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Old 12-22-2010, 06:08 AM   #1
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Default Is Super Bowl in Steelers future?

Is Super Bowl in Steelers future?
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 12:15 AM
Written by Bob Smizik
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One of my more vivid memories of the approximately 25 years I covered the Steelers as a columnist occurred off the field. It was around 8 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2001, two days before the world would change forever. But we didn’t know that as we left the press box in Jacksonville following a pathetic 21-3 loss to the Jaguars. Our thoughts were on less-worldly matters.

Knowing there were 15 more games of this in front of us, I said to my colleagues, ``Oh, this is going to be a long season.’’

The Steelers went on to go 13-3 and advance to the AFC title game where they lost to the New England Patriots, who had this kid quarterback named Tom Brady.

Moral of this story: You never know what’s going to happen in the NFL.

As a professional journalist (semi-retired division), I’d like to think I am somewhat immune from the ups and downs of a football season. While I might be more geared than some for the crazy bounces in a season, I fall almost as fast for the latest trends.

Which are these:

* Yes, the Steelers lost Sunday to the Jets, but there were an abundance of positives to come out of the game.

The defense played well without Troy Polamalu.
The offensive line had one of its best game.
Rashard Mendenhall ran for 100 yards on only 17 carries.
Ben Roethlisberger still has it.

* The New England Patriots and the same Tom Brady were shown to be mortal and possibly beatable.

* Despite the loss, by winning their next two games, both against bottom-feeder opposition, the Steelers will draw the second seed in the AFC, which means a bye and a chance for their injured to become more sound of body.

In other words, the Steelers are in about as good a position as they’ve been all season to advance to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots clearly are the class of the conference and that’s all the more so because they’ll have home-field advantage in their two playoff games.

Behind the Patriots are a second-tier of teams: the Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets. One of the first two teams will with the AFC North. The loser, along with the Jets, figure as the wild-card teams.

The winner of the AFC South, Indianapolis or Jacksonville, and the AFC West, Kansas City or San Diego, look to be a level below New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Jets.

If form holds, the Steelers will play Baltimore or the Jets in their first playoff game, with the other team going to New England.

So far, so good.

Although the Steelers split with Baltimore and lost to the Jets, I’d take them against either team. Their loss to Baltimore was without Roethlisberger. Their loss to the Jets was without Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller. Both figure to be healthy for the playoffs and are key players for the Steelers.

Which, if form holds, takes the Steelers to Foxboro for the AFC title game. Considering that Brady picked apart the Steelers, 39-26 on Nov. 14 at Heinz Field, in a game that wasn’t nearly that close, the Steelers are in trouble.

But not defeated.

It’s true, the Patriots recently have whipped the Steelers and crushed the Jets and Chicago Bears. But they also lost in Week 2 to the Jets and in Week 9 to Cleveland by the preposterous score of 34-14, as journeyman Peyton Hillis rumbled for 184 yards. And they were pushed to the limit Sunday at home against Green Bay, which was without its starting quarterback.

They are an excellent team but yet to pass the test of greatness. They can be beaten. Brady has toyed with the Steelers so many times that their day may finally be due.

And, of course, it might never come.

But the message is this: The Steelers are not favored to play in the Super Bowl, but they have the ability to get there.
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