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Steelers 17, Rams 12: Steelers stacking wins in Jenga-like fashion

The Steelers didn’t win a game this season until the last day of September. Now, less than halfway through November, they would be the No. 6 seed in the playoffs if the season ended now.

That’s right, after their 17-12 win over the Rams Sunday at Heinz Field, the Steelers (5-4) would win the three-way tiebreaker with the Colts and Raiders.

Speaking of breaking things, the Mike Tomlin bashers were getting ready to break the Internet when he kept the offense on the field on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers’ 34 with 8:55 left and his team clinging to a 14-12 lead.

Tomlin landed on his feet and the Steelers kept the ball when Trey Edmunds, who hadn’t caught a pass in his career before catching two Sunday, snagged Mason Rudolph‘s 6-yard delivery.

Edmunds, the older brother of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds, also had an interception to go with his two catches. That came on a fake-punt attempt at the Rams’ 29 in the third quarter.

The Steelers got nothing out of that, but Edmunds’ fourth-down catch from Rudolph did ultimately lead to Chris Boswell‘s 33-yard field goal with 2:46 left, points that the Steelers needed.

It turns out that Tomlin pretty much had to risk national ridicule for the Steelers to pull out this win. They wouldn’t have had those points without that fourth-down conversion and the Rams could have attempted a go-ahead field goal when they reached the Steelers’ 30 with 1:25 left. Think the Steelers would have lucked out in that situation two weeks in a row?

The Steelers have been “stacking” wins, as Tomlin likes to put it. That stack, however, has been Jenga-like.

There was Adam Vinatieri‘s Shank-Heard-‘Round-The-World last week. There was a 14-0 deficit against the then-winless Dolphins the week before. Two weeks before that, the Steelers flirted with blowing a 24-0 lead against the Chargers in Los Angeles.

The stack might be wobbly, but this is what’s called a four-game winning streak. Without Ben Roethlisberger and without James Conner for the last two games, the Steelers don’t need to apologize for these wins. They’ll try to add another Jenga block to the stack Thursday night in Cleveland.

Even the No. 5 seed in the AFC became more realistic for the Steelers thanks to the Browns’ 19-16 win over the visiting Bills (6-3) on Sunday. Don’t expect the Browns to be as helpful on Thursday night in front of the Dawg Pound.

What would help the Steelers is if Conner returns from his shoulder sprain, and it looks like that might happen, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Pro Football Talk.

Conner’s return wouldn’t come a moment too soon.

The offense accounted for only 10 of the Steelers’ 17 points Sunday and 19 of their 26 last week against the Colts. Without Conner, the Steelers have averaged 2.5 yards per rush over the last two games.

James Washington has been a nice bright spot, even if he did lose a fumble Sunday. Rudolph’s former Oklahoma State teammate set career highs in receptions (six) and receiving yards (90) for the second straight week. He scored the Steelers’ only offensive touchdown when he caught a 3-yard pass from Rudolph to tie the score at 7-7 in the first quarter. He also caught two third-down conversions on the aforementioned field-goal drive that provided the final margin of victory. The first came on third-and-4 from the Steelers’ 46 for a 19-yard gain and the second came on third-and-2 from the Rams’ 27. Those catches helped the Steelers drain eight minutes from the clock before the Rams got the ball back down five with 2:39 left.

Rudolph might have completed more than 22 passes on his 38 attempts if his receivers did a better job of hanging on to the ball. He also could help himself by breaking his habit of taking safeties. He took one for the second straight week Sunday. The Steelers can’t keep handing over two points like that in these games in which field goals loom so large.

The Rams’ offense scored only three of their 12 points Sunday. The other nine points were caused by the Steelers’ foibles on offense. The Rams had a 7-0 lead seven seconds into the game when Maurkice Pouncey‘s snap sailed over Rudolph’s head and Dante Fowler recovered the ball for a 26-yard touchdown.

The Steelers countered with Washington’s touchdown and took a lead that the Rams never could pry away from them when Minkah Fitzpatrick scored a touchdown for the second straight week. The safety acquired from the Dolphins for next year’s first-rounder returned a Jared Goff fumble 43 yards to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Fitzpatrick also made the game-clinching interception, his fifth of the season, with 45 seconds left.

