't know how to put this, but that's kind of a big deal.