The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves today in a situation that many, laughably, would describe as being "enviable". They have already qualified for the playoffs and have a game coming up with the pathetic Carolina Panthers then finishing up with a Cleveland Browns team that, although game for most of the year, has apparently decided to "shut 'er dahn early".
If you fall into the class of Steeler fans who actually believe this, you apparently haven't been following this team as closely as you should. The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been a team that collectively should jump up on a psychologist's couch, because for decades they have consistently managed to play down or play up to their level of competition.
Take for example their recent epic battle against the Ravens. The team laid it all out there and got it done. However, this is by and large the SAME TEAM that lost to three completely-awful teams last year, the Raiders, Chiefs and Browns to effectively cost themselves a shot at the playoffs. Two victories would give the Steelers an important opening-round bye, more than likely a number two seed and a legitimate shot to make it to the AFC Championship game. So the team definitely has something to play for, albeit it will come against mediocre competition... That's what worries me.
ABOVE: World War II vintage booby trap.
Contrast this with the fact that the year before, against a schedule that was universally proclaimed as being the most difficult regular season schedule in the modern day (last 50 years) history of football that the team went out and won the SuperBowl.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been a team that thrives under the pressure of the big game, loves being an underdog and relishes the chance to go up against a team that is considered to be an even bigger bully than they are. When these circumstances are present, it is very unusual for them to give a lackluster effort. However, when the reverse is true and the competition is very downtrodden, unmotivated and mathematically eliminated...well that's when everything seems to "go to hell in a hand basket" as they say.
Call it loss of focus, call it lack of intensity even a lack of respect for the inferior opponent. You can call it whatever you want to call it but these next two games worry me more than if we were playing Indianapolis and San Diego. At least then I'd feel sure that the Steelers were planning on bringing their "A" game.
GAME NOTES: Troy Polamalu will more than likely miss the final two games while rehabbing a strained achilles tendon...Aaron Smith may be ready to play come playoff time, but don't expect him for the final two games either...Heath Miller has been cleared to play on Thursday night. Miller suffered a concussion against the Ravens.