During this four-game winning streak, Fitzpatrick is third on the team with 12 points scored. For the second straight week, he provided points that the Steelers wouldn’t have won without. In Week 6, Devin Bush‘s fumble-return touchdown turned out to be necessary in the Steelers’ 24-17 win.

This defense sacked Goff four times Sunday. T.J. Watt had two of them and is fifth in the league with 9.5. Cameron Heyward added a sack and Javon Hargrave‘s sack forced the fumble that Fitzpatrick picked up for the touchdown.

Watt is on pace to surpass James Harrison‘s single-season team record of 16 set in 2008. Fitzpatrick is on pace to grab more interceptions in a single season than any other Steeler in this century.

The Rams were just 1 of 14 on third-down conversions. That’s the Steelers’ best third-down defense in a single game since they denied all eight of the Eagles’ third-down attempts in a 27-3 win at Heinz Field in 2004.

The Steelers defense is doing things it hasn’t done since the days when they went to the Super Bowl just about every other year. The 2019 defense still has to figure out quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson for the Steelers to think about any kind of long playoff run. But it won’t face that challenge until after Christmas.

For now, the Steelers’ job is to keep handling quarterbacks like Goff who have plateaued after early success in their careers.

Also falling into that category is the guy they’ll see Thursday.

The Browns all but printed 2019 playoff tickets after Baker Mayfield‘s rookie year. It’s been fun to laugh at the Browns after their 2-6 start this year, but they lit a match with Sunday’s win. Mayfield has gone two straight games without an interception after throwing at least one in each of his first seven games this season.

Most Steelers fans old enough to drive remember the last time the Steelers went to Cleveland on a Thursday night. They lost to a 1-11 Browns team in 2009. That memory coupled with the Browns’ newfound momentum should make Steelers fans cautious about Thursday.

The Steelers have a chance to win their fifth straight game and get to 6-4 with no trips outside of Pennsylvania or Ohio until Dec. 8 and no games against teams with a winning record until Dec. 15.

That all seems rosy, but without a win Thursday that Jenga stack will collapse and make a big mess.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

Steelers 26, Colts 24: Steelers win counts in horseshoes — and in football

The Steelers always seem to be the ones carrying the horseshoe when they play the team with the horseshoes on their helmets.

The Colts signed Adam Vinatieri from the Patriots after the 2005 season to replace Mike Vanderjagt, whose time in Indianapolis infamously ended when he missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds of a 21-18 playoff loss to the Steelers.

That victory helped carry the Steelers to their long-awaited fifth Super Bowl title.

Fourteen years later, Vinatieri pulled a Vanderjagt.

The 46-year-old gave some fan a nice souvenir when he shanked a 43-yard attempt so far to the left that it missed the net behind the goal post at Heinz Field. That kick would have given the Colts a one-point lead with 1:11 remaining.

Instead, the Steelers took a knee and won 26-24.

The 2019 Steelers have no clear path to a championship like they did after they vanquished the Colts in 2005, and the Ravens became a bigger obstacle with their win over the Patriots Sunday night, but this win does get the Steelers to .500 for the first time this season.

This is the kind of game that went the Steelers’ way in 2017, but not in 2018.

Two years ago, four of the Steelers’ 13 wins came on last-minute field goals by Chris Boswell.

Last year, the Steelers might not have missed the playoffs if Boswell had made his only field-goal attempt at Cleveland in Week 1 or if he had been able to send the game into overtime with a 40-yarder at Oakland in Week 14.

Boswell made all four of his attempts Sunday and is 17-of-18 for the season, his only miss a 54-yarder last week.

If we didn’t know this already, we learned Sunday that if any more games come down to the kickers this season, the Steelers (4-4) figure to have an advantage.

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Steelers 27, Dolphins 14: Steelers untested against middle-of-the-pack teams

The Steelers didn’t lose their sense of humor during their bye week.

They defeated the Dolphins 27-14 Monday night at Heinz Field, but not before letting this 0-7 team take a 14-0 first-quarter lead and a 14-10 lead into halftime.

This came two weeks after the Steelers came dangerously close to blowing a 24-0 lead against the Chargers in Los Angeles, winning that game 24-17.

Very funny, guys.

We know the 2019 Steelers like to toy with our emotions, but what else do we really know about this 3-4 team?

The teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 3-20. The teams they’ve lost to have a combined record of 26-4. They can bench press the bar, but we don’t know how much weight they can handle.

