When you’re 4-5 and struggling with health, and trying to stay afloat, everyone wants to take a shot at you, and can’t wait to kick you while you are down. To those who took that opportunity, the Steelers are back, to show a measure of gratitude for the wake up call, and to do a little kicking of their own. With the exception of the Eagles, who failed to make the playoffs, and the Cowboys, who were eliminated by Green Bay, the Steelers have marched through those have previously defeated them this season. During their second go around with the Ravens, the Steelers beat them at home 31-27 for the division title. Two weeks later, the Steelers pounded the Dolphins, 30-12, at home in the AFC Wildcard game. Next up on the list is the New England Patriots, who beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 27-16, back in week 7. Like Baltimore and Miami before them, it won’t take long for the Patriots to realize that these are not the same Pittsburgh Steelers they remember from October 23rd.
These Steelers have developed into about the most balanced and complete team in the NFL, with a nasty attitude to boot. Oh, and in the midst of a 9 game winning streak, the Steelers believe they can beat anyone, anywhere. Led by a resurgent defense that is on a historic postseason rampage with stats that haven’t been seen since the Steel Curtain defense of the 70’s, the Steelers have become the team that nobody wants to see. The Steelers, who have a young and ferocious defense, and an excess of weapons on offense, are built to remain that way. The quicker than expected development of Javon Hargrave, Sean Davis and Artie Burns on defense, along with Demarcus Ayers and Eli Rogers on offense, has provided the Steelers with exactly what they needed at the right time.
One of the preseason favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, injuries and suspensions threatened to derail the Steelers’ season, but they did what they always do and never panicked. Instead, they stuck together, sought out internal answers, and are now knocking on the door for a shot at a 7th world title. The Patriots now find themselves in the crosshairs of a team they were hoping to avoid altogether. With intensity and purpose, the Steelers are heading to New England to exact some justice, not just from earlier in the season, but from 2001 and 2004, and they have all the necessary parts to get the job done. As much as the Patriots didn’t want the Steelers, neither does the Packers and the Falcons.
It’s remarkable how quickly the Steelers have transformed an aging defense into a unit that’s helped carry them back to Super Bowl contention. For the first time since 2008-2010, there is excitement over the defense once again in Pittsburgh, which is what makes them a legitimate threat to win it all. As far as the Steelers have come, they aren’t even near being a finished product. This is a team that has been without DE Cam Heyward, WR Martavis Bryant, and TE LaDarius Green for most or all of the season, and as dangerous as they are now, the Steelers will be even moreso when all their pieces are back in place.