First and foremost, a big thank you to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. Those two teams gave us a heck of a Sunday Night Football game. They capped off a thrilling NFL Sunday with one of the best games I’ve watched all year. It was a back-and-forth game between two bitter rivals, it featured two big-name quarterbacks, and it came down to the final seconds. For a primetime game, especially on Sunday night when viewers were graced with the presences of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Carrie Underwood, you couldn’t ask for anything better.
The only problem for the Patriots: the Steelers pulled out the win -- 39-38 -- which puts pressure on them going forward. And whether they like it or not, the Steelers are going to be trouble for the Patriots as we inch closer to the playoffs.
The pressure is on the Pats if they want to claim the top playoff seed in the AFC. In order to have a chance at it, they have to beat the Dolphins in Miami on Monday night, and then they have to go to Pittsburgh on Sunday and beat the Steelers. Even if they accomplish both of those things, it doesn’t clinch it for them, but it gives them a pretty good shot.
Winning in Miami shouldn’t be a problem. Assuming the Pats get that win, the real challenge will come on Sunday. Beating the 11-2 Steelers, who clinched the AFC North with their win over Baltimore, will be far from easy. Ben Roethlisberger is playing as well as ever, and Pittsburgh’s last three wins have come via Chris Boswell field goals. Any football team can be pretty dangerous when they have an elite quarterback who is playing at the top of his game, as well as a kicker who is coming through with huge kicks in huge situations.
So first things first: get the win in Miami on Monday, and then focus on Pittsburgh. If the Pats want to claim the top seed – which they need to do if they hope to win the Super Bowl, as the past few years have shown us – they will most likely need to win out the rest of the season.
And that’s just for the regular season. If they end up having to face the Steelers again in the playoffs … well, that game will deserve its own column. We’ll cross that bridge later.