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Steelers 24, Chargers 17: Fifteen thoughts from Sunday’s game

The Steelers improved to 2-4 with a 24-17 win over the Chargers Sunday night. From Devlin Hodges to Devin Bush, let’s break down the game and the Steelers’ season in general with these 15 fun facts and figures.

  • This was the Steelers’ first win in a West Coast city other than San Diego in almost 20 years. Since beating the 49ers 27-6 on Nov. 7, 1999, the Steelers are 4-10 in the Pacific time zone.
  • The Steelers’ wins over the Chargers in 2000, 2005 and 2015 all came in San Diego. The franchise moved to Los Angeles in 2017. This was the Steelers’ first game in Los Angeles since Week 13 of the 1994 season, when they defeated the Raiders 21-3 in the Raiders’ last year in Los Angeles. They were 2-2 against the Raiders and 0-9 against the Rams when those teams played in Los Angeles. The last time they played the Rams in LA, they lost 27-0 in Week 2 of the 1993 season. A rookie named Jerome Bettis scored his first career touchdown against the Steelers.
  • The Steelers have won their last two road games against the Chargers, both with backup quarterbacks. Michael Vick completed 13 of 26 passes for 203 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Week 5 of the 2015 season. The date of that game was Oct. 12, four years and a day before Hodges completed 15 of 20 for 132 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
  • Since Ben Roethlisberger took over as the Steelers’ starting quarterback in 2004, the Steelers are 12-11 without him in games that count. Their actual record is 15-12, but four of those games came in Week 17 when they rested their starters.
  • Hodges is the second young Steelers quarterback who’s been thrown into the fire this season, but it helps that Steelers quarterbacks have been sacked only five times, the fewest in the league. That should put to rest any fears of a dropoff after offensive line coach Mike Munchak went to Denver.
  • No account of Sunday’s game would be complete without mentioning Devin Bush. He gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when he scooped up a backward pass that Melvin Gordon couldn’t handle and returned it nine yards for a touchdown. On the next series, Bush intercepted a Philip Rivers pass that was tipped by Tyson Alualu to set up James Conner’s 12-yard touchdown run that gave the Steelers a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Bush also led the Steelers with seven solo tackles in the game.
  • Bush is making a strong case for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The only other Steelers to win the award were Mean Joe Greene (1969), Jack Lambert (1974) and Kendrell Bell (2001). Bush, who the Steelers traded up 10 spots to get in the 2019 draft, leads the league with four fumble recoveries. Lambert holds the single-season team record with eight in 1976. Bush leads all rookies and is 12th overall with 32 solo tackles this season, and he and Giants linebacker Ryan Connelly are the only rookies with two interceptions.
  • The Steelers are third in the league with 20 sacks, but they have no one in the top 20 in the league in that category. T.J. Watt leads the team with four, and eight players have at least one sack. Watt is tied for the league lead in quarterback hits with 14. Guess who he’s tied with? J.J. Watt.
  • Bud Dupree has quietly made the Steelers look smart for picking up his fifth-year option. The 22nd pick in the 2015 draft has three sacks, which puts him on pace to surpass his career high of six. He’s also on pace for career highs in tackles for loss (12, he has five now) and quarterback hits (13, he has five now).
  • The Steelers defense had been among the worst in the league early in the season, but through Sunday’s games the unit is 15th in yards allowed per game, according to NFL.com. Their passing defense is 15th and their rushing defense is 16th.
  • That rushing defense allowed just 32 yards on Sunday. It was the first time since Week 6 of the 2017 season that the Steelers have allowed 32 rushing yards or less. In that game, they won 19-13 at Kansas City.
  • After their bye next week, the Steelers face the 0-5 Dolphins at home on Monday Night Football. If they can manage to win that game, they’ll be in a better position than the 2013 team that also was 2-4 after six games. That team infamously started 0-4, won two straight and then lost two straight to fall to 2-6 halfway through the season. The Steelers lost only two more games after that by a total of eight points and still had a chance to make the playoffs after playing their last game. They just didn’t get the help they needed in other games.
  • We have to look at that 2013 team because that was the low point of the Mike Tomlin era and we’re using it as a measuring stick for bad starts. If the Steelers can stay ahead of that team’s pace, they’ll have a better chance of not leaving their playoff fate in another team’s hands. Their schedule sets them up to go on a run. Not only do they have a bye and then three straight home games, but in their final 10 games they face only three teams that currently have a winning record. Those games could go a long way toward sorting out playoff tiebreakers. The Steelers host the Colts (3-2) in Week 9, the Bills (4-1) in Week 15 and visit the Ravens (4-2) in Week 17.
  • Yeah, the Steelers started 0-3, but the three teams that beat them in those games, the Patriots, Seahawks and 49ers, are a combined 16-1. So it’s fair to say that those were the three toughest games on their schedule, and they had plenty of chances to win two of those games
  • If the Steelers want another shot at facing teams that good, they’ll have to take care of business against teams who, like them, are in the middle of the pack in the NFL.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

