The Pittsburgh Steelers’ terrific comeback victory in Week 16 helped solidify the team’s first AFC North title since 2017.
After tying the game with an early second-quarter touchdown run, the Colts scored 17 straight points to take a commanding lead.
The Steelers prevailed, however, behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The win snapped their first and only losing streak of the season.
This victory was crucial for Pittsburgh, although it now sets up an odd scenario for the final week of the 2020 regular season. Since the Steelers don’t need to win for any reason, they are set to rest several key players.
It’s already been announced that Big Ben will take a seat in the finale and backup Mason Rudolph will make the start under center.
This makes the Steelers a surprising underdog at West Virginia sportsbooks for the NFL’s Week 17. They’re receiving around 10 points for Sunday’s game against Cleveland at each of the WV online sports betting apps offered in the Mountain State.
Steelers vs. Browns preview
This game was shaping up to be the divisional title game in the AFC North. The Steelers were losers of three in a row and seemed on the way to another defeat.
Their turnaround, plus the Browns’ collapse against the New York Jets, have taken a lot of the energy out of this matchup. While the two sides certainly don’t like each other, the rivalry won’t have as much edge with Pittsburgh resting players.
With the quarterback move already in place, it wouldn’t be surprising for many other Steelers to see a reduced workload on Sunday. It’s safe to say anyone with a lingering injury probably won’t see much playing time.
Pittsburgh won the division and can’t challenge Kansas City for the conference’s top seed anymore, so it doesn’t have much to play for. The Steelers will host a playoff game from Heinz Field during the wild card round.
On the other hand, the Browns have everything to play for. Their misstep a week ago made Week 17 a must-win scenario for their postseason hopes.
Cleveland’s lost two of its last three games, including last week to the woeful Jets. The Browns were forced to play without the majority of their regular receiving corps due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
After trailing 20-3, their comeback fell short when quarterback Baker Mayfield fumbled on a fourth-down sneak attempt.
If the Browns have a full team back this weekend, they should make things fairly difficult for the Steelers’ “B” team. They’ve shown they’re a capable team in recent months and are trying to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Mayfield will love to have some offensive weapons back, but the offense is consistently generated from their running game. Both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are above-average options and can create big plays at any moment.
Chubb only needs 41 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, while Hunt has over 800 rushing yards and 300 receiving.
Even though the Steelers probably feature the better roster, it appears it will be a true upset if they’re able to knock off Cleveland this Sunday.
Pittsburgh’s standout players in 2020
Although we don’t know what this year’s postseason has in store for the Steelers, they’ve had a very successful campaign. Their 12 wins are already four more than in 2019.
It goes without saying that Roethlisberger’s return played a major role in the team’s success. He proved that even at age 38, he is a capable QB in the NFL.
Pittsburgh’s leader passed for over 3,800 yards this season and completed nearly 66% of his attempts. He totaled 33 passing touchdowns against just 10 interceptions.
Despite the running game not excelling as in years past, the Steelers’ wideouts are among the league’s best.
Diontae Johnson leads the unit in receiving yards with more than 800 in just 14 games. His 85 receptions are second on the team to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 91.
Smith-Schuster and rookie Chase Claypool each have over 750 receiving yards this season. Together, the three have combined for 23 touchdown catches.
The playmakers don’t stop there, though. Guys like tight end Eric Ebron and receiver James Washington each have five receiving scores to their names, too.
Defensively, Pittsburgh includes lots of talent all over the field. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leads the team in total tackles with 74, and interceptions with four. He’s been amazing since the Steelers traded for him last September.
Up front, T.J. Watt is a problem for any offensive line in the NFL. He’s tallied 15 sacks so far, good enough for the league lead.
Watt isn’t the only one causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt contributed 10 sacks of his own, while Bud Dupree added eight before his season-ending injury.
Fitzpatrick and Watt are headed to the 2021 Pro Bowl, along with Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro.
Steelers’ postseason outlook
As division champs, Pittsburgh will host a playoff game next weekend regardless of Sunday’s result. It currently sits in the No. 3 seed in the AFC, behind the Chiefs and the 12-3 Buffalo Bills.
Behind the Steelers are the Titans, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns, and Colts. They all have a 10-5 record.
If Tennessee takes down Houston this weekend, it will win the South, leaving three remaining spots for the four other teams.
One of them will travel to Pittsburgh in the wild card round to battle a rested Steelers squad.
Of course, the local side is very familiar with both divisional foes. The Steelers swept Baltimore in the regular season, and beat the Browns by 31 points in their first meeting.
Pittsburgh is obviously also familiar with the Colts, coming out with a win against them in Week 16 following a terrible start.
That leaves Miami as the only potential opening-round opponent the Steelers could face. The Dolphins have an impressive defense and several quality pieces around rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
No matter which team the Steelers play, they are likely to be favored at home. Even though things haven’t come as easy of late, they are one of the better teams in the league with a veteran team and coach.
Pittsburgh’s shown its defense can dominate, and the offense is as skilled as any other team in the NFL. In order for it to make a deep playoff run, Roethlisberger needs to find his touch.
He’s struggled recently, but came up huge when he needed to against the Colts. Roethlisberger completed over 69% of his passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns in that game.