The Pittsburgh Steelers have concluded the 2016 regular season with an 11-5 record and on a seven-game win streak after a 27-24 overtime win over the now 1-15 Cleveland Browns. The win streak, which came after a four-game losing streak, helped them claim the AFC North title and a spot in the playoffs as the number three seed, where they’ll be seeking Lombardi trophy number seven.
I’m not going to even breakdown that game against the Browns because it might as well have been a preseason game. It wouldn’t have mattered if Mike Tomlin would’ve played his top guys. There was nothing to gain, only to lose.
There were some positives. After a slow start, and a 14-point deficit, Landry Jones finished well throwing for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game winning 26-yard touchdown pass in overtime to Cobi Hamilton. Eli Rogers continued to show he could make plays to take pressure off of Antonio Brown in the passing game, finishing the day with 6 receptions for 61 yards and converted key first downs. Defensively, Steelers team rookie of the year award winner, safety Sean Davis, continued to make huge strides with 8 tackles including his first career sack. There was also a Jarvis Jones sighting. He had 3 tackles, a sack, and forced a key fumble in the final seconds of regulation to keep Cleveland from attempting a game-winning field goal. But other than that, this game was dreadful to watch. Therefore I, like the Steelers, am on to the playoffs.
My biggest concern entering the postseason is, have they peak too soon?
Most will say you want to play your best ball at the end of the season. And they are. The defense has gone from a mid-twenties ranked total D to a top ten ranked unit. Le’Veon Bell is the hottest offensive player in the League averaging 157 scrimmage yards per game.
But usually teams playing their best football weren’t on win streaks this long. I hear you saying the ’05 Steelers, those Eli Manning led New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers that beat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV. Even those teams weren’t riding streaks like the one Pittsburgh is on right now.
The 2005 Steelers won four in a row to end the regular season, then four playoff games on their way to winning Super Bowl XL. That eight game win streak begin after a three-game losing streak, that followed a four-game winning streak.
As great as the 2008 team was, finishing 12-4, their longest win streak was five games from weeks 11 through 15. If you include the three playoffs games to win Super Bowl XLIII, they won six of their last seven games with a four game win streak .
In the case of other teams that got hot late, that Aaron Rogers-led Packers that beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl won their last two regular season games, to end a two-game losing streak, then the four playoff games to win the Lombardi. That’s a six game win streak
The 2007 New York Giants finished their regular season slate 10-6, but were 3-3 in their last six games of the season before running off three straight playoff road wins and knocking off the New England Patriots who were riding an eighteen-game win streak into Super Bowl XLII. The Giants won five of their last six if you include the four consecutive in the playoffs. Their only loss was to the Patriots in the final game of the regular season.
The 2011 Giants finished the season 9-7 and on a two-game winning streak, before winning four straight in the playoffs culminating in another epic victory over the Patriots 21-17. That New England team rolled into Indianapolis on an overall ten-game win streak going back to week eight of the regular season. in total, New York finished with a six-game win streak.
My point, long win streaks like the one Pittsburgh is on, is very rare in the NFL. This isn’t college football.
If the Steelers win Super Bowl LI, that would mean they won eleven consecutive, the final four would be against the League’s best, starting with the Miami Dolphins, then possibly New England in the AFC Championship, and the Dallas Cowboys in Houston at the Super Bowl. All of which have already beaten them this season during their early four-game losing streak.
Hopefully, the resting of key players and the struggle against the Browns works in the favor of Pittsburgh to refocus and recharge for the most important chapter in the 2016 Steelers story.