He couldn’t have been more correct. It’s the time of year in the NFL when contenders strive and pretenders dive. Make no mistake about it: Each and every game played by the NFL’s elite from this point forward is a playoff game. Wins represent confidence, cohesiveness, togetherness, assertiveness and rewards.
Losses create turmoil, questions and finger-pointing. But it even extends further than just winning games. It is in how these teams are winning. Great teams hit the accelerator in the closing month of the season, with visions of home playoff games and hostility for opponents.
The Steelers have had what can be classified as a successful season to this point. Sure, there are losses to teams the black & gold can beat if they played tomorrow. But they aren’t playing the Cardinals, Broncos and Jets down the road. They are playing the Cincinnati Bengals tonight at Heinz Field, for starters. The Bengals are shooting to become the first visiting team to win three straight in Heinz Field. The road team has won seven straight in this matchup. It wasn’t too long ago that Bengals star receiver Chad Johnson proclaimed his team top dog in the AFC North and that the Steelers and their following should “get used to it.”
What better way to start the drive to the playoffs?
The Steelers offensive line unit has shown some cracks in the armor that last few weeks. Left tackle Marvel Smith is a game-time decision. Center Sean Mahan and right tackle Willie Colon were manhandled by Jets defensive lineman Dewayne Robertson and Shaun Ellis. USA Today printed the salary of each NFL player this past Friday. Anyone shocked to know that right guard Kendell Simmons is making a hefty $8,502,400? This unit needs to regain some composure beginning tonight.
The ridicule for running back Willie Parker has been flying in as fast as the planes at Pittsburgh International Airport. While Parker isn’t exactly lighting up opponents lately, he is still second in the NFL in rushing yards. But there is a need for more consistency with the running game. Here’s one suggestion: Keep Fast Willie in the game in short yardage and goal line situations. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians needs to quit confusing career backup Najeh Davenport with Hall of Famer to be Jerome Bettis.
It’s hard to complain about the “Blitzburgh” defense that is again ranked No. 1 in the NFL. Strong safety Troy Polamalu will be a game-time decision after being hurt on the “field turfî in the Meadowlands two weeks ago. The long-haired wonder hasn’t faired too well this season and will be counted on for his big-play ability. The roller coaster career of Ike Taylor continues, and he has played solid this season. Tonight, he and the rest of Dick LeBeau’s secondary get a real test with Johnson, T.J. Houshmenzadeh and Chris Henry having the ability to create havoc downfield.
Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had a strong season. He is and should be mentioned among the best at his position and will get the opportunity to shine again in January. Big Ben should strike six early and often tonight against the hapless Bungels defense.
Look for the Steelers — and not the turf at Heinz Field — to be the topic of conversation. The Steelers defense will force the Bengals to become one dimensional and will get after QB Carson Palmer. Ben will exploit the lame tiger’s weak secondary along with a steady dose of Parker.
Steelers 30, Bengals 14.
Andros is a frequent contributor to Voice of the Fan.