New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Once upon a time, like, a month ago, the AFC North was a feared division around the NFL.
For the past 10 to 15 years, winning the division was a badge of honor and no one wanted a piece of an AFC North member in the postseason.
The likes of New England, Denver and Houston have to be licking their chops.
If any of those teams gets Baltimore or Pittsburgh in the wild card round they might as well consider it a bye. The Steelers will be fortunate to make it that far and be first-round fodder for the real Super Bowl contenders.
How hard and fast the mighty have fallen.
Didn’t the Mayan calendar forecast the end of the AFC North on 11-12-12 or something? Either that or the end of the world on 12-21-12, not sure which. (Numbers and details about the apocalypse can be confusing.)
On that Monday night on the 12th of November the Steelers defeated Kansas City to move to 6-3 and a game behind Baltimore, which at 7-2 was seemingly a real threat to grab the No. 1 seed. Both teams were clearly playoff-bound and perhaps destined for another of their classic postseason battles against each other.
So this is why they play the games.
Since that night both teams have collapsed. Throwing out games played against each other, in which both scored 33 points (and would have been most appropriate to have ended in ties), the Steelers and Ravens are a combined 1-7 against the rest of the league. Had Ray Rice not performed a little magic on fourth-and-29 in San Diego, that mark would be 0-8.
Hard to fathom.
Pittsburgh’s 27-24 overtime loss in Dallas yesterday was a microcosm of the season. The Steelers have had the ball with a chance to win at the end of virtually every one of their losses this season, but just aren’t good enough this year.
Ben Roethlisberger just isn’t good enough this year. His statistics were solid, but he bounced a few passes in key situations and his lone interception was telegraphed and, um, costly.
Mike Tomlin just isn’t good enough this year. Yes the Steelers are battling several injuries, but the team seems more undisciplined than usual (watch game tape of Antonio Brown for prime evidence) and, except for the game in Baltimore, playing relatively uninspired.
They just don’t have it.
We’ve seen these late season tailspins before, but that the Steelers are still alive for a postseason berth speaks to the mediocrity of the division and the entire conference.
Cincinnati, the prime benefactor of the precipitous falls by Pittsburgh and Baltimore, will visit Heinz Field next Sunday. Most likely the winner of that game will advance to the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.
Don’t be surprised if the Bengals win their next two, including their finale at home against the Ravens, and claim the division.
It would be a fitting end to a forgettable season.
(Steve Treu covers the Steelers for The News.)