Dreaming of and Rooting for Best Possible Playoff Draw for Steelers

The Steelers (11-4) have already clenched a playoff berth and are in excellent shape to be the AFC’s No. 2 seed, thus receiving an ultra-important bye in the wild-card round and a home game in the divisional round.

However, the Patriots (12-2) are clearly the best team in the AFC and a matchup nightmare for Dick LeBeau’s defense so long as Tom Brady is healthy, evident by Brady’s 6-1 career mark as a starter against the Steelers (although that could easily be 3-3 if New England did not steal Steeler signals in two AFC championship games at Heinz Field and yes, I still believe those cheats should have an asterik placed beside two of their three Super Bowl wins).

Moreover, an ideal scenario would have the Steelers not playing the Ravens (10-4) or Chargers (8-6) in the divisional round and playing anyone but the Patriots in the AFC championship game, which would also be at Heinz Field if New England is ousted in the divisional round.

Here is what needs to transpire to give Pittsburgh its best chance of winning a seventh Super Bowl title, because the Steelers would be unlikely to win a conference championship game at a New England squad that has not lost at home since 2006 despite being more down in recent years than the Patriots were in the first half of last decade.

First, obviously Pittsburgh must secure the No. 2 seed and the AFC North title by either (A) winning at Cleveland in week No. 17 or (B) ideally seeing the Browns upset the visiting Ravens this weekend, which would allow Pittsburgh to inactivate or rest most of its key players against the Browns and also make it less likely that Pittsburgh could see Baltimore in the divisional playoffs.

Now, the Steelers can beat the Ravens and would be favored to do so as long as Raven-slayer Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and especially with a potential game at Heinz Field. But the Ravens are the team among the six the Steelers could realistically face in a divisional-round game in Pittsburgh that Steeler fans should least want to face.

In short, here is the order of potential playoff opponents Pittsburgh fans should want to meet in the upcoming AFC playoffs:

1. Jacksonville (8-6) – A nice matchup for both sides of the ball and revenge for the home playoff loss after the 2007 season to a much-better Jaguars squad than this one.

2. Kansas City (9-5) – Run-based offense is a perfect matchup for LeBeau’s defense. The Chiefs are better defensively than the Jaguars, but there is no way this youthful team could come into Pittsburgh and win a second consecutive playoff game this year.

3. Indianapolis (8-6) – I never want to face Peyton Manning, but this injury-laden Colts squad scares me less than any that have made the playoffs with Manning. Stick Ike Taylor on Reggie Wayne and the Steelers have no other matchup problems in what would ideally be a windy blizzard at Heinz Field.

4. New York Jets (10-4) – I know they beat us two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, but that does not happen if Troy Polamalu plays or if we get the pass interference calls that should have been flagged and would be for a home playoff team. The thought of Mark Sanchez coming into Pittsburgh for a playoff game is wonderful and Pittsburgh moved the ball far better than expected against a strong Jets’ defense two weeks ago. This could be a loss for sure, but I would give the Steelers a 65% shot of winning this game, especially with 2-3 weeks rest and the Jets having to win a road game the week before.

5. San Diego (8-6) – Yes, the Steelers own the Chargers, San Diego has absolutely no run game, the injury to Antonio Gates takes away a key weapon, and all their big WRs are actually a good matchup for the Steelers CBs. However, this is the best defense the Chargers have had in recent years and Phillip Rivers would regularly and successfully pick on Steeler CBs Bryant McFadden and William Gay, sort of like any decent NFL QB regularly picks on those two.

6. Baltimore (10-4) – Always a bloodbath against our mirror image. I hate these guys, but respect them so much.

7. New England (12-2) – Steeler fans have too much hubris if they want to see a rematch against a team that dominated Pittsburgh in all facets of the game from start to finish in mid-Novemember at Heinz Field. Yes, Pittsburgh could win at New England, but the odds of doing so would be long.

