When the Steelers lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Broncos last year in a divisional round match-up in Denver, didn’t it seem like things should have gone the other way?
Maybe that’s why, literally hours after that game ended, and tears were shed–including some by head coach Mike Tomlin–Pittsburgh was being championed as, well, a Super Bowl champion of the future, meaning 2016.
The Steelers went into Denver last year, missing Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, and a few other key cogs. Yet, they kept on fighting until the very end, until third-string running back and important postseason contributor, Fitzgerald Toussaint, coughed up the football early in the fourth quarter, with his team up by a point and driving for more.
Pittsburgh couldn’t overcome this mistake, and they exited Sports Authority Field as 23-16 losers.
But the Steelers weren’t losers in 2015, they were simply compromised due to injuries; when those pile up, it’s hard to keep fighting through January and into February.
But 2016 is different. Actually, it’s now 2017; and while the Broncos, minus the retired Peyton Manning at quarterback, are home watching the postseason, Pittsburgh is back in the same position it was almost a year ago to the day: about to take on the AFC West champions at their home for the right to advance to the conference title game.
As I write this, the game should be mere minutes from kicking off, but thanks to an ugly ice storm that is or about to wreak havoc on the Kansas City-area, the game has been moved back to 8:20 p.m. (EST).
Is that good news or bad for the Steelers?
What did Bill Cowher often say about prime-time games at old Three Rivers Stadium and current Heinz Field? It gave the fans a few extra hours to “lube up” for the action.
In other words, a few extra hours to prepare might make Chiefs fans a little more “vocal.”
But on the other hand, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start came on a Monday night in Week 3 of the 2004 season. The Steelers were supposed to play in Miami on Sunday afternoon, but a hurricane delayed the start of the game a mere 30 hours or so.
Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh won that game and kept on winning the rest, as they went on to finish with a 15-1 regular season mark and the number one seed in the AFC.
Unfortunately, the rookie Roethlisberger proved to be not ready for postseason-play, and after barely escaping a divisional round match-up
against the Jets, Roethlisberger and the Steelers were no match for the Super Bowl-seasoned Patriots the following week in the AFC title game at Heinz Field.
But that was then and this is now; and last year was last year, and this year is this year.
The Steelers are battle-tested and actually drew a pretty decent divisional round match, this despite entering the playoffs as the number three seed and needing one extra victory to reach the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh blew the doors off the Chiefs, 43-14, when the two teams met at Heinz Field in Week 4.
So what does that have to do with tonight? Nothing, other than to say that, revenge factor aside, I’d much rather be the team who won by 29 points in the previous match-up than the one who lost by that many.
Fun fact: since the Steelers first started winning playoffs games in 1972, they’ve only managed to make it as far as the AFC title game once, when beginning the postseason in the wild card round. That one time, of course, was in 2005, when they entered the playoffs as the sixth seed and didn’t stop winning until they were Super Bowl XL champions.
It says here that the Steelers will change that number from one to two tonight. The last time these two teams met, Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, while Bell rushed for 144 yards in his regular season debut.
Those guys–along with Brown–will do a lot of those same things tonight, and the Steelers will walk away with a 28-17 victory.
That’s my prediction; what’s yours?