The Pittsburgh Steelers' season ended early, but fans will still be watching the NFL Divisional round this weekend.
I'll be the first to tell you, Pittsburgh: I didn't expect to write this piece this early in the playoffs. I had planned to write this article once I knew the Steelers were out of contention, and although the Steelers didn't exactly end the regular season on a high note, a wildcard exit at home to the Cleveland Browns was not expected - at all.
Of course, anything is possible in the world of professional football, and to some degree, Sunday night proved the game of football isn't played on paper.
Moving forward, everybody in Pittsburgh will ask questions of themselves. Front office personnel will discuss whether or not the coaching staff should remain intact, coaches will discuss what players should stay or go, and players will question what needs to be done to get the job done on the field.
You, the fans of Pittsburgh, will also ask questions. While a handful of the fanbase can't stomach the sight of another football game after the events of wildcard weekend, a majority of terrible towel owners will (reluctantly or not) spend another weekend indulging in playoff football.
So... who should you, somebody who bleeds black and gold, root for? Everybody will have their individual rooting interests. Perhaps you have a cousin who's a Chiefs fan, or you may or may not have a ticket that would promise you money should the Packers win.
Undecided? You've come to the right place. I've put together a rooting guide for those still figuring out which bandwagon to hop on. Of course, everything can be up for debate, so take this guide with a grain of salt. We're all losers here, after all.
Teams You Just Shouldn't Root For
Cleveland Browns- Look, not much needs to be said here. If you're a Steelers fan, and you're actively rooting for the Browns to hoist a Lombardi trophy, please do not tell anybody to avoid confrontation. Especially after the fashion in which Cleveland handled Pittsburgh to advance in the playoffs.
Everything about Cleveland winning a Super Bowl puts a blip into the yinzer space-time continuum. Simply put, it just can't happen, especially with Pittsburgh as the first stepping stone on that journey. Cleveland planned a parade when they went 0-16, so imagine what the franchise's first Super Bowl would do to the city and it's surrounding areas. It goes without being said, but the Browns are probably the last team anybody in Pittsburgh wants to win a championship.
Baltimore Ravens- Much of the same sentiment can be carried from the above paragraph about the Browns and applied to the Ravens. A fellow division rival winning the Super Bowl just doesn't sit right, especially in a division fueled by hatred like the AFC North.
I will say, at least when comparing Baltimore to Cleveland, I feel there's at least a bit of respect between the Ravens and Steelers, two teams who have mostly dominated the division since the turn of the millennium. While Baltimore would be the team to pick between them and Cleveland, neither of the two are preferred if you're a Steelers fan.
Onto the teams that are more acceptable to root for:
Better Options... But Not Ideal
Kansas City Chiefs- Look, I'll be straight up: Personally, I think I'm rooting for the Chiefs. I'm a huge fan of Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid is a good guy and Kansas City is a tremendous team. I'm also the guy that rooted for Thanos in every Avengers movie, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.
The Chiefs repeating as Super Bowl champions wouldn't quite hinder the Pittsburgh Steelers very much. Kansas City winning it all means they take care of business against Cleveland this week and possibly knocking Baltimore out in the AFC championship game, providing some sort of relief for Steelers fans. The downside? Le'Veon Bell finally gets a Super Bowl ring, something many in Pittsburgh simply do not want to see.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- If you don't want Bell to win the Super Bowl, there's a very (very) high chance you don't want Antonio Brown to get his hands on one either. Add Tom Brady winning his seventh Lombardi in the mix, and that's basically all a Steelers fan needs to say no to the Buccaneers.
Reasons to root for Tampa Bay? Aside from the Brady/Brown connection, there's not a ton of distain from a Pittsburgh perspective. Tampa Bay winning guarantees no AFC team gets the job done, and who doesn't love the uniforms? All in all, the AB situation may be too sour for Steelers fans to overlook and hop on the Buccaneers bandwagon.
Onto teams that are viable options, although some within the Steelers fanbase may be conflicted:
Teams That May Have Conflicted Interests
Green Bay Packers- Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind. The Packers play a good brand of football on both sides of the ball. Also, what's there to not love about beer and cheese? Green Bay is an exciting team to watch, and a potential match-up with the Chiefs or Bills would be appealing for the casual fan. Rodgers holding a Super Bowl trophy ensures Brady/Brown aren't ultimate winners, which surely would keep the balance in Pittsburgh.
They're sure to hold their end of the bargain in any match-up, and what's more aesthetically pleasing than a snowy Lambeau Field? The only downside to rooting for Green Bay: Super Bowl XLV, where the Packers emerged victorious over the Steelers. Rashard Mendenhall fumbled away hopes and dreams of a seventh Lombardi, while also soiling any mutual liking Pittsburgh may have had towards the Packers.
New Orleans Saints- The phantom pass interference call on Joe Haden. JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbling to lose the game. Bad memories are associated with New Orleans' last go around with Pittsburgh, as that game serves as what some believe to be the beginning of the end of the Antonio Brown era in Pittsburgh.
For those reasons, I can understand why some Steelers fans would exercise caution when cheering on the Saints. However, it would be cool to see Drew Brees go out on top, similar to how many wanted Ben Roethlisberger to ride into the sunset. New Orleans has a handful of top players (Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, to name a few) that are still searching for their first ring. It's understandable to not want the Saints to win, yet the black and (literal) gold winning the Super Bowl wouldn't be the world's worst thing.
Now, without further hesitation, the two top teams Steelers fans can pull for the rest of the way:
The Top Two
Buffalo Bills- I know the Steelers have now fallen to Buffalo two seasons in a row, and I know many aren't fans of how they played the beloved Renegade as their own when facing Pittsburgh. However, if you're not pulling for Kansas City to emerge out of the AFC, Buffalo is the next best option by process of elimination.
Josh Allen is playing some of the best football a quarterback can be asked to do. Stefon Diggs has established himself as a monster (again). Throw some brotherly love in for Terrell Edmunds' brother Tremaine and some clean looking uniforms, and you've got a fairly easy team to root for. Think of the tables to be smashed. Think of the wings that will be consumed.
Wings. Crazy tailgates. Browns, Ravens and Le'Veon Bell don't go to the Super Bowl. There's not much more people in Pittsburgh could ask for.
Los Angeles Rams- Alas, we have reached the conclusion of our rooting guide, only to find yours truly suggesting everybody root for the Los Angeles Rams. I get it. Unlikely. They had their chance a few years ago. Sean McVay is a stellar looking dude, he doesn't need any more help. I feel you.
However, a world where neither Bell, Brown or any division rival win the Super Bowl can be chalked up as a W in the eyes of a Steelers fan. The Rams winning ensures the entire AFC and Tom Brady walks home empty-handed. The final selling point for LA? Former Pitt Panther Aaron Donald. Enough said.
The truth is, there's no correct team to root for. Everybody have their own preferences as to who should emerge as champions, yet as long as the Steelers aren't the ones doing it, a vast majority of the fan base simply shrugs their shoulders and will likely answer "nobody" if you ask them who they're rooting for now. That's fine.
Yet if you were searching for another team to potentially break your heart a second time this postseason, I hope this article was helpful in one way or another.