The Steelers have improved, but what exactly does that mean?
They have found way more success in the second half to stay in the playoff race.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, somehow, are still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the AFC. Not only are they still in the hunt, but what seemed to be a laughable long shot a couple of weeks ago — almost as if it was a joke to even try and pay attention to it — is now somewhat within reach.
It is not totally absurd to think that it could work out this weekend.
They need to beat the Cleveland Browns.
They need the Miami Dolphins, likely playing with a third string quarterback, to lose to the New York Jets.
They need the New England Patriots to lose to the Buffalo Bills.
None of those things are a given, mostly because nothing in the NFL is ever a given, but none of them are a huge ask.
The Dolphins have been awful for more than a month now and do not have a quarterback, and in their first meeting with the Jets they had to use Skylar Thompson (their likely starter on Sunday) for most of the game and ended up losing by a 41-17 margin.
The Bills ….. well. Nobody really knows what is going to happen in that game. On paper, they are a significantly better team than New England, the game is in Buffalo, and the Bills should still have something to play for. But whether or not the play on Sunday is still an unknown given the horrifying Damar Hamlin situation, and even if they do play nobody really knows what sort of state the team will be in. Frankly, I have no idea how they are going to play that game and it probably makes more sense for the league to push things back, at least for them and Cincinnati. But there does not seem to be any indication any of that is going to happen.
The Steelers did lose to Cleveland earlier this season in Cleveland, but that was in a game without T.J. Watt, it was in a game with Mitch Trubisky starting at quarterback instead of Kenny Pickett, and it was before the Steelers running game started to play the way it has in the second half. It was also a Browns team with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, but he might actually be better than what we have seen from their current option at the moment.
In short: All of the things that need to happen are at least plausible. But asking for all of them to happen at the same time, in the same week, after having everything go right for three or four weeks is asking a lot. I am still not expecting a playoff berth. But the fact this team still has that hope, and the fact it can still potentially have a winning record, is kind of baffling given where this team was early in the season.
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