Three thoughts from the Steelers’ 39-38 win over the Ravens:
1. Pittsburgh’s offense bared its teeth in Week 14. If the Steelers are going to get through the Patriots next week, and in what could be an AFC Championship Game for the ages next month, they’re going to have to do it on the strength of that side of the ball. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards, 7.67 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell totaled 125 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Antonio Brown hauled in 11 receptions for 213 yards. The strength of the Steelers over the last few seasons has been in the offense, and that strength was on full display Sunday. The Steelers can beat any team when Bell and Brown are at their best. That much was obvious to anyone who watched them in their come-from-behind victory over the Ravens.
2. The Steelers continue to play to their competition. A 21-18 win over the Browns. A 23-17 loss to the Bears. A 19-13 win over the Chiefs. A 20-15 win over the Lions. A 20-17 win over the Colts. A 31-28 win over the Packers without Aaron Rodgers. And now, a 39-38 win over the Ravens. It doesn’t seem to matter the opponent, the Steelers make sure the game is close. That hasn’t been a problem to this point of the season, and it won’t be a problem during the regular season. After beating the Ravens on Sunday night, the Steelers clinched the AFC North and are almost guaranteed to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. It could be a serious problem, however, one month from now. Good teams can skirt by in the regular season when playing to their competition. They can’t do the same in the playoffs, especially when they’ll have to get through a great Patriots team led by Tom Brady. Are the Steelers a great team, or merely a good team? The answer to that could determine which team makes it through the AFC side of the playoffs and emerges in the Super Bowl. The Steelers real season may be a month away, but the issues that have cropped up over the last 14 weeks could spell their doom.
3. The Ravens are still in great shape for a wild-card playoff berth. Baltimore led for nearly the entire second half before Chris Boswell connected on what proved to be a game-winning 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds remaining in the contest. It was a brutal reversal in what would have been a huge win for the Ravens, and yet, they remain in great playoff position. The Ravens are now 7-6, tied with the Bills and Chargers, but sitting behind the Bills on tiebreakers heading into Week 15.
The Ravens, however, may still be favored to make the playoffs. They head to Cleveland next week to take on the 0-13 Browns. After that, they’ll spend the rest of the season in Baltimore. They host the Colts in Week 16 and Bengals in Week 17. In other words, the Ravens are going to be favored in all of their final three games of the season. If they can hold serve, they’ll finish at 10-6, which will almost certainly be good enough to make the playoffs. It hasn’t been the prettiest season, but the Ravens are in total control of where they’ll be in January. If they take care of business, they’ll be back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season.