New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, speaks to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin at midfield after the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 36-17 to advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Another season is over, and again, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not finish as Super Bowl champions. Fear not, though, for the team is again among the odds-on favorites to take home the Lombardi Trophy next year, trailing only the Packers, Falcons and Cowboys, according to most odds makers.
Oh, and the New England Patriots.
The road to Super Bowl LII will likely run through the Patriots yet again, and unless the Steelers get their act together, through Foxborough. Because I’m a helpful guy, I’ve compiled a do’s and don’ts list of sorts, to help give the black and gold the best chance to finally get one over on “big brother”.
DO: Draft some more pass-rushing help. The best chance to stifle Tom Brady lies with a consistently excellent pass rush. The Falcons had it for three quarters, then ran out of steam and got shredded. Bud Dupree shows promise, but James Harrison was getting up there in years four years ago, and the Steelers’ continued reliance on him to be an every-down player is a stinging indictment of their pass-rushing depth. Another young impact player is needed across from Dupree.
DON’T: Use another high draft pick, as in first or second round, on a weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, no matter how tempting it is. Roethlisberger has plenty of weapons, though their ability to stay on the field is rightfully questioned. Still, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Eli Rogers, as well as a healthy Ladarius Green and Sammie Coates is a heck of a starting point, to say nothing of Martavis Bryant, assuming he can stay on the straight and narrow.
DO: Take care of business against the lesser lights on the schedule. This means no getting smashed in Philadelphia, no laying an egg in Miami and no being noncompetitive for 45 minutes in Baltimore. The Patriots rarely lose to bad teams. They did in 2015 and it may have cost them the Super Bowl. This year? The only team to beat them with Brady in the lineup was Seattle, back when they had Earl Thomas and were still fearsome on defense. That’s called handling your business, for those of you scoring at home.
BONUS: Beating bad teams allows for a greater likelihood of home playoff games. Given Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road, it would be in the Steelers’ best interest to give him as many playoff games at Heinz Field as possible.
DON’T: Question the coaching staff’s practice methods if you’re the star quarterback, especially if the team is 4-1 on the season. That kind of rocking of the boat is never productive and can serve to undercut your coaches.
DO: Deviate from your normal strategy if you run into New England again in the playoffs. Play man-to-man, whether you think your guys can handle it or not. Try to pressure Brady whenever possible. Sure, you may get eviscerated, but going out on your shield is preferable to the torturous “sit back and wait to be demolished” defense that was so popular with Keith Butler in the AFC Championship.
DON’T: Take any more Facebook Live videos in the locker room, especially while the head coach and quarterback are talking. Facebook is dumb anyway; Twitter, while still very bad, is much better.
DO: Take a more businesslike approach to everything you do. This isn’t asking for some sea change, or for the Steelers to try to mimic everything New England does. The Pats have “only” won two Super Bowls over the last twelve seasons. Their “Belichick is Darth Vader and everyone else falls in line behind him” strategy is not infallible by any stretch. Still, it seems to help. Mike Tomlin has just as much contempt for the media as Belichick does, and seems to relish ripping bad questions with terse answers. Throw the guy a bone! Let him do the dirty work.
DON’T: Get suspended for marijuana anymore. I mean really, fellas, this shouldn’t keep happening. I’m as much of a “make it legal” for everyone guy as there can be, but the rules are the rules, and what’s more important, they’re not that hard to abide by. Lots of players skirt them successfully. Be like those guys.
DO: Pray that Brady gets injured, or that someone else does your dirty work in the playoffs. Because there exists the very real chance that you could follow all of the above advice and still lose to Brady and the Patriots when it really matters.
Chris Mueller is co-host of "The Starkey & Mueller Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.