Steelers 27, Bengals 3: Steelers defense keeps getting better

The Steelers won a game for the first time this season Monday night, beating the Bengals 27-3 at Heinz Field.

In doing so, the Steelers allowed three points or less for the first time since Week 16 of the 2011 season, when they blanked the St. Louis — yes, the St. Louis — Rams 27-0 in Pittsburgh.

In other words, since Before Tebow.

No, this doesn’t mean that the Steelers defense is once again the championship unit that it was for about a decade before noodle-armed Tim Tebow signaled the end of that era in the 2011 AFC wild-card game.

It does mean that despite not having a win to show for it until Monday, this young and growing defense has shown progress for four straight weeks.

In Week 1, the Steelers defense was inept against Tom Brady.

In Week 2, the Steelers had four sacks and allowed just seven points in the first half before Russell Wilson did Russell Wilson things in the second half.

In Week 3, the Steelers defense played well enough to beat the 49ers. T.J. Watt recovered a fumble with less than seven minutes left and the Steelers leading. But the defense was asked to make one extra stop because of a James Conner fumble, and Jimmy Garoppolo threw his first touchdown pass of the game to give the 49ers the 24-20 win.

The Steelers defense still can be solved by the likes of Brady, Wilson and Garoppolo.

But not Andy Dalton.

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Steelers’ future depends on Mason Rudolph

Daniel Jones and Kyle Allen have been the talk of the town this week in the NFL.

Mason Rudolph?

Not so much.

Jones, chosen with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, led the Giants from an 18-point halftime deficit Sunday to a 32-31 win in Tampa Bay, completing 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards with two touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns.

Allen, who went undrafted in 2018, completed 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns in his second career start Sunday as the visiting Panthers defeated the Cardinals 38-20.

Rudolph, like Allen a second-year player, went 14-for-27 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the Steelers’ 24-20 loss at San Francisco.

Why can’t Rudolph be more like Jones and Allen, Steelers fans might ask?

Well, how do we know he’s not? He’s played just a game and a half while Jones has played in one game and mopped up in another and Allen has played in three games.

The Steelers, who drafted Rudolph in the third round last year with the 76th pick, certainly believe in him. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have traded next year’s first-round pick, which has the potential to be very high, to the Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

By making that trade after Ben Roethlisberger went down for the season, the Steelers (0-3) took themselves out of the market for an elite quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert or Jake Fromm in next year’s draft.

This means that the organization is in trouble if Rudolph flops as the starter this season. He doesn’t have to create a quarterback controversy. He just has to show enough for the Steelers to feel confident that he can succeed Roethlisberger in three or so years.

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Seahawks 28, Steelers 26: Ben Roethlisberger out for the season. Now what?

How’s this for a punch to the gut?

The Steelers fell to 0-2 with Sunday’s 28-26 loss to the Seahawks at Heinz Field, but the news on Monday was a lot harder to swallow.

Ben Roethlisberger will have surgery on his right elbow and is out for the season.

It’s not like the Steelers haven’t started 0-2 before. Heck, they started 0-4 in 2013 and damn near made the playoffs.

But Roethlisberger missing pretty much the entire season? That’s something this organization hasn’t dealt with since it drafted the quarterback in 2004.

Roethlisberger had never missed more than four games in a season despite taking quite a licking in his career. He’s been the Stretch Armstrong of quarterbacks. In Week 3 of the 2015 season at St. Louis he rode off on a cart, a scene that usually signals the end of someone’s season.

He missed only four games.

Every once in a while throughout Roethlisberger’s career Steelers fans have had to hold their breath when he’s been shaken up, but he’s almost always stayed in the game.

