Sunday was a day that met expectations. The Steelers beat Cincinnati on a neutral field in Cincinnati, the Ravens laid an egg against a bad team, and Ben Roethlisberger definitely, 100% was NOT making any excuses when he said, "It was really windy. That’s the only reason I went with the glove, because you can spin it a little better. It definitely affected some throws, but you know me, I’ll never make excuses.”
|If you're not injured enough to grimace, just smile and point to God.|
Despite having won only one intra-division game, the Steelers are alone in first place in the AFC North. The Ravens, for the second time this season, followed up a "career defining" game by Joe Flacco with a similarly "career defining" game by Joe Flacco against an inferior opponent, losing 22-17 to Seattle. If the collective "we" are going to start proclaiming every Flacco win a career defining moment, then the losses should be treated the same way, which essentially means that however we define Joe Flacco's abilities, they're much like his eyebrows in that they could show up anyplace at any time and you wouldn't be surprised.
So the Steelers head into the bye week at 7-3, with 5 of their remaining 6 games eligible for the "we really should win this, but you can be damn sure we're going to lose one of these" status. The only game where the Steelers might be underdogs is at San Francisco on Monday December 19th, but because of the 49ers' impressive start to the season, they could have the NFC West wrapped up by then meaning Alex Smith's backup is a possibility. At this point, 11-5 is all but assured, 12-4 is the expectation, and 13-3 is still on the table. With no one in the AFC doing much to really separate itself from the pack, home-field advantage and a bye week is what we should start preparing for mentally.
[Counterpoint by Artistry: "Houston looks pretty unstoppable on the ground."]
|Great in unlimited running space|
If and when the Steelers play the Ravens again in the playoffs, there will be a 3rd and 8 that the Steelers need to convert to keep a 4th quarter drive going. Will they convert it? Who knows? It's 50/50 whether Antonio Brown makes a grab for 11-yards or Terrell Suggs throws Ben's head like a discuss into the 4th row.
In that same game, Joe Flacco will be faced with a 4th and 7 at midfield with 1:15 left to play and the Ravens down by 4. Will he convert it? Who knows? It's 50/50 whether Woodley clubs him to the turf or Torrey Smith puts a down payment on a condo on Gay Island.
If and when the Steelers play the Patriots, will Ben throw a pick 6 to a defensive lineman for no reason other than that's what Ben does sometimes? Who knows? It's 50/50 whether Vince Wilfork will be high-fiving his teammates on the sideline while swallowing an entire oxygen tank in one gulp or the Steelers rack up 40 minutes of possession and Ryan Clark concusses every Patriots' receiver.
If and when the Steelers play the Texans, will their offensive line blow our guys five yards off the ball on every play? Probably, but then again, does Houston scare you at all when they only beat the Steelers by 7 at home in Week 4 and have never played a playoff game?
To summarize, here's what we know. The Steelers are good and have a legitimate shot to win the division and get a first-round bye. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. Last season the Steelers had great matchups in the playoffs, getting the Jets and the Ravens and avoiding the Patriots. This season, the Ravens are a little bit better, but the Patriots are a little bit worse. The Texans are lurking, but they have no experience. The Jets are still tough, but that's a matchup Steelers' fans should be praying for. Cincy should fade admirably into the background, and the AFC west is one week away from having four teams at 5-5.
The bottom line is that today is a day for optimism, even if we can't exactly pinpoint why.