The Pittsburgh Steelers have won five straight games, and are starting to look like a team worthy of Super Bowl conversations alongside other AFC powers.
When talk turns to Super Bowl hopefuls, certain criteria must be met. Does the team have a good coach? Is the quarterback good enough to win in big moments? How many potential fatal flaws are there?
Another qualifier should always be what is said team great at. What is going to be the calling card cone January and February?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are showing that they belong in the conversation of Super Bowl containers, showcased by a 52-21 blitzing of the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.
Pittsburgh certainly has the head coach-quarterback combination to emerge victorious when the weather turns cold and the breaths become visible. It also has a great offense, led by Ben Roethlisberger and supported by Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, James Conner and the NFL’s best offensive line.
Defensively, the back end is vulnerable, but the pass rush can be relentless, something Cam Newton found out to the tune of five sacks. Another pressure by T.J. Watt resulted in a hurried, frantic throw that ended up in Vance Williams’ hands for an easy pick-six, setting the tone for the ensuing rout.
On the night, Roethlisberger torched Carolina in one of the best performances of his career, hitting on 22-of-25 for 328 yards and five touchdowns. The Panthers had no answer for anything Pittsburgh challenged them with, racking up 457 yards and 25 first downs. Brown had a 53-yard touchdown while Smith-Schuster notched a 75-yard score on the Steelers first play from scrimmage, presenting the best vertical offense in the sport.
While the Chiefs and Patriots have drawn almost all the attention in the AFC, the 6-2-1 Steelers should be included in that tier. Pittsburgh has a point differential of +70, only bested by Kansas City (+101) and Chicago (+82) leaguewide, and is yet to lose away from Heinz Field, typically a bugaboo of this group.
Pittsburgh still has ample challenges ahead, including a Week 15 showdown at home against New England before going to the Superdome for a date with the high-powered Saints. Much will happen before we hit the postseason, and unquestionably, much will change for both the Steelers and the other 31 teams around the league.
Still, it’s evident that Pittsburgh is going to be a force come January, when the weaklings are weeded out and the strong stand ready, looking to charge toward the ultimate challenge. The Steelers have their flaws, but they have outstanding strengths as well, positioning them to make a run as perhaps the most dangerous team nobody is talking about.