The NFL is weird. When schedules are announced over the summer, every fan looks at their team’s slate and begins to mentally check off wins and losses. Of course, it NEVER plays out as we expect. The baseball season lasts like six months, the hockey and basketball seasons last nearly as long. Football season is the shortest of the four major sports but so many twists and turns occur over sixteen games that it feels a lot longer.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers were scheduled to face the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football back in August, I’m sure most members of Steeler Nation had that penciled in as an easy W. The Niners were a miserable 6-10 last year and starting a new regime under college coaching wunderkind Jim Harbaugh. The lockout prevented them from bringing in a new quarterback so they were stuck with former first overall pick Alex Smith, who looked like an epic bust. Even if the trip out to the West Coast has historically been tough, this was still a game the Steelers should win.
Fast forward four months later. The Niners are one of the surprise teams of the year, having already clinched their first NFC West title in over a decade. Harbaugh is probably going to be coach of the year. Meanwhile, the Steelers are facing them at the worst possible time. Their superstar quarterback just suffered a horrific ankle injury while their superstar linebacker is suspended for one game. Mix in the fact both teams are in a playoff scramble for seeding position and you have a recipe for disaster.