Roethlisberger clutched his elbow after throwing a pass during the first half of Sunday’s game, but he’s done things like that before and it almost never turns out to be anything serious. For all his durability, he has been a little overly demonstrative when it comes to certain bumps and bruises.

However, this might not be something that happened during the game. According to Dianna Russini of ESPN, teammates said that Roethlisberger had felt discomfort in his elbow all week.

This could be a wear-and-tear kind of thing. Nothing that’s happened on the field has directly knocked Roethlisberger out for a season, but then again Father Time doesn’t wear shoulder pads. And it could be that this all-powerful dad that has dictated the length of so many football careers is starting to clear his throat to tell the 37-year-old Roethlisberger that it’s time to get ready for bed.

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Patriots 33, Steelers 3: Futility against Brady isn’t the Steelers’ only problem

Remember when the Steelers used to at least try to beat Tom Brady-led Patriots teams at Gillette Stadium?

The Steelers are now 0-6 against Brady in Foxborough, and Sunday night’s 33-3 flogging to open the 2019 season might be the worst of those six losses.

Oh, it might not be as infamous as the Anthony Smith Guarantee Game against the unbeaten Patriots in 2007, or the Speed Limit 55, Steelers 31 Game in 2013, or the loss in the 2016 AFC championship game.

At one point or another, however, the Steelers made some kind of effort in each of those games. On Sunday night, they started the season as if they were 53 kids who didn’t feel like getting out of bed on the first day of school.

As we sift through the wreckage and look back on the good ol’ days when the Steelers actually made the Patriots secrete at least a few beads of sweat, we find that the Steelers have other problems they need to wrestle with if they want to have any chance of getting another shot at Brady this season.

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Predicting each game of the Steelers’ 2019 season

It’s too bad the Steelers don’t own the Raiders on the field the way they own them during the offseason.

Last year, the Steelers traded Martavis Bryant to the Raiders for a third-round draft pick that eventually turned into Mason Rudolph. The latter might only be a backup quarterback, but unlike Bryant he’s on an NFL roster.

Then this year the Steelers shipped Antonio Brown to Oakland for a third- and a fifth-round draft pick. Considering Brown’s antics, that deal is looking better for the Steelers every day.

For about five years the Steelers thought they could get back to the Super Bowl with fireworks on offense.

It didn’t quite work out.

Now Brown and Le’Veon Bell are gone, and even while they were here the Steelers were trying to build up their defense. Devin Bush is their seventh straight defensive player drafted in the first round. The Steelers had never even drafted a defensive player in the first round for three straight years before 2013, and according to Pro Football Reference only one other team has done it seven years in a row. Which team is that? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out.

Of those seven first-rounders, only T.J. Watt has had a significant impact. Terrell Edmunds, drafted in 2017, could make a second-year leap. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the safety played more defensive snaps than all but three NFL rookies. So he’s had plenty of on-the-job training.

The Steelers traded up 10 spots to draft Bush at No. 10 in April. Since Kevin Colbert took over as Steelers general manager in 2000, the team has traded up in the first round only three times. The first time was 2003, when they took Troy Polamalu. The second was in 2006, when they took Santonio Holmes. That’s a Hall of Fame candidate and a Super Bowl MVP. If the Bush trade turns out to be as savvy as the other two, if Edmunds does break out and if Watt keeps making plays, the Steelers might at least be able to protect some fourth-quarter leads.

But will it be good enough to get them back to the playoffs and ultimately clear the bar that this franchise has set for itself, which is a seventh Lombardi Trophy?

This blog hasn’t been too far off with game-by-game predictions.

In 2016 we predicted an 11-5 record and a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Steelers went 11-5 and lost in the AFC championship.

In 2017 we predicted 12-4 and a four-point loss in the divisional round. They went 13-3 and lost by three in the divisional round.

Last year, we predicted 10-6. They went 9-6-1. We also, um, predicted a Super Bowl loss. They didn’t quite get that far.

How far will they go this year? Let’s find out.

Week 1

at New England

The last time the Patriots failed to reach the AFC championship game was 2010, Rob Gronkowski’s rookie year. In 2009, they lost in the wild-card round. In 2008, the year Tom Brady was hurt, they missed the playoffs. So Gronkowski sort of boosted the Patriots out of a lull in their dynasty. The good news is that Gronkowski is retired. The bad news is that the Steelers’ inability to beat Brady at Gillette Stadium began when Gronkowski was entering junior high school.

