By Ivan Cole, for whom Rebecca is very thankful. And speaking of thankful, I am thankful our players take time and spend their own money to help those less fortunate, as they did last week. They handed out a ton of food—all the fixings, including a turkey apiece.
This is the season for being thankful for life’s blessings. So, what are the blessings that Steeler Nation can point to in 2017?
The Nation is a notoriously bottom-line group. In this sense anything short of a victory in the Super Bowl seems a disappointment, and almost a waste of time. But let us give some respect to the journey as well. This is the best start since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season in 2004. And that is just the beginning of the good news. Forget the style points. If I told you before Labor Day that the team was 8-2, mostly healthy and was the top seed in the conference, would you be happy? Yes, you would. Even though some of the wins were butt ugly, and the losses were not the ones you would have expected at the time. There’s more:
- If they were to lose 50 percent of their remaining games the worst-case scenario would be that they would be tied for the division lead with Baltimore.
- If the playoffs began today they would own the number one seed, meaning an opening round bye and home field advantage through the conference championship game.
- Only one of their remaining six opponents currently has a winning record. Their most challenging games in this regard (Green Bay and the Ravens, both 5-5, and New England 8-2) will be played in the friendly confines of Heinz Field.
- The developmental arc is favorable. What do I mean by that? Kansas City looked great the first two weeks of the season, taking out both the Patriots and Philadelphia. This past week they lost to the bottom feeding New York Giants. In fact, the entire AFC West, thought to the class of the conference, looks pathetic now. On the other hand, like last year with Miami, the loss to Jacksonville, ugly as it seemed at the time, seems less objectionable given the belief now that they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And while it is a streak of merely one game, the fact that the Steelers are playing their best ball right now is exactly what you would be wishing for.
- Peace of mind. You can enjoy your Thanksgiving unburdened by scoreboard watching and apocalyptic scenarios. The team’s destiny is completely in their own hands. Even the big game with the Pats is only so important in the overall scheme of things. In ’04 the Steelers took down New England at Heinz only to lose in the conference championship game. Keep in mind that home field, though desirable, guarantees nothing.
- Are you entertained? It’s not hype. The Steelers are not just good. Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the league and Steelers history, Le’Veon Bell is a generational talent at running back, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Cam Heyward, Ryan Shazier are the best at their positions, TJ Watt and JuJu Smith-Shuster are stars in the making, reports of Ben’s demise are premature, and there is much more where this is coming from. They are becoming immensely entertaining to watch.
- Tough times for Tomlin haters. As I noted in a previous post, with Thursday’s victory, Coach T passed the marker of continuing his streak of no losing seasons to start his head coaching career, passing somebody named Lombardi. It should also be noted that this is the best start in his 11-year career with hardly any of Cowher’s players (Ben and James Harrison) in sight.
JuJu was 9 years old when Cowher retired from coaching, as a point of reference. Not only is he not likely to be fired anytime in this decade, he’s tracking dangerously close to being a slam dunk selection into the Hall of Fame (one more championship ought to do it). Scandal would be the best hope of derailing this train.
Yes, it could still go wrong. That 2004 team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, much less win, but it’s already been a very good ride. Chances are you won’t have to wait for Christmas Day this year for at least a playoff spot, and please tell me what team is licking its chops to get a shot at the Steelers in January.