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Flavell's Five Thoughts: Steelers Claim AFC North, DPOY and a Major Offseason Payday

The Pittsburgh Steelers snap their losing streak, silencing doubters across the NFL.

Rejoice, Steelers fans! Pittsburgh won’t be on a five-game losing skid heading into their first-round playoff matchup.

Despite looking dead on arrival following the first half, the Steelers used the arm of Ben Roethlisberger to carry themselves back into the game. Maybe that old gunslinger still has some left.

Following a huge 28-24 win that featured a 17-point comeback by the Steelers, there is obviously tons to discuss. Let’s get to it.

Mike Hilton Is Preparing to Back up the Brinks Truck

It feels that I’ve written about Hilton’s spectacular play on a consistent basis in these pieces every week. That’s because he’s been everything you could ask for and more.

Sunday afternoon, Hilton staked his claim as the one Steelers free agent that must be re-signed at all costs this offseason.

Hilton intercepted a pass late in the ball game that went a long way towards giving the Steelers their come from behind victory. He also recovered the early fumble that led to the Steelers’ lone first-half touchdown. Hilton made a few plays throughout the game that led me to the realization that he might be the single most important re-signee on this team.

Finding good cornerbacks isn’t easy. Steven Nelson and Joe Haden have both had fairly down years for their standards but have still been good. Hilton’s bad games have been very few and far between. He’s as consistent as they come and is one of the best inside blitzing cornerbacks in the league.

He’s such a valuable commodity, and the Steelers have to find a way to make sure he’s still wearing No. 28 in black and gold come 2021.

Great Bounce Back for JuJu

Give all the credit in the world to JuJu. He formed his apology early in the week and focused after being the subject of criticism early in the week. He repaid the Steelers with nine receptions for 96 yards and a crucial touchdown that gave the Steelers the lead.

Last week could’ve been the beginning of the end for Smith-Schuster in a Steelers jersey. He didn’t allow himself to get too low and came back with a huge game in a critical time for Pittsburgh.

It’s evident that Smith-Schuster likely isn’t the No. 1 receiver. He’s too inconsistent to be the guy. He did a wonderful job Sunday bouncing back when the Steelers needed him to.

T.J. Watt Should Be Defensive Player of the Year

Watt is an absolute monster on the field. He’s been unstoppable from the time he made his NFL debut.

Watt has made a case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year for a second straight season. Last season, he fell short of the award, losing to Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. This season, there shouldn’t be much debate.

Watt leads the league in sacks after picking up two more on Sunday. With 15 on the season, Watt needs two more against Cleveland next week to obtain the single-season sack record for the Steelers, currently held by James Harrison (16).

Watt’s strip-sack led to the Steelers getting their first points on the board after Hilton returned it for a goal-to-go situation. He’s the ultimate difference-maker on defense and should be rewarded with such recognition.

If Roethlisberger Can Throw Downfield, Then Why Hasn’t That Been More of a Theme?

The first half was ugly. The game was destined to be another stinker that would lead to a week 17 game against the Browns for the division. By 4:30 p.m., the tables had turned tremendously.

In the second half, Pittsburgh threw the ball at will. They hit the beautiful deep shot to Diontae Johnson that sparked the momentous comeback. Roethlisberger continued to find Chase Claypool on the drive that eventually ended in a crippling goal line stand by Indianapolis. Obviously, it was all punctuated by the long Smith-Schuster touchdown.

Roethlisberger put the deep ball questions to rest in the second half. Why aren’t they doing it more?

Maybe Roethlisberger just locked in knowing what was on the line and began to transpire. That was a phenomenal, vintage-Ben second half.

Now only did that help them win, but it opened up the run game a bit later in the fourth quarter and allowed the short passes to work. The defense had to respect the deep ball. It’s crazy what opens up when you’ve got every facet of the game working.

Classic Cleveland Allows Steelers to Rest Guys Next Week

Pittsburgh took care of their business this week, beating Indianapolis. Had they lost, they still would’ve won the division.

The Cleveland Browns went typical Cleveland Browns-mode and lost a game to the one-win Jets. Even with 2021 right around the corner, we’ve still got the same on Browns.

Cleveland now has everything to play for next week. Win and they will be in the dance. However, a loss and enough production from the other 10-win teams in the AFC and suddenly the Browns are on the outside looking in. It would be so fitting.

Pittsburgh likely will go into next week resting some key starters. Mason Rudolph should start. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Heyward should watch. I’d sit Watt but Mike Tomlin may give Watt a chance at the Steelers’ sack record. We’ll see.

Of course, the real poetry would come with Rudolph defeating Myles Garrett and the Browns in the most important game in their last 20 years.

Forget a nail in a coffin—what a helmet to the head that would be.

Cody Flavell is a Contributor with AllSteelers. Follow Cody on Twitter @Cody_625, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.