As we are officially passed the mid-way point of the regular season, it's time to look at the progress of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Currently, the Steelers reign atop the AFC North at 6-2-1. Pittsburgh heads into Jacksonville this week riding a 5-game win streak.
In the first few weeks of the season, the Steeler's looked like they had lost it. A season-opening tie to the Cleveland Browns (who were winless since the 2016 season at the time) gave way to a slow start. Pittsburgh's defense struggled to keep points off the board and Roethlisberger was shaky with his pass attempts and pocket presence in early home starts. On top of all this, the Le'Veon Bell narrative of "will he or won't he report" took over the NFL. It was chaos.
Luckily the organization righted the sails as Big Ben got into a groove and rookie halfback James Conner proved his potential when all hope seemed lost. With Bell gone, the Steelers weren't expected to be as explosive as past years - but that hasn't necessarily been true. Roethlisberger just threw for 328 yards and 5 touchdowns last week against a red-hot Cam Newton and the Panthers. All season he's been putting up huge numbers, especially on the road, and Conner's well on pace for a 1000+ yard rookie rushing (rookie) season. Conner's spot is now set in stone as Bell refused to report to the team whatsoever.
Le'Veon Bell who? The Steelers, clearly in no desperate need for their franchise playmaker, made themselves perfectly transparent that they don't deal well with petty personalities and egoism. We can finally put that story to bed.
Week to week the Steelers have found ways to improve and manage to resemble the gritty, high-scoring offense Pittsburgh is used to. Given the pace they've set in the past several weeks, it's hard to see an AFC North rival upending Pittsburgh for the division lead. That said, their closing in on a playoff run that may be all too predictable if any recent seasons can be an indication - seeing the likes of the Chiefs or Patriots.
The Steelers have the ability to beat any team in the AFC without a doubt, but the organization still remains wildly unpredictable at given times. Few expected the Steelers to rout the Panthers the way they did last Thursday. Few expected the Browns to not lose to them in week 1.
Now staring at the final weeks of the regular season, the Steelers will look to stay in the win column. From week 1 to now, Pittsburgh's made a nearly 180-degree turn in the right direction. The Steelers will face their biggest challenges in the Patriots and Saints when they face them in back-to-back games in week 15 and 16.
This late-season matchup against the Patriots may prove to be decisive as the AFC playoff picture wraps up, as these games have in the past. A lot is still to come, but for now, the Steelers look ahead to the Jaguars this Sunday.