The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the sub-.500 Denver Broncos on Sunday by a score of 24-17. They went from second place in the AFC and a first-round bye to fourth place. They still have a sizable lead in their division, but an early-season tie to the Cleveland Browns could be the difference maker for Pittsburgh.
If the Houston Texans continue to win and there is not a natural disaster in Foxboro that causes Tom Brady to lose his pliability, it looks like these standings could become permanent.
The road to the Super Bowl becomes much harder for the Steelers. If the season ended today, the Steelers would host the Wild Card game against the Chargers (who are playing like they have something to prove) and then, assuming they win, would have to go to Foxboro to play the Patriots.
Imagine if the Steelers had paid Le’Veon Bell? He’d be racking up yards when they needed it most rather than balling up at LA Fitness.
James Conner has played well and has a bright future, but he isn’t a versatile All-Pro catch-and-run RB1. Conner had 54 yards on the ground in Sunday’s loss at Mile High.
Even without Bell, the Steelers have a plethora of offensive weapons. JuJu Smith-Schuster had 189 yards receiving, including a 97 yard TD run. Antonio Brown is an All-Pro caliber player as well. Yet, they lost to the Broncos and barely beat the Jaguars.
In the last two games, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown five interceptions, but he threw five TDs and no picks against the Panthers two weeks earlier. The Steelers as a whole and especially Big Ben are incredibly inconsistent.
The Steelers host the Chargers next week and host the Patriots the week after next. Both teams have an 8-3 record.
Hypothetically, if they lose both of those games, the Steelers are putting themselves in a difficult position heading into the playoffs.
Baltimore is 6-5 and play a similarly difficult schedule against Chiefs and Chargers, but have winnable games the rest of the season.
The Steelers need to figure it out and fast.
Photo courtesy of USA Today