Despite the Pittsburgh Steelers historically bad start to the season, there has always been a small sliver of hope that all is not lost. That hope is rooted in two factors. First, the Steelers were gifted with a relatively soft schedule. And second, the AFC North isn’t setting the world on fire.
The bye week giveth and the bye week taketh away.
On one hand, the Black and Gold’s schedule got a lot easier after this week. The Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills played a knock down, drag out affair on Thursday night which Cleveland won but left both teams the worse for wear. Buffalo’s rookie sensation EJ Manuel sprained some knee ligaments and is expected to miss several weeks. He’ll probably be back in time for our week 10 showdown but that is the sort of injury which hampers a QB through the season.
Meanwhile, the shockingly good Browns lost QB Brian Hoyer for the season. With Hoyer, Cleveland had a halfway decent offense to go along with a really good young defense. Now the Browns have to go back to bust Brandon Weedon. Cleveland will still be a tough out for anybody because they have enough players on both sides of the ball to be dangerous but they aren’t nearly the same team with the comically inept Weedon behind center.
In addition to those three games, the Steelers travel out to New Jersey to face the Jets this weekend. The Jets will be on a short week after playing the Falcons tonight on Monday Night Football which is always a problem for teams. So despite New York being competitive in every game except last Sunday’s debacle against Tennessee, the Steelers should be facing them at just the right time.
The big negative to this week was while the Steelers sat idling, the rest of their division was putting even more distance between them. Every AFC North team won this week, with Baltimore Ravens holding off the resurgent Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals using a freak monsoon to stymie Tom Brady and the Patriots. All of a sudden every team in the division is a full three games ahead of us (technically 2.5). With 12 games left, including two against the sputtering Ravens and a rematch against Cincy at home, there is still plenty of opportunity to make up ground.
In order to do so, however, the Steelers must avoid the same fate which befell the Giants this weekend when they dropped to a wretched 0-5. If they don’t, well, we may be looking at a repeat of the 2004 draft where the Giants picked 4th and the Steelers picked 11th. Even though all things – and four Super Bowls – considered, those down years worked out pretty well for both franchises.