Currently, this is how teams would be seeded in the AFC playoffs: (1) New England, (2) Pittsburgh, (3) Kansas City, (4) Indianapolis, (5) Baltimore, (6) N.Y. Jets. The negatives of this are that (A) I think both road teams would have a great chance of winning in the wild-card round, meaning Pittsburgh would face Baltimore in the divisional round and (B) the Colts are in the playoffs instead of the Jaguars.

Ideally, this is how teams would be seeded for the playoffs: (1) New England, (2) Pittsburgh, (3) Kansas City, (4) Jacksonville, (5) New York Jets, (6) Baltimore. For this to happen, the Colts would need to lose either at Oakland or at home versus the Titans while Jacksonville wins out, the Ravens lose once (most likely to the Browns) and the Jets win out, because Baltimore has a head-to-head edge over the Jets, and Kansas City wins out, thus keeping the dangerous Chargers out of the playoffs.

This scenario would mean that Baltimore would travel to New England for a divisional playoff game if the Ravens win in the wild-card round, with the Steelers ideally facing Jacksonville. However, even better than the Steelers not playing the Ravens would be that Pittsburgh needs someone to knock of the Pats. Based on personnel matchups, the two teams most capable of doing so would be the Ravens (who won at New England in the playoffs last year) and San Diego.

Of course, Pittsburgh wants San Diego out of the playoffs to improve its chances of reaching an amazing 7th conference championship (i.e., NFL Final Four) in the last 15 years, which would be an amazing accomplishment this year with all the adversity the Steelers have had on and off the field.

Plus, the beauty of the Ravens facing the Pats is even if Baltimore does not win, you know the Ravens will physically beat up New England, giving the Steelers a better shot of winning at Foxboro the following week. Ideally, though, the Steelers and Ravens would meet in an AFC championship for the second time in three seasons and no NFL officials show up so these two badass teams are allowed to play football the way it is supposed to be play, which is what transpired in Jan. 2009.

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  • ktulu22

    This would actually be the Steelers 8th conference title game appearance in the past 17 seasons, if we make it. Crazy

    • Ted

      You are correct and that is one of the most impressive streaks in sport. Any time you go to the NFL final four, you have had a good season. To do that every other year in the post-free-agency era is a testament to the quality of the entire Steelers’ organization.

      • Anonymous

        Another impressive Steelers streak – and I will keep banging this pot until someone notices – is that if the Steelers win against Cleveland, they will have gone exactly 6-2 in in eight of their last twelve half-seasons, going back to 2005.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    For me, it’s no hubris to want to play the Pats. It is a desire to be the best. And to get revenge. A lot of demons and bad memories would be put aside if we beat them in the playoffs. I’m not going to weap if someone knocks them out before we play them, but I kind of hope we do play them and beat them ourselves. I despise Belichick and Brady and would love to take them down a peg.

    • Ted

      ELSM, while I admire your guts, your post is an almost perfect example of hubris, because nothing I have seen this year gives me confidence that we can win at NE.

  • Gweisinger

    Patriots Cheated?

    Ho, Ho, Ho, you idiot!

    Santa

  • Anonymous

    Another scenario consists of Tom Brady’s getting a concussion and the Steelers getting to face the Ravens without a suspended Terrell Suggs.

  • Jverrall

    Cut the kicker. Bring back reed!

    • Tim

      Reed just missed a fg to take lead for san fran….

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  • Randy Steele

    I want the Jets because, well, they’re the Jets. And then I want the Patriots. Really.
    What’s the point of going to the Super Bowl unless you get to beat Brady along the way?

    • Ted

      Randy, few remember who you beat along the way but always remember SB champions. Play Brady at NE and we are unlikely to be SB champs.

      • drinkingclub

        I’m not sure about this. I know I will never forget the play-off game at Indy, and Vanderjags miss. That was a hell of a game.

    • Anonymous

      No way this happens, Randy. Since Jets will be #6, the only way we play them is if the (the Jets) beat NE first.

  • Steeler fan in Cowboy Country

    Second round dream: Chiefs vs. Steelers and Ravens vs. Patriots.

    • Ted

      That is also now what we all have to hope for an it is a real possibility.