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Steelers enter playoffs as big underdog

The following is a capsulized look at the Steelers in this year’s playoffs:

Record: 9-7-1

AP Pro32 Ranking: No. 14

Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 43, 27-23 win over the Cardinals on Feb. 1, 2009, at Tampa, Florida

Last year: 12-4, No. 3 seed. Lost to Browns 48-37 in wild-card game

Notable: 10th playoff appearance in coach Mike Tomlin’s 15 seasons

Why they’ll prevail: The Steelers may be the longest shot in the playoff field but in Ben Roethlisberger they have a veteran leader that — while hardly in his prime at 39 and in his 18th and likely final season — has two Super Bowl rings. The Steelers also have perhaps the most disruptive defensive player in the league in OLB T.J. Watt (above), whose 22.5 sacks tied Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s single-season record. If Roethlisberger can summon one last bit of magic and Watt’s play can cover up some serious warts on a defense that ranks last against the run, maybe the Steelers can carve out a path to the Super Bowl much as they did 16 years ago when they won the franchise’s fifth Lombardi Trophy as a sixth seed.

Why they’ll derail: The 2005 group happened to have the NFL’s third-ranked defense to turn to when things got tight. Not so much this time around. Only eight teams gave up more yards than the Steelers in 2021, the franchise’s worst performance in more than 30 years. Combine that with an offense that can be painful to watch at times as it tries to dink-and-dunk opponents to death and there’s a reason Pittsburgh is the longest shot in the 14-team playoff field.

Quotable: “I’ve been in a lot of these games where the team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win. I just try and tell those guys that listen, we got to go out there and you got to play free and have fun, play football, but understand that it does even get a little bit faster and the intensity does pick up,” Roethlisberger, who’s making his 12th trip to the playoffs.

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