Usually, in Week 17 against the Browns, when you turn to your buddies and say, I'd like to be up 35-0 by halftime so we can pull our starters and rest up for the playoffs, you can be fairly assured that it's just not going to work out that way. But lo and behold, Sunday's game in Cleveland actually played out pretty much exactly as we wished it would. Steelers' fans can thank Eric Mangini and his staff, who apparently convinced the very same players who had nothing to be ashamed of back when these teams met in Week 6 to clean out their lockers before they even took the field for this one. What an embarrassment for Cleveland. (Excuse me, the redundancy police are here. Yes, officer, I understand. Won't happen again.) So we have our precious bye. How we looking? Not too shabby. Some thoughts heading into the playoffs:
- The Steelers will host either Indianapolis, Baltimore or Kansas City on January 15th. The bet here is that we'll get the Colts. I just don't see Mark Sanchez beating Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, even if the Colts have no good running backs, no Bob Sanders, no Dallas Clark, and Austin Collie has 14 concussions. This is good news and bad news for Pittsburgh. It means New England is going to have to play Baltimore, which should have no trouble with the Chiefs. The Ravens may be the best chance the Steelers have to avoid that dreaded trip to Foxboro. But this scenario also means we get Peyton Manning. That's unfortunate when you consider that, had the Chiefs just managed to beat Oakland Sunday, we'd have two weeks to prepare for Matt Cassell. No team has ever lost to Matt Cassell with an extra week of preparation time. I made that up, but it could easily be true.
- We can't take a playoff win against any of the aforementioned teams for granted, but let's do it anyway, just for the sake of discussion. No sense ignoring the elephant in the room. An AFC Championship game matchup with the Patriots is, of course, still bad news for the Steelers. But it's not the absolutely terrible news it was just a few short weeks ago. There were two factors that could have crippled Pittsburgh's chances against New England, in this order: 1) the offensive line was beyond ineffective; and 2) injuries to Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu would let Tom Brady work over the Steelers' defense like a firm shampooing of his wondrous hair. Well, somehow, against all probability, the offensive line has done relatively well these last few weeks. The Browns and Panthers are terrible, but the Jets are not. And the line kept Ben Roethlisberger clean against Rex Ryan's
- Santonio Holmes is a wonderful football player. The guy just oozes talent, and you'll see a Holmes highlight virtually every time you watch the Jets. I'm not saying the Steelers are a better team without him, and I'm not saying a 5th round draft pick was fair value for the former Super Bowl MVP, no matter how much agita he caused the front office with his off-the-field misbehavior. I am saying, however, that it's time to acknowledge that it looks like the Steelers knew something we didn't when they sent Santonio down the road. For one thing, Mike Wallace may be the better player. Now in just his second year in the league, he's certainly more explosive. You want to talk about blowing the top off of a defense. For another thing, that's a pretty good pair of rookies in Emanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Even with Hines Ward in the twilight of a great career, the cupboard isn't bare; it's stocked.
- Jeremy the Punter still worries me. I can't shake the vision of him shanking one and giving Tom Brady the ball at the Steelers' 30 in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Hope I'm wrong about you, Jeremy. Whatever your last name is.
The Penguins play the Capitals at 12:30 on Super Bowl Sunday. I plan to attend, and then I'd like to watch the Steelers. Just imagine the Get to Our Postgame on Monday. Let's shoot for that, if we can.