The NFL Fumbling the Playoffs Debate – No More Chances to “Steel” Glory This Year

Read Sports Geek and Loyal Homer’s arguments about which preseason playoff contenders in the NFL have already blown their chance at the postseason.

Expectations are a funny thing. In school, one student’s C-plus could be perceived as a greater accomplishment than another student’s A-minus. What is the difference? Expectations.

Similarly, a 4-12 finish for the Detroit Lions could be perceived as a wild success, while a 4-12 finish for the New England Patriots would be abysmal failure.

Realistically, some teams did not have a chance to compete for the postseason, even before the season began. Sure, there will always be surprises like the Denver Broncos, a team that has begun the season at 4-0 despite the expectations they would likely not be in the running for a playoff spot this season. For every surprise, though, there is another disappointment.

One such team that has disappointed this year is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If not for the fortunate blessing of a coin toss going their way in overtime during week one against the Tennessee Titans, it is entirely possible that the Steelers would have been sitting a 1-3 right now. Although they did win that coin toss (along with the game against the Titans), and are actually the owners of a 2-2 record, the Steelers still lost their chance to compete for the postseason. That is right, I said it!

I am not arguing that the Steelers are the worst team in football (look to the St. Louis Rams for that dubious honor right now). The Steelers are talented as a football team, and will win games (even against some “good” teams). But do not let last night’s 38-28 victory over the San Diego Chargers fool you, the Steelers are not the same team they were last season.

The biggest challenge facing the Steelers, who were the best team in the NFL LAST season, is that they are now chasing the Baltimore Ravens – a team that may be the best team in football THIS season. After losing to the Chicago Bears and the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers fell two games behind the Ravens who jumped to an impressive 3-0 start on the season before giving one game back to Pittsburgh with a loss against the New England Patriots yesterday.

The Steelers were fortunate to pick up a game on the Ravens yesterday, but do not look for this to happen often. The Ravens have been playing very impressive football behind second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, and are the new favorites to win the AFC North Division in 2009. The Steelers catching the Ravens is difficult with a schedule that includes the Broncos, the Minnesota Vikings – who are at 3-0 behind the arm of Brett Favre – and the 2-1 Green Bay Packers. Not to mention a second game against the very Bengals that already beat Pittsburgh once this year. Then there is the two games against the Ravens, still.

Speaking of the Bengals, did you notice that they are also at 3-1 right now, and one game ahead of Pittsburgh as well? Although I am not ready to buy into the hype of Cincinnati yet (especially after witnessing a CLOSE escape in Cleveland with a victory yesterday against the Browns), the fact remains that Pittsburgh will also have to catch the Bengals to hang onto hope of playing football in January.

Let’s face it, the season is already a quarter of the way finished and the Steelers are in third place in the AFC North, trailing a team that has already beaten them once and another team which is viewed by many as the best team in the league.

I am sorry to tell the fans of the Black and Gold this: It looks like the “Steel Curtain” may be closing on Pittsburgh early this year.

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