Monday, December 22, 2014

Steelers rising fast in mediocre AFC

Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

Steelers wrap up playoff berth, top Chiefs 20-12
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) and Stephon Tuitt (91) during second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

History will show that about 4,000 presumed Pittsburghers picked something else over the Steelers on Sunday. That was a poor choice by citizens from the town with the great football team. Heinz Field should have been packed. This football team, while not great, is good enough to have deserved a home-field advantage.

Step up, Steelers Nation.

Back in the playoffs, closing in on a division title, the Steelers are absolutely a threat to win the AFC.

Really. No kidding.

Yes, even with their secondary, which on Sunday lived up to the NFL's only current standard for defense: never allow a touchdown to a Chiefs receiver.

A couple of the league TV network's players-turned-talking heads predicted three receiving scores for the Chiefs.

Four field goals, fellas. The Chiefs settled for four field goals.

Yeah, but the Chiefs aren't very good, right? That is going to be the point against making too much out of the Steelers' seventh win in the past nine games. The Chiefs have neither a passing attack nor a way to prevent a pass rush. They are an inferior team, and the Steelers will have to beat better no matter who they play in the playoffs.


When, though? The Super Bowl?

Yeah, I said it.

Why not?

Win or lose next week, the Steelers will enter the playoffs as no worse than the AFC's third-best team and probably the most dangerous. That will be true no matter their seed. That will be true if they're playing at Cincinnati or Indianapolis.

That will be true just so long as Ben Roethlisberger (30 touchdown passes) is their quarterback, Le'Veon Bell (2,115 combined yards) is their feature back and Antonio Brown (122 receptions) is their No. 1 wide receiver.

If each of those three guys brings his A-game, it's end game for any AFC opponent. Any.

And then there is James Harrison, the Steelers' Fountain of Youth destroyer on defense. He overwhelmed Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher on Sunday. Harrison recorded 1 12 sacks, and two each of tackles for a loss and quarterback hits. He also turned Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith into one of football's finest sprinters, because running away fast was the only way for Smith to prevent Harrison from turning him into part of the new Heinz Field turf.

It is fair to wonder how much Harrison, who began the season retired and recently was injured, has left on his 36-year-old body. However, it is probably no coincidence that he was at his most dominant this season when the Steelers had a chance to clinch the playoffs.

“I just think that's what he does,” fellow linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “He's a Hall of Famer in my mind.”

Probably not, but Harrison knows what to do when the money is on the line. Teammates call him “Deebo.” I'll go with “Big Game James.”

Just about every time the Steelers have won a big game under coach Mike Tomlin, it's been because Harrison has emptied his tank by providing powerful rushes, forceful strikes and unstoppable turns coming around the edge.

Andrew Whitworth is the Bengals' left tackle. Good luck to him next weekend.

I have wasted a lot of words analyzing the Steelers week-to-week performances, dismissing them after losses to lesser opponents and lowering my expectations because of seeing their warts up close.

You know what? Every AFC team has warts.

Big ones. Ugly ones. Sickly ones.

The Steelers secondary stinks. That probably won't change.


The Patriots aren't blocking very well for Tom Brady. The Broncos are increasingly relying on their ground game, which probably means Peyton Manning isn't healthy. The Colts can't defend the run, pass or any decisions management has made about lousy defensive personnel.

Oh, and the Bengals are quarterbacked by Andy Dalton.

At best, the AFC will send six blemished clubs to the playoffs. At worst, it will send five and either the Chiefs or Chargers.

There are no great teams in the AFC. There might not be any really good ones.

Laugh if you want, but I'm only writing what the other conference contenders are probably thinking: Here come the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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