Saturday, December 31, 2016

Who I like, Steelers-Browns and Tomlin’s legacy

By Dale Lolley
December 30, 2016
Typically in this space each week, I give a synopsis of what I feel will be the key elements to the upcoming game and make a pick.
But, given the circumstances, that’s not really appropriate this week.
Pittsburgh’s game against Cleveland is meaningless in that the Steelers have already wrapped up the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs and can’t improve on that lot.
But No. 3 isn’t a bad spot in ths year’s postseason.
And that is a good thing for Mike Tomlin’s legacy.
Tomlin’s coaching prowess has been in question this week after Terry Bradshaw’s comments last week on a national TV show in which he said Tomlin is a “cheerleader guy,” but not a great football coach.
Tomlin agreed with the “great” coach tag but took offense at just being a “cheerleader guy,” saying that was inappropriate.
Tomlin’s critics point out he has just one playoff win in the past five seasons. That’s fair. But there also are some circumstances they fail to acknowledge surrounding that record.
Last year, the Steelers went into the postseason without their top two running backs, Pro Bowl center and starting left tackle. They then lost Antonio Brown at the end of their win in Cincinnati, a game in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a shoulder injury.
Think all of that might have caught up with them the following week in Denver?
The year before, the Steelers lost running back Le’Veon Bell - the team’s MVP that year - six days before hosting the Baltimore Ravens in a playoff game. Because of the release of LeGarrette Blount at midseason, they had no suitable backup.
Blame Tomlin for that all you want, but those are the reality of the situations.
All of that said, there are no such excuses heading into this year’s postseason.
Roethlisberger? Healthy. Bell? Healthy. Brown? Healthy. Pouncey? Healthy. Backup running back DeAngelo Williams? Presumably healthy?
The Steelers will head into postseason play this year as healthy as they have been in quite some time in January. And that’s why Tomlin’s legacy is on the line in this postseason.
Given the state of quarterbacking in the AFC where Miami, Houston and Oakland will be playing with backup quarterbacks because of injury or plain ineffectiveness, the Steelers head into this postseason with what could be a tailor-made path to the AFC title game.
If both Kansas City and Miami win on Sunday and Oakland finds a way to get the job done in offense-less Denver, the Steelers will host Miami next weekend, while Kansas City would head to Houston.
The Steelers and Chiefs should both win those games.
That would then send the Steelers to face the Matt McGloin-led Raiders in Oakland and Kansas City to New England in the Divisional Round.
We’ve seen the Steelers lose some inexplicable games in Oakland, and that will be where Tomlin’s legacy will be on the line.
A win would put the Steelers in the AFC Championship. And before we assume that it would be in New England, realize that the Chiefs went into Foxborough two years ago and thumped the Patriots, 41-14. In last year’s playoffs, New England won, 27-20 - with Rob Gronkowski, who had seven catches for 83 yards and two scores in that game.
It’s no given the Patriots, who are 6-2 at home this season, will beat the Chiefs or the Steelers, for that matter.
Regardless of what happens, Tomlin needs to get this team to the AFC Championship, at the very least, to quiet his critics.
And things set up favorably for that to happen.
As for this week’s game, the Steelers are 6-point favorites with Landry Jones at quarterback. He’ll be playing with a skeleton crew, but the Browns have been playing like that all season.
I’ll take the Steelers, 20-13.

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