With over 20 years of experience covering the Steelers for the Observer-Reporter, Dale Lolley will let you know the insider scoop. Dale can also be heard on the Steelers radio network pre-game show on WDVE-FM game days and Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. on ESPN 970-AM and WDVE during the season as a host of the Antonio Brown Show. Follow him on Twitter at @dlolleyor
Who I like, Cleveland version part II - and the rest of the Steelers' playoff hopes
When the Steelers dropped to 2-6 after a fourth quarter
meltdown in New England – remember, they were within a touchdown of the lead
heading into the fourth quarter before losing 55-31 – many fans checked out on
It’s understandable. They didn’t think the Steelers were
going anywhere this year, and they still likely aren’t, despite having a glimmer of hope heading into this weekend.
The scenario that would
put the Steelers into the AFC playoffs is about as likely as Barack Obama
inviting Ted Cruz over to discuss government policy over a beer.
But even if they don’t make the playoffs, the Steelers have
a chance to get to .500 today with a win over the Cleveland Browns, and that is
Not only would they avoid a losing season, getting to 8-8
would also mean the Steelers went 6-2 in the second half of this season.
For a team that is using a number of young players at key
positions out of necessity, that is important.
While many will look at this season simply at its 8-8 face
value, that doesn’t tell the real story.
Pittsburgh started the season 0-4 playing its first two
games without 2012 MVP Heath Miller and its first three games without running
back Le’Veon Bell.
It took Miller, who was coming off a major knee injury
suffered at the end of last season, a while to round himself into football shape.
And Bell, after missing almost all of the preseason and the first three games,
was basically learning to play running back in the NFL on the fly.
And then there is the offensive line. Everyone knew there
would be growing pains with a young, inexperienced line early in this season.
That was only exasperated when Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, the line’s leader and most experienced player, was lost to a knee injury eight plays into
But the line has gotten better as the season has worn on.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, sacked 35 times in the first nine games, has
gone down just six times in the last six.
Kelvin Beachum has been a revelation at left tackle, and
though he won't likely make the Pro Bowl, guard David DeCastro probably deserves that
Because of the improved line play and Roethlisberger
completely buying into offensive coordinator Todd
Haley’s quick passing game,
the quarterback will start all 16 games in a season for just the second time in
Were there some issues with an aging secondary? Sure. And
the run defense hasn’t been its usual stout self, leading to some of those
breakdowns in the secondary – it’s tougher to pressure the quarterback when
he’s always in second-and-5.
But the Steelers have made progress this season. They are
7-point favorites to finish off their 6-2 second half today against the Browns.
They should cover that margin.
Take Pittsburgh, 27-16
Baltimore (plus 6)
At least Steelers fans can take solace that Baltimore won’t
be going to the playoffs. Cincinnati, which has scored 40 or more in four
consecutive games at Paul Brown Stadium, completes an 8-0 season at home.
Take Cincinnati, 31-17
Kansas City (plus 9)
at San Diego
Chiefs are locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs
and will be resting many key starters. San Diego could be eliminated by the time this game kicks off, but will still play hard.
Take San Diego, 30-13
New York Jets (plus 6)
Ryan Tannehill is expected to start at quarterback for Miami, despite getting banged up last week. But, more importantly, the Jets are 1-6 on the
road this season.