When the playoffs began, a lot of people predicted that the Patriots and Steelers would meet in the AFC Championship. There’s just one problem.
The Steelers (11-5) have to beat the Chiefs (12-4) in Kansas City this Sunday. Pittsburgh has won eight straight, yes, but Kansas City has won 23 of 28.
“I do not think it’s a slam-dunk game for them by any means,” Pittsburgh’s The Fan host Andrew Fillipponi said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “They’ve been a different team on the road, and I know when you have an eight-game wining streak, some of those wins are going to come away from Heinz Field, but the Chiefs will be by far the best team they’ve played during this stretch.”
Pittsburgh’s eight wins have come against the Browns (twice), Colts, Giants, Bills, Bengals, Ravens and Dolphins. Pittsburgh limited Miami to 12 points during Wild Card weekend, but the defense remains far from elite.
“Is this defense better?” Fillipponi asked. “Yeah, it is. But it’s not anywhere close to past Super Bowl-winning defenses for the Steelers. Anybody that wants to tell you the Steelers are going to win a Super Bowl with defense is just wrong. It’s not going to happen. They’re not going to win games 13-10. They’re not going to win games 17-13. They got to win games in the 20s. Their offense needs to travel.”
The Steelers finished tenth in the league in scoring offense with 24.9 points per game this season, as Le’Veon Bell, who has 100+ total yards in eight straight games, has been an absolute beast.
“I think he’s their best player right now, but I don’t think he’s their most important,” Fillipponi said. “If I could have voted for their team MVP award, I would have picked him. The reason why they went from 4-5 to 11-5 is because (of him). I still think, though, that (Ben Roethlisberger is more important to them). If I found out that Ben Roethlisberger really hurt his foot on that tackle late in the game and Landry Jones was playing at quarterback this week, the Steelers would lose by 20 or more. If I found out that Bell was out and DeAngelo Williams was in, I wouldn’t like the Steelers’ chances as much, but I would give them a decent shot of still winning the game. So I think (Bell) is their best player, but I still think Ben is their most important guy.”
Which is why Steelers fans were so angry that Mike Tomlin left Roethlisberger in long enough against Miami to hurt his foot.
“I do not understand why, when you are up 18 with six minutes left, you can’t just ask your backup quarterback to hand the ball off to your reserve running back,” Fillipponi said. “Why you would leave Ben in to throw the ball on a 3rd-and-8 – the Dolphins are not pulling off a miracle with six minutes left. The game’s over. The thing you want to do is run the clock and get out of dodge with a win. You’re playing a Miami team that has one of the dirtiest players in the league in Ndamukong Suh. The last thing I want to do is even rub it in their face with a couple plays downfield to piss them off and risk an injury. So it made zero sense.”
The Steelers are seeking their fourth Super Bowl appearance of the Roethlisberger era, but the road to get there isn’t exactly easy. The Chiefs are usually tough at home – they’ve gone 6-2 at Arrowhead in each of the last three seasons – and the Patriots are, well, the Patriots.
“If they lose to Kansas City, people are going to be super ticked off,” Fillipponi said. “It’s going to hurt even worse if it’s to Brady again. For everything that Ben Roethlisberger has already accomplished in his career – he’s a Hall of Famer. The stats say that, he’s won two Super Bowls, he’s never had a losing season – he’s going to make it to Canton one day. But the one thing he’s never done, the holy grail for him, is beating Tom Brady in a playoff game. It’s never happened. He’s never gone to Gillette Stadium and beaten Brady. The only time the Steelers went there and won, Matt Cassel was the quarterback. So I think fans feel like there’s more left in this team, but if they lose to New England, people will be apoplectic here because, again, it will be the Patriots taking it to them and fans have, I think, reached their saturation point of New England beating Pittsburgh.”