Patriots, 30-21 (0-1)

Week 2

Seattle

The Steelers better win this game, because in Week 3 they go to the West Coast, where they are 2-9 since 2003. Don’t sleep on the Seahawks in the NFC West, but the Steelers will gut this one out.

Steelers, 24-16 (1-1)

Week 3

at San Francisco

The Steelers don’t have to worry about the Gronkowski monster in their closet, unless he comes back later in the season. But they do have to worry about George Kittle, who could emerge as the NFL’s top tight end this season. Make that 2-10 since 2003.

49ers, 21-17 (1-2)

Week 4

Cincinnati

Marvin Lewis is no longer around to keep the Bengals mediocre, but even if Zac Taylor does turn out to be the next Sean McVay the Steelers pull this one out and avoid a 1-3 start.

Steelers, 31-10 (2-2)

Week 5

Baltimore

The Ravens enter 2019 with some questions. Can Earl Thomas be the heart and soul of the defense with Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley gone? Can rookie receivers Marquise Brown and/or Miles Boykin make an immediate impact, because the Ravens don’t have much else in that department. Can Lamar Jackson be a real NFL quarterback? Despite all that uncertainty, the Steelers will have to go to the wall to beat this team as always.

Steelers, 15-13 (3-2)

Week 6

at Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have lost their shine as a Super Bowl contender with the Melvin Gordon mess and the injury to safety Derwin James, an All-Pro last year as a rookie. This will be the Steelers’ first trip to Los Angeles in 25 years. It would be nice if the Chargers still were in San Diego, because that’s the only West Coast city where the Steelers have won in the last 20 years. It’s the only place where Ben Roethlisberger has won in the Pacific time zone, and that was back in 2005. The last Steelers quarterback to win on the West Coast? Michael Vick. And it will stay that way. Make that 2-11 since 2003.

Chargers, 28-23 (3-3)

Week 8

Miami

The Steelers will come off a bye for a home game against what could be the NFL’s worst team. The sad thing is, even if the Steelers lost this game it might not top their 2014 home loss to the Buccaneers as the worst upset they’ve suffered at Heinz Field. We know all too well the Steelers’ penchant for losing to bad teams. But don’t worry. It won’t happen here.

Steelers, 37-6 (4-3)

Week 9

Indianapolis

Hopefully everyone enjoyed the Steelers’ 51-34 shootout victory over the Colts at Heinz Field in 2014, because as it turns out it will be the only face-to-face matchup between Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. The last three times the Steelers have faced the Colts, they’ve encountered Matt Hasselbeck, Scott Tolzien and Jacoby Brissett. They nearly lost to Brissett at Indianapolis in 2017. They’ll beat him a little more comfortably at home.

Steelers, 33-18 (5-3)

Week 10

Los Angeles Rams

Last year we predicted that the Rams and Jaguars will both take a step back after huge leaps forward in 2017. Well, I we were right about one of them. Maybe we were just a year early on the Rams. This will be a shootout between Roethlisberger and Jared Goff.

Steelers, 42-39 (6-3)

Week 11

at Cleveland

The Steelers enter Cleveland on a three-game winning streak, but just as everyone starts to anoint them as Super Bowl contenders, they lose just like they did the last time they went to Cleveland on a Thursday night 10 years ago. They lost that game to a 1-11 Browns team. The Browns will have more than one win at this point, so the loss won’t be as embarrassing.

Browns, 27-20 (6-4)

Week 12

at Cincinnati

The Steelers were down by a point when Brown’s touchdown with 10 seconds left rescued them in their 28-21 win at Cincinnati last year. Let’s not forget how lame the Steelers’ offense looked in Week 17 last year when Brown was wearing a fur coat. There will be times this year when the Steelers miss Brown. This will be one of those times. The Bengals, meanwhile, probably will have A.J. Green back by this time.

Bengals, 23-10 (6-5)

Week 13

Cleveland

Yes, the Browns will be better this year, but the hype train needs to slow down a little bit. They haven’t won at Pittsburgh since 2003. Never losing at home to the Browns during Roethlisberger’s career isn’t too much to ask of the Steelers.

