Steelers are worst nightmare for AFC’s best

By Michael Dixon

The Pittsburgh Steelers are beginning to look like an absolute nightmare for AFC’s top teams as the playoffs loom large.

After dismantling the AFC-leading Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the road to the postseason is clearly defined. If the Steelers beat the Broncos in Week 15, the Ravens in Week 16, and the Browns in Week 17 then they’ll make the playoffs.

For most of the 2015 NFL season the best three teams in the AFC have been the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, and Bengals. Those teams should be sending the best possible wishes to Pittsburgh’s remaining opponents, as no team in its right mind should want anything to do with the Steelers in a single-elimination scenario.

Looking at the Broncos, Patriots, and Bengals, the question marks are unmistakable.

Yes, the Broncos have a stellar defense, but they’ve had a hard time consistently putting points on the board this season. If Pittsburgh could manage about 21 points against Denver, then the Broncos would definitely be fighting an uphill battle, even though the Pittsburgh defense is a far cry from the Steel Curtain.

Sure, the Patriots have Tom Brady, and Gillette Stadium has been a disaster for the Ben Roethlisberger-era Steelers, but what kind of weapons would Brady have? Will Rob Gronkowski be healthy? Julian Edelman? Danny Amendola? And what kind of offensive line would be there to protect Brady?

The Bengals are the last team to hold the Steelers under 30, beating them 16-10 in Week 8. But Ben Roethlisberger was a long way from healthy in that contest. This weekend’s rematch could hardly have gone much worse for Cincinnati on the scoreboard, and more importantly, on the injury report. Who knows how soon Andy Dalton will be back on the field after fracturing a bone in his throwing hand and how effective he’ll be when he gets there.

The Steelers have scored 30 or more points in each of their five games since that Week 8 loss to the Bengals, winning four of those five. The one loss was a shootout in Seattle to the Seahawks, who were also once dormant and like Pittsburgh are now downright frightening.

Make no mistake, the Steelers aren’t a perfect team. Their defense is suspect, they have their own injuries (including one of the league’s best rushers in Le’Veon Bell) and they’re almost certainly going to have to win three road games to get through the AFC. It’s definitely a tall order, but it’s something they’ve done before. More importantly, it’s something they’re well equipped to do this season.

In DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh has a running back who’s proven more than capable of taking over a game. He has  That’s generally a must on the road.

Courtesy of USA Today Images

In Antonio Brown, they Steelers have the best receiver in the NFL. With Brown, Martavius Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, they possess four legitimate home-run threats at the receiver position. Big-play capability is another big asset in road playoff games, and there isn’t another team in the NFL to compare with this quartet when it comes to this.

Most importantly, those receivers have a quarterback in Roethlisberger whose skills highlight theirs.

The Steelers’ offense can have a bad game and still put 24 points on the board. If Pittsburgh is going to reach Super Bowl 50, it’s likely that they’ll need to beat the Bengals, Patriots, and Broncos in some order, all on the road. That’s a bold prediction that I’m not quite ready to make.

But whichever of those teams fails to earn a bye could very well end up with a wild card date vs. Mike Tomlin, Roethlisberger, Brown and Co. That’s not something that any of them want to see.