The most wonderful time of the year begins today when the NFL playoffs kick off. Of particular interest to Steelers fans are the two AFC wild-card games that will determine Pittsburgh’s opponent in the divisional round next weekend.
The goal of any logical fan would be for the Steelers to advance to Dallas for a chance to capture a seventh Lombardi Trophy, and positive matchups and avoiding a trip to Foxboro provide the best chance of that transpiring. Thus, here is what gives Pittsburgh the best chance of going to the Super Bowl:
It should be noted that Pittsburgh cannot play the No. 6-seed Jets, who would be locked into a divisional game at top-seeded New England if New York wins at Indianapolis tonight.
Of course how these teams fare this weekend and injuries could affect these odds. However, these are what I currently contend are the percentage chances of the Steelers defeating each of their three potential divisional-round opponents at Heinz Field:
Kansas City 75%
Regardless of opponent, Pittsburgh should advance to an amazing seventh AFC Championship game in the last 15 years. But the best chance of doing so and winning that championship game would be to avoid playing the Ravens in the divisional round for three reasons:
(1) Baltimore has the best chance of defeating Pittsburgh of any of the three squads; (2) A game with the Ravens would physically drain the Steelers before an AFC Championship game the following week more than any other opponent; and (3) Baltimore probably has the best chance of winning at New England of any AFC playoff entry (including Pittsburgh) and at the very least, a game against the Ravens in the divisional round would bruise and batter the Patriots before Pittsburgh comes to town for the conference title game.
Steelers fans, however, should only think one game ahead, meaning that playoff novice Kansas City and its rush-based offense would be the ideal opponent in the divisional round. However, this Pittsburgh fan is assuming Baltimore will win at Kansas City on Sunday and am thus rooting for the Colts tonight.
No, I do not want to face Peyton Manning in the playoffs and the Colts’ undersized but very fast, Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are a potential nightmare matchup for the Steelers’ slow-footed, makseshift tackle duo of Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott.
That all taken into account, the injury-laden Indianapolis offense has only one healthy playmaker in Reggie Wayne, who can be covered all day by stud Pittsburgh corner Ike Taylor, the Steelers should be able to outmuscle the always-soft Colts on both sides of the trenches (Colts rank 29th in rush offense and 25th in rush defense) in what would hopefully be a blizzard on a slow and muddy Heinz Field.
Assuming the Colts win tonight, I will go ahead and root for Baltimore over Kansas City, believing that the Ravens would provide a sterner test for New England the following week and seeing no chance that the Chiefs could end up in Pittsburgh for a potential AFC Championship game. And if Rex Ryan ends his Peyton Manning misery tonight, then all Pittsburgh fans should root all-out for Kansas City on Sunday. Enjoy the weekend.