Pittsburgh Steelers: The Dark Horse In the AFC Playoff Race?

By Jeff Hartman
Pittsburgh Steelers
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Once left for dead at 0-4, the Pittsburgh Steelers have certainly made something out of nothing by climbing all the way back to 5-6 and inserting themselves into the AFC playoff discussion. However, are they simply just another 5-6 team or are they the dark horse in the race that opposing teams hope do not make it into the playoffs?

The Steelers have won five of their last seven games and currently have the longest winning streak in the AFC at three games. The Steelers could be a tough team to deal with for more reasons than they are on a bit of a hot streak.

The Steelers seemed to have addressed some major issues within their team that was leading to inconsistent play and in the long run, losses.

The biggest improvement for this team over the last seven weeks of football has been their offensive line. The Steelers have slowly held opposing pass rushes to limited access to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and there are several reasons for that fact. The Steelers are using the no huddle offense more which leads to quick passes and getting match up advantages along the defensive line. Add in a more effective running game and you have yourself a recipe for offensive success.

The Steelers are not turning the ball over. The team hasn’t committed a turnover since the Buffalo Bills game three weeks ago, and it’s no surprise that they haven’t lost a game since then. If the Steelers don’t commit turnovers they are a difficult team to beat.

To add to the lack of offensive turnovers, the defense is creating turnovers. The Dick Lebeau led unit forced four turnovers against the Cleveland Browns this past week, two turnovers against the Detroit Lions the previous week, and created a key turnover against the Bills.

All three of those games were not just successful games by the defense but dominant defensive outings. On top of the turnovers, the defense is stopping the run and making teams one dimensional. That is a direct link between the quarterback sack numbers going up as well the turnovers increasing.

Putting is simply, the Steelers are a team that is on the rise and is playing their best football of the year when they desperately needed to.

Will they continue this trend and carry momentum into the sixth and final playoff spot? Only time will tell, but a win against their arch rivals, Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night would propel this team to .500 and into the short list of teams vying for a playoff spot.

Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz

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