Talented but frustrating Steelers in danger of sleepwalking into playoffs

Jack Browne 5d ago
Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the talent to be the AFC's best team, and it's felt that way for some time now.

But, just like they've done regularly over the past few seasons, the Steelers played down to the level of their opponent in Week 10, almost falling to the woeful Indianapolis Colts, who've been embarrassed on more than one occasion this season by teams with far less offensive firepower than Pittsburgh.

The Steelers ultimately persevered and dug themselves out of a 10-3 hole at halftime to win 20-17, but they can't shrug off their flaws just because they eeked out the victory - especially while the AFC remains ripe for the taking.

While the New England Patriots are the class of the conference, they aren't the same juggernaut of years past - at least not yet. Meanwhile, the Chiefs' hot start has cooled off, and the Steelers' speed on defense has already proven to be the perfect foil to Kansas City's offense.

Beyond that, the AFC is a wasteland of huge disappointments like the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, and overachievers with significant flaws like the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This season is the best - and maybe last - opportunity for this iteration of the Steelers to finally fulfill its potential and make the Super Bowl run that most have expected for years.

However, that won't happen if the Steelers' inconsistencies on offense - especially from Ben Roethlisberger - aren't fixed come playoff time.

Roethlisberger's performance against the Colts was a microcosm of his disappointing season. He looked terrible early, throwing an interception and struggling to get anything going downfield.

The veteran pivot eventually found his form and led an impressive game-winning drive, but it's clear he's far from the player he once was, and sooner or later, his team won't be able to compensate for his growing flaws.

And the Steelers' schedule won't offer many opportunities for the team to exorcise its demons.

Week Opponent
11 vs. Titans
12 vs. Packers
13 at Bengals
14 vs. Ravens
15 vs. Patriots
16 at Texans
17 vs. Browns

Outside of a Week 15 game against the Patriots - which could have huge playoff-seeding implications - and maybe next Thursday's game against the Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh likely won't be pushed by any remaining opponent.

And that's a major problem.

At 7-2, the Steelers are all but certain to make their fourth straight playoff appearance, but just making the tournament hasn't been good enough for this team for a long time.

Pittsburgh is that smart kid in class who knows all the answers, but keeps getting distracted and is sometimes too focused on looking the part rather than reaching the heights they know they can.

It's beyond time the Steelers grew out of this phase. If they don't, they could be taught a painful lesson come January.