Steelers, 25-9 (7-5)

Week 14

at Arizona

This isn’t quite the West Coast, but the Cardinals will be so putrid that this could turn out to be the Steelers’ obligatory pratfall for the season. Yup, TV screens all over Western Pennsylvania will be kicked and thrown … and those who do smash their flatscreens will miss an epic comeback.

Steelers, 30-27, OT (8-5)

Week 15

Buffalo

At 8-5 the Steelers probably can control their own destiny, but these last three games won’t be easy. Josh Allen could emerge as an upper-tier quarterback this season, but the last Bills quarterback to win at Pittsburgh will have coached the Colts there in Week 9. And after Week 15 Frank Reich still will be the last Bills quarterback to win in Pittsburgh as the Steelers’ defense starts to come of age.

Steelers, 20-0 (9-5)

Week 16

at New York Jets

Here’s the answer to our trivia question. The Jets are the only other team to draft a defensive player in the first round seven years in a row. They did it eight years in a row from 2010 to 2017. They had been pretty solid on that side of the ball before slumping to 25th in yards allowed each of the last two years. Is there any other story line regarding the Jets? Oh, that’s right. The Le’Veon Bell Revenge Game. Unfortunately for Bell, he’ll be running into the Steelers’ defense at a bad time.

Steelers, 21-7 (10-5)

Week 17

at Baltimore

And so with a win at Baltimore, the Steelers could take the AFC North here. If they lose, they’ll have to root for the Bengals to beat the Browns at home. The Ravens, meanwhile, will have nothing to play for at this point except spoiler. The Steelers close out the regular season with five straight wins and edge out the Browns to take the division.

Steelers, 17-3 (11-5)

AFC divisional round

Kansas City

The Patriots (who else?) will be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and the Steelers will get the other bye. The Chiefs will be the No. 3 seed and the Texans the No. 4 seed. The wild-card teams will be the Jaguars (No. 5) and Browns (No. 6). The Chiefs will take care of the Browns in the wild-card round to earn a trip to Pittsburgh.

In this predicted scenario, the Steelers allowed just 10 points in the last three regular-season games, and let’s throw in a scoreless second half in Arizona in Week 14 with the Steelers coming back from a 27-7 deficit.

The problem is that Patrick Mahomes will be coming to Pittsburgh. He won’t slice and dice the Steelers defense the way he did in Week 2 last season, but the Steelers still won’t be able to come up with enough stops to survive this one.

Brown might be unemployed by January and throwing furniture off the top of buildings while wearing a fur coat, but the Curse of Facebook Live will linger. The Steelers will fall to 0-3 in playoff games since Brown’s infamous stunt after the 2016 playoff win in Kansas City.

If the defense picks up where it leaves off at the end of 2019, it’ll give the Steelers a real chance to win one more title before Roethlisberger retires.

Chiefs, 24-21

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

Steelers should fire Keith Butler, not Mike Tomlin, after missing playoffs

The Steelers signed kicker Matt McCrane off the street.

He makes all three of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winning 35-yarder with 1:56 left, and the Steelers beat the Bengals 16-13 Sunday at Heinz Field.

It’s quite a story, but there was no time to revel in this victory. As soon as the clock struck zero in Pittsburgh, the question was What’s Going on in Baltimore.

What went on in Baltimore would probably rank No. 2 on the list of the most painful scoreboard-watching moments in Steelers history. The only one worse was Ryan Succop‘s infamous missed field goal that would have given the Chiefs’ backups a win over the Chargers and the Steelers a playoff berth in 2013.

The Browns didn’t come that close to beating the Ravens Sunday. Down two points with about a minute left, they were within 10 yards of field goal range when C.J. Mosley intercepted Baker Mayfield on fourth down.

The Steelers still could have sneaked under the velvet ropes of the playoffs if the Colts and Titans had played to a tie Sunday night, but since this is American football and not the sport that’s called football everywhere else in the world, we knew there was no way Sunday night’s game wouldn’t have a winner.

So the Steelers (9-6-1) have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They’ll have gone 11 years since their last championship and nine years since their last Super Bowl appearance. They were 7-2-1 on Thanksgiving and cleaning out their lockers on New Year’s Eve (or maybe New Year’s Day).

This organization faces a lot of questions. There will be time this offseason to examine all of them. For now, let’s start with the easiest one:

Should Mike Tomlin be fired?

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